Reframing Philip Guston

This week, the directors of [the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Tate Modern in London, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston] released a joint statement saying that they were “postponing the exhibition until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.”

We feel it is necessary to reframe our programming and, in this case, step back, and bring in additional perspectives and voices to shape how we present Guston’s work to our public,” the directors said… “That process will take time.”

(Julia Jacobs and Jason Farago, “Delay of Philip Guston Retrospective Divides the Art World,” NYTimes, 9-25-20)
(Julia Jacobs, “Philip Guston Blockbuster Show Postponed by Four Museums,” NYTimes, 9-24-20)

I’m afraid the museums may be oversteering in the laudable cause of acknowledging and helping overcome societal injustices. Philip Guston (born in 1913) painted a different time and place. Should we shun looking at it, including its ugly side, now? Must viewing be mistaken for endorsing? These aren’t necessarily binary questions; however, the directors’ statement that it “will take time” to shape how they present Guston’s work to “their public” rings a bit high-handed.

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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