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Philip Guston


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Philip Guston Sleeping 1977 Promised gift of Musa Guston Mayer to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth
Philip Guston Sleeping 1977 Promised gift of Musa Guston Mayer to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Tate Modern presents a landmark exhibition of one of the most remarkable artists of the twentieth century: Philip Guston (1913-1980). The artistís first major UK retrospective in 20 years, the exhibition spans more than 100 paintings and drawings from across Gustonís momentous 50-year career. It offers new insight into the artistís formative early years and activism, his celebrated period of abstraction, and his thought-provoking late works. With an outlook strongly shaped by his experiences of personal tragedy and by social injustice in the US, the exhibition charts the restlessness of an artist who defied categorisation, and never stopped pushing the boundaries of painting.

Presented chronologically, the exhibition begins with Gustonís early years as the child of Jewish immigrants who had escaped persecution in present-day Ukraine, and the familyís subsequent migration to Los Angeles in 1922. Largely self-taught, Guston was drawn to cartoon imagery, European Old Masters painting, surrealism, and Mexican muralism. Against a threatening backdrop of rising antisemitism and Ku Klux Klan activity that would inform his lifelong stand against racism, the young Gustonís work became increasingly political. Later paintings such as Bombardment 1937 depict the artistís response to the violence and injustice he saw in the world.

Gustonís murals and collaborations come under new examination in this exhibition. With Reuben Kadish and Jules Langsner he travelled to Mexico in 1934 to create a radical protest mural The Struggle Against Terrorism 1934-5. Visitors to Tate Modern can view a projection of this work, the first time that one of Gustonís murals is shown at such scale. Changing his name from Phillip Goldstein to Philip Guston in 1935 and moving to New York the following year, he created murals for the government funded Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, before making the first of three artistically significant trips to Italy. Returning to the US, he moved decisively towards an increasingly abstract language, as seen in paintings like White Painting I 1951, becoming an influential figure in the New York School alongside his high school friend Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Several influential works from Gustonís first major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1962 feature in the exhibition, including Dial 1956.

By the late 1960s, Guston was becoming disillusioned with abstraction as he simultaneously contended with the increasingly troubled world around him. He began to wrestle with the concept of evil in his practice. Unsettling caricatures of hooded Ku Klux Klan figures taking part in everyday activities materialised in his work, as he began to question societal complicity in violence and racism. This period culminated in the now infamous show of paintings with hooded figures at Marlborough Gallery in 1970, which included The Studio 1969, in which he interrogated himself as well as the establishment. Critics and peers were dismayed with this new direction, interpreting the cartoonish figurative style of these Ďhoodsí as a crude rejection of abstraction.

In the Marlborough exhibition aftermath, Guston returned to Italy where he created dozens of small paintings evoking the ruins and gardens of Rome. Several of these Roma works are included in the exhibition. On his return to his studio in Upstate New York, he invented a new artistic language of giant eyes, mountains of legs, abandoned shoes, and everyday objects rendered both familiar and strange.

The final decade of Gustonís life, although spent in relative obscurity, was his most productive, when he created some of his most complex and recognisable work. Collaborating widely across disciplines, he took much inspiration from poets of the time. Four poem-pictures, in which he illustrated verses written by his wife, the artist and poet Musa McKim (1908-1992), are included in the exhibition. Another work presented only at Tate, Sleeping 1977 shows a monumental image of the artist sleeping in bed, vulnerable and dreaming, Throughout this final period, Guston remained as rebellious as ever, creating combinations of dream-like images and nightmarish figures, the imagery for which he is best known.

Notes to editors

Philip Guston is presented in the Eyal Ofer Galleries. The exhibition is supported by Terra Foundation for American Art and Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, with additional support from the Philip Guston Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate Americas Foundation, Tate Patrons and Tate Members.

The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Tate Modern, London.

Tate Modernís exhibition is curated by Michael Wellen, Senior Curator, International Art, and Michael Raymond, Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate Modern.

The touring exhibition has been curated by Harry Cooper, Senior Curator and Head, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Kate Nesin, Guest Curator, Megan Bernard, Director of Membership, Ethan Lasser, John Moors Cabot Chair, Art of the Americas, and Terence Washington, Guest Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Alison de Lima Greene, Isabel Brown Wilson Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Michael Wellen, Senior Curator, International Art, Michael Raymond, Assistant Curator, International Art, and Mark Godfrey, former Senior Curator, International Art, Tate Modern.

Tate Members get unlimited free entry to all Tate exhibitions. Become a Member at tate.org.uk/members. Everyone aged 16-25 can visit all Tate exhibitions for £5 by joining Tate Collective. To join for free, visit tate.org.uk/tate-collective.

Listings information

Philip Guston
5 October 2023 Ė 25 February 2024
Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG
Open daily 10.00Ė18.00
Tickets available at tate.org.uk and +44(0)20 7887 8888
Free for Members. Join at tate.org.uk/members
Follow @Tate #PhilipGuston

Exhibition Audio Guide

The exhibition is accompanied by commentary, stories, and personal reflections from Tate curators and guest contributors, including the artistís daughter Musa Mayer, writer Olivia Laing, art historian and curator Aindrea Emelife, artist Charles Gaines, Tate paintings conservator Anna Cooper, illustrator and artist Blk Moodie Boi, and chef and family friend of Gustonís, Ruth Rogers. Also included in the exhibition are specially commissioned responses from musician Anja Ngozi and poet Andra Simons, inspired by Gustonís collaborative spirit.

Related Events

In Conversation: Musa Mayer and Olivia Laing
23 November 2023, 19.00Ė20.30
Join Philip Gustonís daughter Musa Mayer and the award-winning writer Olivia Laing as they discuss Gustonís life and work. This event will also explore the artistís relationship with writing and poetry and how they influenced his work.

Tate Modern Late
24 November 2023, 18.00Ė22.00
Join us for an evening of events to celebrate Philip Guston at Tate Modern. Join artist-led workshops to create art inspired by the artist, catch live music performances, tune in to art chats exploring themes from the exhibition, and much more.


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