Retrospective of Woodstock artist Philip Guston to be held at National Gallery

Philip Guston sketching a NY World’s Fair mural for the WPA Federal Art Project in 1939 (David Robbins | Archives of American Art)

Widely considered one of America’s most important modern painters, though a breed apart from his peers, Philip Guston has deep ties to the Woodstock community. The somewhat-reclusive and attention-averse master was friends with the biggest names of the day – Rothko, de Kooning et cetera – but had little use for the spotlight of New York City. In 1967, Guston moved his family to the “arts colony” known as Woodstock and remained there, working and commuting to teach in New York.

While his own work in the Abstract Expressionist vein in the 1950s was successful and influential, Guston did not stay put in the style. He moved through several other significant periods in his 50-year career, touching on subjects political and personal, in style both abstract and figurative. He was known for his satirical drawings of Richard Nixon and his associates; for an array of small panel paintings made in 1968 to 1972 making repeated use of hoods, books, bricks and shoes; and for the large, often-apocalyptic paintings that comprise his last period in the late 1970s.

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During the early ’70s, writes Guston’s daughter Musa Mayeraug, when Guston’s new figurative work was condemned by the critics, he found comfort and humor in the friendship of Philip Roth. Both men were in hiding in the Catskills, the novelist sheltering from the storm generated by the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint. “It was through lightheartedness that we connected,” Roth told Mayeraug. “We discovered we both liked American junk. We’d drive to Kingston, have a walk around, take in whatever was hideous, then have lunch in my favorite diner there, the Aim to Please.”

A major Philip Guston retrospective and international tour has been announced for 2020/21. The exhibition is curated by Harry Cooper, senior curator and head of the Department of Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art, and a fleet of senior curators at the most prestigious museums in the US and in England. The first Guston retrospective in more 15 years, it will debut in the National Gallery’s East Building from June 7 through September 13, 2020, said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. “This exhibition will provide an in-depth look at the career that led to his iconic late paintings and will surely secure Guston’s place in the pantheon of modern art, while reassessing his impact on the art of the present.”

For more information on the retrospective and museum tour (including a stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), visit www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2020/philip-guston-now.html.

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