A Philip Guston retrospective was delayed until 2024 due to concerns about its content.

Justin Kamp
Sep 25, 2020 9:50PM, via National Gallery of Art

“Philip Guston Now,” a major retrospective of the New York School painter that was originally scheduled to open this past summer at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., before rescheduling due to COVID-19, has been delayed until 2024 over concerns about the exhibition’s content—namely, Guston’s paintings and drawings depicting hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan.

In a joint statement, the directors of the four institutions presenting the show—the National Gallery of Art, Tate Modern, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston—said they would delay their successive showings of 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.” The letter cited recent racial justice movements, as well as the global COVID-19 crisis, as motivating factors in the decision.

The exhibition is slated to bring together some 125 paintings and 70 drawings to offer a full picture of the late artist’s career, stretching from his Abstract Expressionist canvases through his mid-career pivot to figuration. The content that led to the exhibition’s delay appears to be Guston’s depictions of hooded, Ku Klux Klan-esque figures, a motif that figured prominently in some of the artist’s work beginning in the 1930s.

“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 joint statement read.

In response to the exhibition’s delay, Musa Mayer, Guston’s daughter, said in a statement quoted by the New York Times:

[Guston] dared to unveil white culpability, our shared role in allowing the racist terror that he had witnessed since boyhood. This should be a time of reckoning, of dialogue. These paintings meet the moment we are in today. The danger is not in looking at Philip Guston’s work, but in looking away.

According to Artsy data, demand for Guston’s work on the platform had been relatively stable until last year, when the number of inquiries on his work jumped 78 percent from 2018.

Further Reading: Why AbEx Painter Philip Guston’s Return to Figuration Enraged the Art World

Justin Kamp
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019