As a Lightning-Rod Philip Guston Show Tours the U.S., a New Book Explains Why It Put Censorship and Race on a Collision Course

The following excerpt is from the book Today’s censored art by Gareth Harris, published by Lund Humphries earlier this year.

The story of Philip Guston’s exhibition, “Philip Guston Now”, which has been postponed until late 2020 shows how the museum is suffering from an identity crisis, torn between the demands of activists and its internal discourse. The directors of four museums—Tate in London; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — said in September 2020 that the exhibition, which had been postponed due to the pandemic, would be postponed “until such time as we consider that the powerful message of social and economic justice -race which is central to Philip Guston’s work can be interpreted more clearly. ” The problem, in other words, it is one of contextualization, especially after the Black Lives Matter protests that took place around the world after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. But more than 2,600 art professionals disagreed, accusing the organizers of self-censorship (open letter). The rebuke of the four institutions was initiated by the critic Barry Schwabsky and signed by artists and scholars such as Matthew Barney and Catherine de Zegher).

The team behind the Guston show highlighted that their decision to postpone was confirmed in the first days of the global pandemic and the emergence of racial movements in the United States after the killing of Floyd . The Guston show has been years in the planning, with around 125 paintings and 70 photographs on loan from 40 private and public collections. Although it is not clearly stated in the stateIssued by participating museums, the issue appears to be Guston’s paintings and photographs of Ku Klux Klan-evoking masks. Guston’s depiction of Klansmen first appeared in the early 1930s and was fueled by the civil unrest of the 1960s, as he explains why these figures were created: “I was fascinated by the idea of ​​evil . . . I almost tried to imagine that I was living with the Klan. How bad would it be?” Clearly, the artist was trying to understand racist ideology in a broader sense, with some critics citing Guston’s attempt to hide his Jewish identity. Mark Godfrey, a former Tate curator who was supposed to look after London foot”Philip Guston Now,” says Guston’s deep examination of Jewish ethnicity in the exhibition catalogue, explores how we think of “relationships in painting and the Jews in their art”. (The catalog is released despite the show being delayed.)

The Studio Philip Guston (American, 1913–1980) 1969 Oil on canvas * Private Collection * © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth * Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The StudioPhilip Guston, 1969. © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy of Hauser and Wirth and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The main player here is the director of the museum, as arbibehavior and taste, should place such a judgment on the the intention of the artist and the perception of the sensibility of the present audience. The problem is if it shows the museums involved appropriate level of sensitivity—or, alternatively, cowardice in the eyes of the detractors who accused the host institutions of self-censorship. Let’s see how we got here and if these allegations are true valid. A criticism of these four positions is their lack of participation enough with the local community to be caught unawares when sensitive instruments turned on the voice of the minority.

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Kathy Halbreich, New York-based Robert Rauschenberg is executive director Foundation, provides a direct analysis of why museums are involved was, he believed, not to have seen a wondrous sight in the dispersal and comcooperation with the municipality. “I liked seeing the messages that were refreshing these museums before this riot. I wonder if there are people who agree that equality requires daily and holistic work,” he said. “The sad thing is that if the mission of an institution does not recognize and incorporate these feelings, it can be last minute arrangements are not suitable. Trust needs to be built over time with a deeper understanding of biases and informed ways to talk about these things,” Halbreich said.

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Looming in this fall is the fundamental failure that American racism is deep, wide and old, says critic and scholar Robert Storr, who is shocked by what he sees as a lack of foresight in decision. Guston challenged white liberalism, Storr said, essentially asserting that all whites could be Klansmen and that anyone in white society could be complicit in the crimes of white supremacism. “You have to dig deep and make a history of art and society. Institutions cannot suddenly put up black art everywhere to prove that they sympathize when they have not sympathized for years,” he said.

“Philip Guston Now” Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Washington DC, defends Guston’s decision. He reiterated that his team is working with different communities to discuss how the gallery can address Guston’s concerns about racism and other issues he explores in his work, such as antisemitism, immigration, poverty and suicide. A branch team in the gallery has a partnershipnote with the non-profit network International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to engage more in society. He said the gallery has spent time cultivating relationships with many of its former employees who felt “marginalized and invisible in the past.” Change also starts at the top, he said. “I am happy to note that since then In 2019, the board and leadership team increased in diversity and reflect the country, with 40 percent and 60 percent black, indigenous people of color. The exhibition was postponed and never cancelled, he insisted, stressing that in the wider cultural discourse of “cancellation”, many have confused the decision to postpone with cancellation at all. This was approved by Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who said that the project will be more predictable, specific and more varied after the delay.Regarding the exhibition, we heard ‘cancellation’, which was totally unexpected. We’ve heard of ‘censorship’—I’d say the opposite. And we hear ‘lack of courage’—I would say the opposite.” He reverses the censorship argument, saying that the decision to delay can only be a good thing. “If the culture of abolition is presented in theoretical terms, as an important tool of social justice, what can be explained more as a response to such a strategy than to present a more rounded form of an artist’s system? It’s very collaborative with the artist’s colleaguesarticles and personal stories, expressions of values?” But critics will want to see if the context will “translate the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the heart of Philip Guston’s work”—according to the museum’s joint statement—[would] to be honest. JS Marcus reported that the updated Boston show contained 73 paintings and 27 drawings while the NGA leg contained 250 Guston works. Of the 15 original Klans-related jobs planned for Boston, five no removed, although this decision was due to “space reasons,” said The MFA.

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Meanwhile, no supporters have withdrawn, a spokesman saidwomen for NGA (including the Carl and Ruth Shapiro family Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art); different sponsor, the Ford Foundation in New York, called for the support of postponement. It should be noted that Darren Walker, president of The Ford Foundation and the Trustees of the NGA, asserted that “the The situation in the United States has changed dramatically with regard to the issue of fiery and racially toxic images in art. ” Can museums offend their patrons? Museums can be self-censoring, tread carefully around a sensitive subject, says former director Maxwell Anderson Dallas Museum of Art. “It is unlikely that they will pursue or gain supporters for potentially controversial exhibitions. For most supporters it does not directly affect the decision of the government but indirectly by not being effectively limited when it comes to polarizing potential material or subject matter.”

Gareth Harris is the editor-in-chief of the Art magazine.

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