THE work of American painter and muralist, Philip Guston is re-imagined through the writings of five 2oth century poets in a new exhibition which aims to shed fresh light on the artist’s impressive oeuvre. The new show, Philip Guston and the Poets, which opens at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice this spring, traces the artist’s achievements from his early forays with cubism in the 1930s, his subsequent shift to abstract expressionism to his cartoon-inspired imagery of the 1980s.
Displaying over 50 major paintings and drawings, the show reveals the complexity and inner-workings of this talented and latterly, controversial artist in the expectation that his work gains greater appreciation and therefore be better understood. The curator, Kosme de Barañano explains, “Guston’s passion for Italian culture adds a complex and rich textural depth to his work.”
Throughout his life, Guston’s work maintained a strong affinity philosophy and literature which, in the 1960s led to collaborations with the American writers Clark Coolidge and Bill Berkson. During this time, Guston’s painting underwent a dramatic transformation from abstraction to what appeared to be, absurdly figurative, a move which baffled both critics and fellow artists. Growing impatient with the constraints that Modern art imposed, Guston declared, “I got sick and tired of all that purity.”
Now darker and almost representational, Guston’s abstract work soon gave way to a riot of viscous pasty pinks and mimetic imagery depicting light bulbs, clocks and sensible shoes. As his enthusiasm for this new approach gathered momentum, the sinister Ku Klux Klan figures from his much earlier works became re-incarnated into insidious cartoon-like forms. Guston’s hooded villains drive cars and smoked cigarettes just like his depictions of bulbous-headed oddballs.
These symbolic forms became his leitmotifs and illustrated many of Coolidge’s poems, writing which Guston appreciated immensely. In this exhibition, W.B. Yeats’ 1930s work, Byzantium is contrasted with Guston’s later work in which the artist strove gain control. In a letter to Bill Berkson, Guston candidly admitted, “I haven’t really understood what I am doing – does that come later?”
The exhibition is designed by Grisdainese and curated by Kosme de Barañano, a former Executive Director of IVAM and the former Deputy Director of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. He is also professor at the University of the Basque Country and visiting professor at the University Elche, Spain, IUAV in Venice and at the Humbolt University in Berlin.
by Miranda Charalambous
Philip Guston and the Poets opens May 10 – September 3, 2017 at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Campo della Carità, Dorsoduro 1050, 30100 Venice, Italy
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Front page image: Philip in Rome, 1960, The Estate of Philip Guston, Courtesy Hauser & WirthTags: abstraction expressionism > American > cartoon > cubism > curator > drawings > figuration > Gallerie dell’Accademia > Literature > modern art > paintings > Philip Guston > poets > twentieth century > Venice > writing