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Royal Academy of Arts - THE ART OF PHILIP GUSTON

24 Jan – 12 Apr 04

The RA presents a major survey of the renowned American painter, Philip Guston, and the first comprehensive retrospective of his work to be held in the UK. Philip Guston (1913–1980) had been a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism for almost two decades when he boldly returned to figurative work in the late 1960s. His uncompromising late paintings, which shocked the art world and baffled his admirers, ultimately inspired later generations of artists, and invigorated American painting in the 1970s and 1980s. The exhibition brings together some 80 works and includes rarely seen paintings and drawings from the artist’s estate and the private collection of his daughter.

Philip Guston was born in Canada of Russian-Jewish émigré parents in 1913 and moved to California in 1919. He began to paint and draw in 1927, the same year he met Jackson Pollock at High School. He continued his studies at art college in Los Angeles, during which time he became an accomplished draughtsman through the meticulous study of both Old Master and more contemporary artists. In late 1935, encouraged by Pollock, Guston moved to New York where he became involved in the government sponsored mural painting projects with Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning. In the 1930s and 1940s Guston concentrated on figurative work, but in the 1950s he began to paint non-objective canvases, creating abstract works as compelling as those of his contemporaries, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline.

Beginning with the early figurative works, which reflect Guston’s wide ranging pictorial influences, including Piero della Francesca, Giorgio de Chirico and Pablo Picasso, the exhibition includes a significant transitional painting, The Tormentors (1947-8), showing the artist’s entry into Abstract Expressionism. A major group of Guston’s acclaimed pure abstractions from the 1950s and 1960s are also highlighted. Critically acclaimed when first exhibited, these works have rarely been seen since.

In the late 1960s Guston confounded the New York art world by returning to figurative content, prompted by his reaction to civil rights prejudice, opposition to the Vietnam War and violence at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago. New paintings of cartoon-like simplicity, symbolically employing hooded figures of the Ku Klux Klan, were first shown in the highly controversial exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, New York in 1970. Thereafter the work evolved in a series of situations, graphic portraits - including Richard Nixon - and also self-portraits. These examined the ominous threat to society from official violence, political terror, and the tragic plight of its victims, reflecting Guston’s ever increasing disaffection with society. The retrospective culminates in an extensive showing of late works, including a group from the 1970 exhibition. These paintings were of great importance to subsequent generations of painters including neo-figurative artists such as Georg Baselitz, Julian Schnabel and Susan Rothenberg. Guston died in Woodstock, New York in 1980. His example remains a powerful influence on younger figurative artists working today.

In 1981, the year following his death, four paintings by Philip Guston were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in A New Spirit in Painting, curated by Norman Rosenthal, Christos M. Joachimides and Nicholas Serota.

The Art of Philip Guston has been on tour in the US, where it was shown at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Royal Academy of Arts is the only European venue.

The exhibition has been organised by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas and curated by Michael Auping, Chief Curator, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. For the presentation at the RA, Michael Auping has collaborated with Norman Rosenthal, Exhibitions Secretary, Royal Academy of Arts and David McKee, Philip Guston’s dealer from 1968 until the artist’s death in 1980.

The exhibition is supported by the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust, and various anonymous donors.

A comprehensive catalogue has been published to coincide with the exhibition tour. In depth essays by a group of noted critics and art historians, including Dore Ashton and Andrew Graham-Dixon, explore Guston’s career. With an introduction by Michael Auping, colour plates and a number of works from his estate never before reproduced, this benchmark catalogue sheds new light on the artist.
Hardback £35 ISBN 0500093083
Paperback £22.50 ISBN 190397349X

The Audioguide produced by Antenna Audio provides a comprehensive guide to the exhibition and features recordings of Guston made in the late 1970s and 1980. The audioguide also includes contributions from Nan Rosenthal, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Michael Auping and Guston’s daughter, Musa Mayer.

Philip Guston: A Life Lived (1980) by Michael Blackwood will be on continuous display in one of the galleries for the duration of the exhibition. Filmed just before the artist’s death, Guston speaks candidly about his work and looks back over a career that spanned 50 years.

The exhibition is complemented by a series of evening and lunchtime lectures and gallery talks. Please see separate press release for details.

To coincide with The Art of Philip Guston BBC4 explores the artist’s life and career from his first attempts at painting from inside a closet in the 1920s, through the turbulent times of Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism, to his radical 1970 show which shocked the New York art establishment, forcing him into reclusive obscurity until his death in 1980. Presented by Andrew Graham Dixon, the documentary features footage of Guston and his studio and home in Woodstock as well as interviews with his daughter, Musa Mayer, his friend and art dealer, David McKee, and art historians.

The programme will be broadcast on BBC4 on Wednesday 28 January at 8.30pm and 12.50am and repeated on BBC4 on Saturday 31 January at 10.30pm. Viewing copies of the film will be available on Tuesday 27 January. Please contact Kirsty Reid, BBC Arts tel: 020 8752 6010.

The Timothy Taylor Gallery will present an exhibition of Philip Guston’s paintings from 22 January – 21 February 2004. The exhibition will display works from the Estate of Philip Guston dating from 1969-1979, the years in which Guston broke through the prescriptions against figuration and embarked on arguably his most powerful body of work.
For further information please contact Chloe Grimshaw at Purple; tel: 020 7439 9888 or

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth 30 March – 8 June 2003
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 28 June – 27 September 2003
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 27 October 2003 – 4 January 2004
Royal Academy of Arts, London 24 January – April 12 2004

Press View: Tuesday 20 January 2004, 10am – 2pm
Open to public: Saturday 24 January – Monday 12 April 2004
10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm)
Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)

£7.50 full charge; £6.50 groups of 10 or more; 60 years+ and registered disabled; £5.50 NUS; £3.00 12-18 years; £2.00 9-11 years

Tickets are available daily at the RA. To book tickets in advance please tel: 0870 126 0266 or visit Groups of 10+ are asked to book in advance on tel: 020 7300 5995; fax: 020 7300 5781 or email:

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
London W1J OBD
Tel: 020 7300 8000
Fax: 020 7300 8001


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