After two years of indecision from museum directors both in the US and UK, The Philip Guston exhibition will finally open to the public in Boston on 1 May.
On 21 September 2021, a statement quietly appeared on the website of the National Gallery of Washington. It announced the postponement of the “Philip Guston Now” exhibition, set to open at Tate Modern, London, in February 2021 and travel to three major US museums. Many in the art world were dismayed by this decision, especially in light of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement. The controversy, it seems, involved several of Guston’s works depicting hooded Klansmen, a recurring theme portraying the enemy within.
Animated by contradictions, Guston’s works are deeply ambiguous
Mark Godfrey, Curator of the London show at Tate Modern, publicly stated, “Cancelling or delaying the exhibition is probably motivated by the wish to be sensitive to the imagined reactions of particular viewers, and the fear of protest. However, it is extremely patronising to viewers, who are assumed not to be able to appreciate the nuance and politics of Guston’s works”, he wrote on Instagram. He was later suspended by the Tate and quit as a result.
A joint statement from host museums read. We are postponing the “Philip Guston Now” exhibition until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the centre of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted”.
Across 50 years, the paintings of Philip Guston (1913–1980) shifted from figuration to abstraction and back again. Yet a persistent concern haunted each of his stylistic transformations: Guston never stopped questioning the place of the painter in the world. What did it mean to witness injustice outside his studio? What might paint render newly visible inside it?
This major exhibition—organised by the MFA; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Tate Modern, London—foregrounds the artist’s lifelong commitment to raising difficult, unanswerable questions. The selection of 73 paintings and 27 drawings from public and private collections features well-known works and others that have rarely been seen. Highlights include paintings from the 1930s that have never been on public view; a reunion of paintings from Guston’s groundbreaking Marlborough Gallery show in 1970; a striking array of small panel paintings made from 1968 to 1972; and a powerful selection of large, often apocalyptic paintings of the later 1970s that form the artist’s last major statement.
Animated by contradictions, Guston’s works are deeply ambiguous, defined equally by what he called the “brutality of the world” and the palpable joy he took in the painting itself. Through their imagery, many of them address challenging themes, including white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, and violence. The exhibition features multiple paintings of hooded Ku Klux Klansmen, truncated body parts, and enigmatic struggle scenes. These images and their meanings can appear unmistakable, indeterminate, and everything. Guston’s works challenge us to grapple with the lived experience we each bring to this museum and this city today.
A Message from the Curators
In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd, the four museums planning this exhibition—originally scheduled to open in June 2020—decided to postpone the project. Many took issue with this decision, which was intended to give the organisers time to reframe the show in light of what one press release called the “urgencies of the moment.” Those urgencies figure within a long history, and they persist in an ever-shifting present. We are showing Guston’s work in a different way than initially planned, yet we also aspire to more far-reaching and lasting change—taking a proper and hard look at the building in which this art hangs and the ways in which we care for our visitors. We also know we have not gotten everything “right.” The work of this exhibition is ongoing, much like Guston’s open-ended paintings themselves. Humbly and respectfully, we invite you to look and reckon alongside us with these paintings as our guide.
The Curatorial Team for “Philip Guston Now” Megan Bernard, Ethan Lasser, Kate Nesin, Terence Washington
Art Gallery of New South Wales Will open to the public In December
Located on a magnificent site overlooking Sydney Harbour, the Art Gallery is one of Australia’s pre-eminent cultural institutions.
The AU$344 million Sydney Modern Project was the most significant cultural development in the city since the Sydney Opera House nearly half a century ago. The transformation will create a new art museum campus with two buildings connected by a public art garden.
Light transparent and open to its surroundings, SANAA’s building responds to the site’s topography
A vital aspect of the expansion will be exceptional displays of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, which will be showcased both in a dedicated gallery, the first to be encountered by visitors on the entrance level of the new building and across the entire expanded campus.
The Sydney Modern Project almost doubles exhibition space and includes a spectacular new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architects, SANAA, with Australian practice Architectus as the executive architect; the revitalisation of its historic building by Australian architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, including a complete re-installation of the collection; extensive outdoor art experiences, and a series of significant art commissions across the campus by leading international and Australian artists.
Light transparent and open to its surroundings, SANAA’s building responds to the site’s topography with a series of art pavilions that cascade down towards the harbour. The new facility expands the formal exhibition space from 9,000 to 16,000 sqm and will feature galleries specifically designed to accommodate art of the 21stcentury as well as unique installations in circulation spaces. In addition, it incorporates a vast, columned underground art space, repurposed from a decommissioned World War II naval oil tank, creating a 2,200 sqm gallery with 7-metre-high ceilings for special commissions and performances.
Acclaimed landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, with Seattle firm Gustafson Guthrie Nicol, and Australian landscape architect McGregor Coxall lead the design of the expanded campus’s landscape and civic spaces.
Marking the opening of the Sydney Modern Project, nine major commissions have been awarded to leading artists: Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australia), Karla Dickens (Australia), Simryn Gill (Australia/Malaysia), Jonathan Jones (Australia), Yayoi Kusama (Japan), Lee Mingwei (France/USA), Richard Lewer (Australia), Lisa Reihana (Aotearoa New Zealand), and Francis Upritchard (UK/Italy/ Aotearoa New Zealand).
The Art Gallery’s collection of Australian art is among the finest and broadest anywhere. From its founding, the Art Gallery has collected and worked with the artists of its time from Australia and around the world.
The Art Gallery maintains the New South Wales state art collection of more than 36,000 objects, including more than 2,000 historical and contemporary works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, acquired over the past 74 years. It has been at the forefront of collecting, displaying and interpreting historical and contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art and engaging directly with artists and their communities. The Art Gallery also holds significant Asian and European art collections and presents major national and international exhibitions.
Dr Michael Brand, Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales, said: “All eyes will be on Sydney when our new building opens on our magnificent site on Gadigal Country overlooking Sydney Harbour. Our new art museum campus brings together art, architecture and landscape in spectacular new ways, providing visitors with art and cultural experiences only possible here. This is truly the world seen from Sydney.”
Maud Page, Deputy Director and Director of Collections, Art Gallery of New South Wales, said: “The Sydney Modern Project allows us to engage our audiences and work with our artists in exciting new ways. When we open in December, visitors will experience art right across our campus – indoor and outdoor – from the inaugural installations in our new building to the completely re-installed galleries in our existing building. In addition, our collection will be accentuated by bold and compelling new art commissions that contribute to important global conversations of our time from our place here in the Asia Pacific.”
Professor Deborah Swallow To Step Down As Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art
Professor Deborah Swallow has announced plans to retire from her post as Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art after leading the internationally renowned institution for 18 years.
During this time, The Courtauld has grown as the world’s foremost academic centre for art history, curation, and painting conservation, and its Gallery has flourished. Deborah has shown a deeply-felt commitment to widening participation in higher education and art history, and The Courtauld has sought to ‘open’ its offer. She has overseen a significant, ongoing expansion of its faculty, research, and curricula, with new appointments in critical fields, including the arts of Iran and Islam, China, the Buddhist world, and Black art histories.
Professor Swallow has spearheaded the most significant development in The Courtauld’s history, the landmark Courtauld Connects project, successfully transforming The Courtauld’s home at Somerset House, making its world-class collections and scholarship accessible to more people than ever before. As a result, the Courtauld Gallery reopened to international acclaim in November 2021, despite the challenges of COVID. Phase 1 of this development programme will be complete in summer 2022 with the move of the Conservation Department back to Somerset House. The rest of the project will be fully completed in 2025 when all The Courtauld’s teaching and research operations return from its temporary campus at Vernon Square, King’s Cross.
Alongside the physical transformation of the buildings, The Courtauld has undertaken an innovative programme of activity to ensure that everyone has the chance to engage with and enjoy art, with national and international loans of artworks, innovative digital events, school and community outreach work, and creative volunteer programmes.
Lord Browne of Madingley, Chair of The Courtauld’s Governing Board, said: “During her time as Director, Deborah has worked tirelessly to realise Samuel Courtauld’s founding vision of ‘art for all.
Leading Courtauld through challenging times and prosperous ones, she spearheaded the most significant initiative in the institution’s history: Courtauld Connects. This major capital works project has already begun to transform our iconic home at Somerset House. Through tours and outreach activities, the associated programmatic initiatives allow wider audiences to engage with our scholarship and collections. This monumental achievement is a testament to Deborah’s unwavering belief in the power of art, its centrality to the human condition and the importance of preserving it for the future.
Deborah has ensured that the reputation of the Gallery has continued to grow, nationally and internationally, and she has consolidated The Courtauld’s reputation as the world’s foremost academic centre for art history, curation, and the conservation of painting. Under her leadership, academic excellence has continued to flourish, and earlier this year, she secured a landmark 10-year strategic relationship with King’s College, London.
On behalf of the Board, I thank her most sincerely for all she has done for The Courtauld and for the generations to come who will discover its treasures anew.”
Throughout her time at The Courtauld, Professor Swallow has sought to expand The Courtauld’s work and reach through essential relationships. The most significant of these have been those with the Getty; with the State Hermitage Museum (The Courtauld managed the Hermitage Rooms for five years); with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust Jodhpur Rajasthan; and, as recently announced, with King’s College London. This new relationship will allow cooperation between the two institutions across existing areas of synergy in cultural history, visual arts, conservation and digital humanities, and the development of innovative teaching, research and public engagement.”
Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “Under the leadership of Deborah Swallow, the face of The Courtauld, as always an outstanding centre of scholarship, has been transformed through improvements to the Gallery and a programme of collaborations with museums across the UK. ‘Courtauld Connects’ has given the academic institution a wider public purpose. At the same time, the recent announcement of a collaboration between the Courtauld and King’s will extend the reach of art history into the broader field of the humanities. Deborah has given The Courtauld a new place in London, the UK and the international community.”
Professor Evelyn Welch, Senior Vice President, King’s College London, said: “It has been a privilege to work with Deborah Swallow, who has led The Courtauld for almost two decades. She has ensured that The Courtauld, its conservation unit and collection have been able to work together to achieve remarkable academic and curatorial successes. Deborah has done a wonderful job extending The Courtauld’s expertise to cover a truly global approach to the History of Art. She has been a great supporter of the University of London and the architect of the long-term strategic relationship between The Courtauld and King’s College London. We have all benefited greatly from her wisdom and wish her the best for her retirement.”
Kaywin Feldman, Director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, said: “Professor Swallow’s leadership at The Courtauld has been transformative. She arrived in 2004 with an exciting vision to move the institution from its Euro-centric focus to a global institution rooted in traditions of excellence. With her signature graciousness and inclusivity, Deborah expanded The Courtauld’s donor base and network of scholars and supporters to ensure the institution’s relevance and sustainability. As a Courtauld alumna, it has been a joy to watch the institution expand its service to scholars, artists, and the public during Deborah’s tenure.”
Professor Swallow said: “It has been a huge honour to serve The Courtauld as the Märit Rausing Director and play a part in shaping this unique organisation’s development. I have been challenged, inspired, and energised by my Courtauld colleagues, our students and alumni, and colleagues across the university. I am immensely grateful for the unstinting support given by Lord Browne, Chair of our Governing Board, and his predecessors, Nicholas Ferguson and James Hughes-Hallett, by the full Board, those who have served on our committees and by our many very generous supporters, without whom we could not have achieved our successes to date.”
The Courtauld’s Governing Board will undertake an international search for the new Director, and Professor Swallow will continue to lead The Courtauld until the selected successful candidate is in place. In addition, she will remain active as an academic and museum professional – focusing on her area of expertise, the arts of the South Asian subcontinent – both through her work as an individual scholar and through her engagement with organisations in India and the UK.