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Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt presents Philip Guston. Late Works

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt presents Philip Guston. Late Works on view November 6, 2013–February 2, 2014.

The bold and extraordinary oeuvre of the American painter Philip Guston (1913–1980) was one of the most widely discussed of his time. He was the first to return figuration to postwar American painting, was innovative in his combination of “high art” with images from popular culture, and is today celebrated as the pioneer of postmodern, figurative painting. On the occasion of the artist’s 100th birthday, from November 6, 2013, to February 2, 2014, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is presenting late works by Philip Guston as a milestone of American painting. With a selection of around eighty paintings and drawings, the exhibition unites loans from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

The autodidact Guston gained a foothold in New York’s art scene in the 1950s and became one of the most important representatives of Abstract Expression around Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. An intense drawing phase began in the late 1960s, culminating in a painterly break with the “purity requirements” of abstraction: Guston introduced crude figures and fragments of figures into his works; they populated his pink, red, black, and blue canvases—smoking, drinking, often painting as well. Guston’s subjects include large heads, hairy legs, clumsy shoes, and all manner of architectural fragments such as walls, doors, and light bulbs reminiscent of 1920s comics, and they often come over as the precursors of “Bad Painting.” The large-format works come down full force on the viewer. Despite their apparent formal weightiness, content-related openness, and blurred mystification, the paintings are based on profound sensitivity and the artist’s far-reaching content-related and painterly consistency.

In 1970, the first exhibition of these paintings outfitted with an anarchistic sense of humor and the grotesque caused an art scandal in New York, as numerous critics took offense at his “betrayal” of abstract art. Yet the intensity and unsettling power of Guston’s late works exercise an enormous influence on many of today’s younger artists.

Philip Guston is born Philip Goldstein in Montreal, Canada, in 1913, as the son of Russian-Jewish parents. He grows up in Los Angeles and demonstrates a talent for painting at an early age. His artistic and personal defiance prompt him to leave art school. His entire life is characterized by his intense involvement with European art history. His role models include Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann, and Giorgio de Chirico, as well as Goya and Rembrandt. Guston travels to Italy in order to examine Renaissance and Baroque painters such as Giotto, Piero de la Francesca, and Tiepolo. He is also interested in Mexican muralists. This is associated with his strong political involvement, whereby he sympathizes with left-wing groups and artists. In 1936 he adopts the artist’s name Guston and moves to the East Coast, quickly gaining a foothold in New York’s 1950s art scene. He becomes one of the most important representatives of Abstract Expressionism along with fellow artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell. For the critics, his later renunciation of this postwar art form, which was so decisive for America, is all the more serious. Guston plunges into an existential crisis in 1965 and concentrates on drawing for a good two years. It is not until the late 1960s that he increasingly paints, and figuration returns to his work. In 1970, the first exhibition of these new paintings meets with a lack of understanding even in his own environment, and it evokes hostile reactions among art critics. The potential of these sophisticated paintings is not acknowledged until the late 1970s. In 1980, shortly before his death, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art devotes a large-scale retrospective to Philip Guston. The last extensive presentation of Guston’s oeuvre in the German-speaking world took place in Bonn in 1999.

Director: Max Hollein
Curator: Ingrid Pfeiffer

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
Römerberg, D-60311 Frankfurt
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Wednesday–Thursday 10am–10pm
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