Philip Guston and the Boundaries of Art Culture

Art people have been shocked by the postponement, possibly until 2024, of a major exhibition, “Philip Guston Now,” by the institutions that were scheduled to mount it: the National Gallery of Art, in Washington; the Tate Modern, in London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I shared the reaction until I thought about it. At issue are some darkly comic paintings by the great American artist which feature cartoonish Ku Klux Klan figures smoking cigars, tootling around in open cars, and generally making fools of themselves. The dark part consists of abject self-portraiture, the focus of works, including the Klan pictures, that dumbfounded the art world when first shown, in 1970. At fifty-seven, Guston had trashed his status as the most sensitive stylist of Abstract Expressionism and unclenched raucous pictorial confessions of fear and loathing. Stricken with such regrets as having, in 1935,

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