Monday 8 May 2017 | 12 – 4pm
2 pm Walkthrough with curator Kosme Barañano
Campo della Carità – 1050 – 30123 Venezia
Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia will present the work of the pre-eminent American painter Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) in a major exhibition exploring the artist’s oeuvre in relation to critical literary interpretation. In a spirit reflective of how Guston himself cultivated the sources of his inspiration, ‘Philip Guston and The Poets’ considers the ideas and writings of major 20th century poets as catalysts for his enigmatic pictures and visions. Featuring works that span a fifty-year period in Guston’s artistic career, the exhibition includes 50 major paintings and 25 prominent drawings dating from 1930 until his death in 1980. The exhibition draws parallels between the essential humanist themes reflected in these works, and the language and prose of five poets: D. H. Lawrence (British, 1885 – 1930), W. B. Yeats (Irish, 1865 – 1939), Wallace Stevens (American, 1879 – 1955), Eugenio Montale (Italian, 1896 – 1981) and T. S. Eliot (American-born, British, 1888 – 1965).
On view through 3 September 2017, ‘Philip Guston and The Poets’ is curated by Prof. Dr. Kosme de Barañano and is organized by Le Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia in collaboration with the Estate of Philip Guston. The exhibition will be designed by GRISDAINESE, the noted Padua-based design and architecture studio of Stefano Gris e Silvia Dainese.
This museum exhibition, the first for Guston in a city that exerted a profound influence upon his oeuvre, is a reminder of the artist’s special relationship with Italy. As a young muralist, his earliest influences were the frescoes of the Italian Renaissance masters, and his love of Italian painting persisted throughout his career.
Originally part of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, the museum was established as an independent institution in 1879 and is considered the world’s most significant treasure house of Venetian painting up to the 18th century. Among its holdings are masterpieces by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Carpaccio, Lorenzo Lotto, Mantegna, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese. In a 1975 letter to his friend Bill Berkson, the influential poet, critic, and teacher, Guston confessed, “I am immersed in quattro- and cinquecento painting – more than ever! And when I go north, to Venice, faced with Tiepolo, Tintoretto, and even so-called ‘Mannerist’ work like Pontormo, Parmigianino, etc., I cheat on my earlier loves and fall head over heels.”
Dr. Paola Marini, Director, Gallerie dell’Accademia, remarked, “We are honored to present the first Venice museum exhibition devoted to Philip Guston. The artist’s return to our city is particularly fitting, for it was here that he immersed himself in a history – a heritage – upon which to further his artistic development. From his own writings during his time in Italy, we know that the paintings he discovered in the rooms and halls of the Accademia exerted enormous influence upon his vision. To bring Guston’s work into context and to encourage continued study and new interpretation of his work, is a true pleasure for us.”
Musa Mayer, daughter of Philip Guston and President of The Guston Foundation, recalled, “In 1960, on the occasion of a Guston exhibition in the American Pavilion of the Biennale di Venezia, my father took my mother and me for a summer in Italy before I went away to college. Venice and the Gallerie dell’Accademia was our very first stop. More than half a century later, I can still vividly remember his love of the great Italian masterworks there. My father would have been deeply touched and honored by this wonderful opportunity to have his own works hanging in this picture gallery that he loved so much.”
“Guston’s passion for Italian culture adds a complex and rich textural depth to his work,” curator Kosme de Barañano has written. “Now, as we view his art anew, though the eyes and the prose of like-minded literary figures – some whom he profoundly gravitated towards and pored over in the course of his own life, others whom he read casually, and others still whom perhaps existed peripherally – we can study the ways in which their words share affinities with the depths of Guston’s late work.”
About the Exhibition
‘Philip Guston and The Poets’ is organized in thematic groupings, each corresponding to selected writings and poems by one of the five poets. Beginning with D. H. Lawrence and his 1929 essay ‘Making Pictures,’ Guston’s work is introduced through an exploration of the artist’s visual world, considering the very act of creation and the possibility that painting holds. In early and late works from his oeuvre, the exhibition probes into Guston’s ascent to ‘visionary awareness,’ that is, his encounter with complete forms, images and ideas, and their physical manifestation.
In the work of Yeats, Guston’s journey, in search of his own vision of painting, is conceived in relation to the Irish bard’s poem ‘Byzantium’ (1930). References of agony and purification are ascribed to Guston’s artistic evolution, as he moves away from the confines of modernist purity, the language of abstraction and the tenets of the New York School towards a total expressive pictorial structure, which he finds in figuration.
From the Italian poet, Eugenio Montale, with whom Guston shares a fragmentary syntax of tragic and powerful symbols, to Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot, the exhibition offers a literary exploration of metaphysics, enigma, and meaning as they appear in Guston’s oeuvre. By presenting Guston’s paintings within the realm of poetic discourse, rather than as a chronological study, in linear fashion, as often reflected in traditional exhibitions, the curatorial approach from which ‘Philip Guston and The Poets’ has grown allows for the artist’s work be explored, examined and appreciated anew.
The enormous influence that Italy itself had upon Guston and his work will also be examined in the unique setting of Gallerie dell’Accademia. In 1948, the young artist first visited Italy after having received the Prix de Rome; he returned in 1960 when his work was featured at the Biennale di Venezia, and again in 1970 as an artist in residence in Rome, following the harsh criticism surrounding his first exhibition of figurative paintings in New York. Guston’s existentialist canvases, which some found cartoonish or crude, are saturated with the influence of Italy’s cultural and artistic heritage: from ancient and modern cityscapes that populate his Roma series, to references from Federico Fellini’s films, his work is indebted to the Italian masters, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Tiepolo and De Chirico to whom he pays tribute to in ‘Pantheon’ (1973). Paintings inspired by the Italian Renaissance, including works which relate to Cosimo Tura and Bellini, will be exhibited, as well as works Guston created during his sojourn abroad.
Philip Guston in Rome in 1960. VIRGINIA DORTCH
Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) is one of the great luminaries of 20th century art, whose commitment to producing work from genuine emotion and lived experience ensures its enduring impact. Guston’s legendary career spanned a half century, from 1930 to 1980. His paintings – particularly the liberated and instinctual forms of his late work – continue to exert a powerful influence on younger generations of contemporary painters.
Born in Montreal in 1913 to Russian Jewish émigrés, Guston moved with his family to California in 1919. He briefly attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1930, but otherwise received no formal training. In 1935 Guston left Los Angeles for New York, where he enjoyed early success with the Works Progress Administration, which commissioned artists to create public murals under the Federal Arts Project. Influenced by the social and political landscape of the 1930s, his paintings and murals evoked the stylized forms of de Chirico and Picasso, motifs from the Mexican mural tradition, and classical properties of Italian Renaissance frescoes. His experience as a mural painter allowed a development of narrative and scale that Guston would return to in his late figurative work.
After teaching in the Midwest for several years, Guston began dividing his time between the artists’ colony of Woodstock and New York City. In the late 1940s, following a decade of exploration of figurative and personal allegories in his easel paintings, Guston began to move towards abstraction. His studio on 10th Street was near the studios of Pollock, de Kooning, Kline and Rothko.
Guston’s abstract works were anchored in a new spontaneity, freedom and engagement with the act of painting, a process critic Harold Rosenberg later referred to as ‘action painting.’ In the early 1950s, Guston’s atmospheric abstractions invited superficial comparisons with Monet, but as the decade progressed, he worked with heavier impasto and brooding colors, which gave way to grays, pinks and blacks.
In 1955 he joined the Sidney Janis Gallery along with the artists of the New York School, and was among those who left in 1962 in protest over the Pop Art exhibition Janis mounted, and the shift towards the commercialization of art that this exhibition represented for them. Following a major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1962, Guston became dissatisfied and restless with the language of pure abstraction, and began experimenting again with more tangible forms. The work of the next several years was characterized by the use of black and the interjection of bright greens and cobalt blue – altogether disturbing, anxious and gestural in nature. This somber work was influenced by European writing and philosophy, particularly the works of Kierkegaard, Kafka and Sartre. At this juncture, Guston removed himself from the art scene in New York and lived and worked in Woodstock for the remainder of his life.
By 1968, Guston had abandoned abstraction, rediscovering the narrative potential of painting and exploring surreal motifs and combinations of objects within his work. This liberation led to the most productive period of his creative life. Over the next few years, he developed a personal lexicon of lightbulbs, books, clocks, cities, nails in wood, rogue limbs, cigarettes, orphaned shoes and Ku Klux Klan hooded figures. The expressively rendered, painterly work of the 1970s was often overtly autobiographical in nature, featuring the recurring figure of the artist disguised as a masked, hooded figure, or in tender portraits of his wife Musa, and himself as a bean-like semi-abstract creature. The late works also reveal echoes of Guston’s early life, of the religious and racial persecution he witnessed, and his father’s early suicide. Motivated by internal forces, his last works possessed a mounting freedom, unique among the artists of his generation. In the mid-1970s, strange iconic forms emerged unlike anything previously seen. “If I speak of having a subject to paint, I mean there is a forgotten place of beings and things, which I need to remember,” Guston wrote in a studio note. “I want to see this place. I paint what I want to see.”
Guston’s late work was not easily accepted by critics and remained largely misunderstood until after his death in 1980, following a traveling retrospective of his work that opened three weeks before his death, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Other retrospective and solo exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Australia have followed in the ensuing years. Today, Guston’s late paintings are considered among the most important work of the twentieth century.
About the Curator
Prof. Dr. Kosme de Barañano is a Guston scholar who has organized, among many projects, two major exhibitions: ‘Philip Guston: Roots of Drawing’ (Rekalde, Bilbao, Spain 1993) and ‘Philip Guston, One Shot Paintings’ (IVAM, Valencia, Spain 2001). An internationally respected art historian and curator, De Barañano is the former Executive Director of IVAM and the former Deputy Director of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. He holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain. De Barañano is a full tenured Professor of Art History at University of the Basque Country, at University Elche, Spain, Visiting Professor at IUAV, Venice, and at the Humbolt University, Berlin. He has authored numerous books and essays on a wide range of subjects, from Pontormo and Max Beckmann to Alberto Giacometti and Eduardo Chillida.
About Gallerie dell’Accademia
Housed in the Scuola Grande of former convent Santa Maria della Carità on south bank of the Grand Canal, in the Dorsoduro district of historic central Venice, the Gallerie dell’Accademia is an internationally revered treasure house of pre-19th century art. The museum began as the gallery of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, the city’s art academy, from which it became independent in 1879. The Accademia’s holdings are rich in Venetian and Italian art, with a collection tracing history from 13th century Bizantine and 14th century Gothic art, to masterworks of the Italian Renaissance: Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Carpaccio, Lorenzo Lotto, Mantegna, Tieoplo, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese.