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—organized 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, even unanswerable questions. The selection of 73 paintings and 27 drawings from public and private collections features well-known works as well as 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 by the palpable joy he took in the process of painting itself. Many of them address challenging themes, including white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, and violence, in part through their imagery. The exhibition features multiple paintings of hooded Ku Klux Klansmen, truncated body parts, and enigmatic scenes of struggle. These images and their meanings can appear unmistakable, indeterminate, and everything in between. Taken together, Guston’s works challenge us to grapple with the lived experience we each bring to this museum, and to 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 organizers 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 within an ever-shifting present. We are showing Guston’s work now in a different way than originally planned, yet we also aspire to more far-reaching and lasting change—taking a true, 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—with these paintings as our guide—we invite you to look, and reckon, alongside us.

—The Curatorial Team for “Philip Guston Now”

Megan Bernard
Ethan Lasser
Kate Nesin
Terence Washington

We Want to Hear from You

We invite you to engage with us and others in the MFA community to reflect deeply on Guston’s work. Please feel free to respond to one of the prompts or share your own thoughts.

If you’d like to engage directly with the curatorial team, please e-mail your comments to Guston@mfa.org.

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  • Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, Level 2

Image Gallery

Emotional Preparedness for “Philip Guston Now”

The content of this exhibition is challenging. Mental health and trauma specialist Ginger Klee offers an invitation to emotionally prepare for the experience and supplies anti-racist resources for further learning.

Read More about Emotional Preparedness

Audio Tour on MFA Mobile

painting depicting heavily abstracted structures on horizon; sea in foreground

Philip Guston, Wharf, 1976. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum purchase, The Friends of Art Endowment Fund. © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

Full of both darkness and joy, Philip Guston’s paintings come alive through close looking and open-ended exchange. This audio tour offers various voices and perspectives, inviting you to reflect deeply on the artist’s work. Download the app onto your smartphone from Apple’s App Store or Google Play, or access it on the web. For the best audio experience in the galleries, remember to bring your ear buds or headphones.

Sponsors

Ford Foundation

Lead Sponsor

The Guston Foundation

Generous Supporter with Musa and Thomas Mayer

Shapiro Family Foundation logo
Terra Foundation

Generous Supporter

Additional generous support from the Bafflin Foundation, Lisbeth Tarlow and Stephen Kay, Martin S. Kaplan and Wendy Tarlow Kaplan, Marilyn and Charles Baillie, Phil Lind, Michael Nesbitt and an anonymous donor. With gratitude to the Council for Canadian American Relations.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.