I’ve must admit I wasn’t too familiar with Philip Guston’s work until the big retrospective at the Met a few years ago, but have become a huge fan since. If you haven’t read Musa Mayer’s biography of her father, Night Studio it definitely a great read. Anyway, as with Nick Stillman in his recent essay in The Nation, I find that what draws me to Guston is his movement between figuration, abstraction, back to figuration. The freedom not to be stuck in a style, a motif, or direction. A process unfolding from personal dictates or needs. It goes without saying that the circumstances of the art world are much different now than they were back in the ’60s and ’70s. More than at any other time today artists have a freedom to choose their own direction, their own materials, process, etc., some have called it a free for all. However, there is a pressure to settle on a style, develop a personal brand, and stick to it. This satisfies both the expectations of the market and helps prevent a type of emotional paralysis in the face of an overwhelming array of decisions and choices by providing a sense of direction. I think it’s an unreasonable expectation for artists to remain committed to a certain style for their entire career. First, with a few exceptions, I don’t think anyone is naturally that obsessive or rigid. Second, it would be no fun to be that rigid. For me it is fun to jump around between abstract, figure, landscape, etc. It helps me maintain that element of play necessary to my own work, which is not to say its not work, it just has to be playful.
Anyway, check out Nick Stillman’s review of the Guston exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum through August 31. Here’s a brief excerpt:
Tags: realist art, controversial art, abstraction, art gallery, online art gallery, morgan library
If, like in Clement Greenberg’s ’50s, art critics were still considered arbitrators, I would argue that Philip Guston’s art got better as he got older. His transformation late in his career from a successful and comparatively polite Abstract Expressionist into a conjurer of cartoonish tableaux of internal unrest and lowbrow humor garnished with uncomfortable personal admissions was an act of bravery, especially given the public’s lack of enthusiasm for his ribald new direction. As long as he is remembered, Guston’s need to reintroduce concrete subject matter into his art will be his legacy. This is ground firmly trod on by a gaggle of essayists, biographers, critics and friends of the artist; there’s no shortage of recent literature on Guston’s late work that praises it as deliciously, perfectly, bathetic–work that never descends into the flippancy that tends to mar the majority of art that is expressly funny, explicitly political or both.
Honestly, though, it’s difficult for me to think about Guston from an art critic’s perspective. Among the countless explanations of Guston’s return to figuration, the one I most agree with was pronounced by an artist, Willem de Kooning: “It’s about freedom.” Guston’s black humor, his exploitation of the absurd and grotesque, his merger of the political with the personal and his spirit of defiance in the face of complacency and aging is something to be appreciated on a gut level. You get it, or you don’t. I’m not suggesting that Guston’s work is anti-intellectual or even particularly populist. What I’m saying is that Guston’s work–especially from 1970-1980–is borne of intuition and inexorability, qualities that can be alienating as often as they are inspiring. [Read more...]
June 18, 2008 No Comments