Friday, October 02, 2020

Philip Guston, Scared Stiff, 1970
Guston, The Studio, 1969
According to Bob Storr the problem was with Drawing for Conspirators, from 1930. He was 17.

"So when the 1960s came along, I was feeling split, schizophrenic; the war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of a man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going home to adjust a red to a blue?"

The paintings are self-portraits, and finger in Scared Stiff, is the finger of Clement Greenberg. The show at Marlborough caused a scandal, but I'm not sure anyone arguing about this now is ready to explain why Guston's move from abstraction to cartoonish figuration warrants a comparison. 

In 2017, Hauser and Wirth, representing Guston's estate, sold Scared Stiff  at Art Basel, for $15 million

R. Crumb
I didn’t see Guston's work until later. The similarity between us is coincidental. He discovered the same level of collective consciousness I did, but he came from abstract expressionism. I came from popular culture. I didn’t go to art school. And there was no place to learn cartooning. You looked at others’ work and you copied it, that’s how you learned in the old days. All fine art produced since the Second World War is not of interest to me. I’m a little interested in the pop surrealism of LA—Todd Schorr, Robert Williams. I like Dalí. I like Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad. And American social realists, like Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper. But abstract expressionism is totally uninteresting to me. Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, all those people, to me it doesn’t add up to two cents.

Crumb is now represented by David Zwirner, who is planning a new subsidiary gallery in NY, with an all black staff to show black artists.

I'm not interested in snobbery or reverse snobbery. Art and politics is just like art and money.  Modalities of communication change as cultures change. Philip Guston will be remembered. Dana Schutz will not. And Hannah Black is still confused: "rlly appreciate Larne Abse Gogarty’s thoughts on the very weird cancellation of the Philip Guston show" 

She posted the grabs below. My transcription (with an app) may have mistakes.

The cancellation of the Guston show is so hilariously stupid. Plenty of other ppl have pointed out the devaluing of an audience’s intelligence which seems to have guided the decision. This is true, and goes hand in hand with the way the museums who took the decision have postponed the show to 2024, which they say will enable them to figure out how to present Guston’s extraordinary body of work in ways that won’t “upset” this mythic public they are imagining. We know how these museums function. The idea that they could possible figure anything out in ways which genuinely make the experience of viewing artworks inside their walls less marked by gatekeeping, and more accessible and meaningful would involve fundamentally transforming the way they are structured. It would involve these people who took this decision, along with many others, losing their jobs. It would involve them changing their funding and governance structures. It would involve them selling some mediocre Donald Judd sculpture to save jobs. To just take the Tate as exemplary of how these institutions function, currently many staff remain on strike in protest at the way in which 313 staff who have lost their jobs have been treated. Or let’s talk about how an ACTUALLY horrendously racist mural, described as “amusing” has sat in the Rex Whistler cafe for years, and when requests to remove it were issued, the museum replied with mealy mouthed qualifications of its presence. The postponement of the show is at best a liberal fantasy that things will “calm down” by 2024 (looool) and at worst, a calculated choice to remove the work of an artist who demanded white ppl examine their own racism.

Also worth mentioning that this isn’t the first time Guston’s work has been attacked/compromised in its capacity for ppl to see it, and referencing that history helps clarify the political stakes of the current situation. In 1932, Guston and his fellow Jewish, communist leaning painters, Reuben Kadish and Harold Lehmen (all in their late teens/early 20s) had been working on a series of portable murals made in solidarity with the scotsboro boys, which also included an anti lynching panel, and anti KKK imagery. These paintings were being stored in the Los Angeles John Reed Club (the John Reed Clubs were cultural centres organised by the communist party USA). One morning the JRC was raided by a group, with eyewitnesses saying this raid was led by the Red Squad, carried out by local police. They destroyed the murals - shooting our the eyes and the genitals of the figures in the paintings. These are the people who don’t want Guston’s work on view.  With this in mind, I rly feel like the postponement is a perfect expression of how the centre/liberals who are happy to work with the right, will adopt the tactics of protest, and campaigns for social justice or whatever u wanna call it for the most cynical ends, dressing up their avoidance of conflict - their avoidance of choosing sides between their racist, capitalist pig (lol sorry, but rly) donors/patrons and progressive audiences - in a “caring” exterior which is nothing other than fence-sitting. Looking closely at Guston’s painting and thinking through his motivations and what these works do in and of themselves, will tell us more about our present than anything any of the ppl who took this decision ever could. 

Larne Abse Gogarty
Larne Abse Gogarty is Lecturer in History and Theory of Art at the Slade School of Fine Art. Larne’s primary research interests lie in modern and contemporary art, as well as theories relating to Marxism, race and gender. Previously, she was the Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte at the Humboldt University, Berlin (20016-2018). She has also taught in the History of Art Department, UCL, Chelsea College of Fine Art and Goldsmiths College. Larne completed her PhD in the History of Art department at University College London in 2015, which was a comparative history of social practice art during the 1990s, and cultural work produced within the proletarian avant-garde during the 1930s in the United States. 

What's the relationship of public art to art as luxury commodity?  What's the relation of the civic –bourgeois democracy–  to the vanguard? What's the relation of Guston in 1932 to Guston in 1970, and of state sanctioned educational licensing bureaucracies to political radicalism?

Guston's self-portraits as an old man in a hood are better than his murals. His abstractions are too. But artists are never radical. Art is either conservative or it's reactionary. I forget when I said that for the first time but it seemed obvious.

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