When Philip Guston began showing this work at Marlborough in 1970, the negative reaction of the established New York art world was so overwhelming that the gallery would not renew his contract to exhibit there. Hilton Kramer ridiculed the new paintings, and much of the art world dismissed the work as being “impure”—it was simply too transgressive for the sensibility of the art establishment, which revolved around a received notion that painting had to be “pure” to be seen as authentic.
Guston eventually moved to Woodstock, withdrawing from the city to focus on his new artistic direction. The David McKee gallery began showing Guston’s new work and continued to do so until the artist’s death in 1980. His painting output during this time period became a lightning rod for subsequent generations of figurative painters, who drew inspiration from his courageous break with the dominant trend of abstract expressionism. Guston once said, “I’m puzzled all the time by representation or not, the literal image and the nonobjective. There’s no such thing as nonobjective art. Everything has an object, has a figure. The question is what kind?”
The current exhibit at McKee is a great opportunity to visit some of the very earliest of these protean works, which still pack quite a punch after 40 years.
James Kalm Visits the McKee Gallery: Philip Guston Small Oils 1969-1973
Visit Harold’s Sketchbook at www.haroldgraves.com