“Philip Guston and The Poets” at Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, Venice
Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia presents 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 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 is also 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. The artist’s 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, are exhibited, as well as works Guston created during his sojourn abroad.
at Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, Venice
until 3 September 2017