Delayed Philip Guston Show Opens, With a Note From a Trauma Specialist

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Boston — Looking at the image checklist and installation plans for the Philip Guston show at the National Gallery of Art in the summer of 2020, Kaiwin Feldman, who was in his second year as museum director, was worried. A cartoon and hooded picture by Gaston who explored racism in his mysterious, politically condemned work in the pain and urge of racism that exploded shortly after George Floyd’s killing. How does the Ku Klux Klan person look like a visitor?

At that time, the museum staff did not have a black curator. Feldman consulted with employees throughout the museum, including educators and guards, to hear their thoughts. She expressed anxiety to her questioning counterparts at three other museums cooperating at Gaston’s show. She noted comments from a black colleague who made a particularly strong impression on her when she told the board that all four directors had concluded that the show should be postponed. Pour salt into it. I’m willing to do that, but that should be a bigger reason. “

The museums that are cooperating with the Gaston exhibition — the Tate Modern Museum in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — announced in September that the show would be postponed until 2024 and reconsidered and set up. Hundreds of prominent artists have signed an open letter saying “fear of controversy” and “lacking confidence in the intellect of their audience,” leaving the fire storm.

The show is currently scheduled to open on May 1st at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The postponement was shortened in response to the protest. Includes a picture of a hooded figure, along with a more historical context. An “emotional preparation” pamphlet from a trauma specialist encourages visitors to “identify your boundaries and take care of yourself.” And a detour that allows visitors to bypass clan-themed works. The opening is either a delay, a nasty sign that museums are avoiding challenging and provocative work in times of heightened sensitivity, or a delay in the need for change after a long failure to diversify. Their staff, programming, and audience have rekindled a fierce debate about what is a healthy sign of facing.

“At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, I really didn’t know why the agency chose not to display paintings in a powerful way that responded directly to racism,” the protest letter said. I said in a recent interview. “I don’t know the downside of showing the work.”

Darren Walker, chairman of the Ford Foundation who donated $ 1 million to the exhibition and a councilor of the National Gallery who supported the postponement, said the case was “How a museum exhibiting exhibitions on these delicate issues. Change it if it is improperly managed and how we should do it. “

“In the future, when museums hold such shows, we need to talk to people of color,” he said. “You are not seeking their permission, nor are you seeking the advice of their experts. You are just sympathizing with the people affected.”

The museum director who attended the show “Philip Guston Now” claims that critics missed the point of their delay: to ensure that the Guston exhibition is more sensitive at the moment.

Gary Tinterow, director of the Houston Museum, said: “But equally inevitable was a change in conversation about his work.”

“This isn’t about Gaston’s receptivity, it’s about the museum’s hospitality,” said Matthew Teitelbau, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Critics are still wondering if a postponement of nearly two years is needed and how important the current changes are.

“Note that the plan to give enough context to Gaston’s early portrayals of the KKK and his later hood paintings had already been implemented at Tate,” said the curator of the show at Tate Modern in London before he accused him. Mark Godfrey said the postponement of the Instagram post was suspended and accepted a voluntary acquisition.

Godfrey consults with Tate’s curator on the museum’s ethnic network of blacks, Asians, and minorities to provide a context about American history and Gaston’s life and career, with persecution and the clan itself prominently depicted. He said he planned the anteroom before the hooded painting.

Gaston’s daughter, Musa Mayer, who was keenly criticizing the decision to postpone the show, said she came to understand that the controversy did not reflect her father’s artwork as much as the challenges facing the museum. ..

“This was a problem with the institution itself,” she said in an interview. “In light of all the demonstrations, petitions, and complaints about other American museums, the museum was aware of the vulnerability.”

In 2017, protesters stood at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York for hours, blocking visitors from seeing “Open Casquette,” a painting by white artist Danashutz, a black citizenship martyr Emmett Till. That year, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis evoked a gallows in American history, including one used to execute members of the Dakota community in 1862 after a protest from Dakota. Removed the scaffolding “scaffolding”. Last year’s Sophie Taeuber Alp retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York omitted works inspired by Hopi Cassina dolls “in honor of the Hopi and Pueblo people.”

The museum was also scrutinized for the lack of diversity in staff, boards and walls, and how they serve the community. In 2019, a teacher said a junior high school student was racistly abused on an excursion to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This is the case that the museum mentions on the timeline of the Gaston exhibition. In 2020, staff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, and Smithsonian Castle criticized the statement that racism was established within their facilities.

Gaston was known for his challenging work. He started his career in the 1930s as a mural painter inspired by Diego Rivera’s social realism. In the 1950s he became a major abstract expressionist and later returned to figurative art. Cartoon-like bricks, shoes, limbs and his self-portrait became his signature. This late career stage of the decades, which was widely panned at the time, became a sign of Gaston’s greatness.

At least 20 pieces of that era feature a hood that clearly refers to the clan. Gaston, a child of a Jewish immigrant who fled Pogrom, was exposed to clan violence as a young man in Los Angeles. In the “Philip Guston Now” catalog, published before the postponement, artist Glenrigon interpreted food as Gaston’s effort to tackle not only racism but also his own accomplices.

However, during the summer of 2020, when the pandemic had already delayed its initial opening date, Feldman questioned the wisdom of opening without the necessary context and opinion from people of color. When she started at the National Gallery in 2019, she said, the curator’s staff, leadership team and board were almost blank, Other than one curator who retired immediately.

“When the exhibition staff is white, they don’t really understand how people perceive the work,” she said. “I’m a privileged white woman. Just because I have a degree in art history doesn’t mean that my feelings are more or less important than the feelings of our great guards.”

Prior to the postponement, the National Gallery had convened an “Kansei Group” of members beyond the direct Gaston team, said show curator Harry Cooper. To reconsider the postponed exhibition, the museum, with the help of an external consultant, has developed an advisory group to consider the layout and contextual elements of the exhibition.

“They are working to see how employees actually feel,” said Otis Johnson Jr., a former National Gallery guard who is now an officer of the union.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston also expanded the show’s curator team and rethought how to present the exhibition. The show’s opt-in moment — viewers need to open a slide panel to see a newspaper photo depicting the Nazi atrocities and an article about the dirty Gaston mural of Clansman beating a black man — It’s an effort to give visitors an agency. He is a member of the ArtoftheAmericas division of the museum, which has been added to the curator team. He admitted that such a device is “unconventional”.

“We really put the visitor at the center,” said Rosa Rodriguez-Williams, who was recently hired as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston’s first affiliation and senior director of inclusion.

Some argue that the process that the institution has gone through is important and necessary, and that it should be a new common sense.

Antowansergent, director and critic of the Gagosian Gallery, said: “For a long time the same voice was speaking in the museum. Now we need to do business in a different way.”

And some prominent museum leaders claim that the Gaston controversy has not planted new censorship. “I don’t think Gaston himself had the museum modify the course,” said Glenn D. Laurie, director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “It certainly didn’t make them say,’We’re going to undo the controversial artists and problems.'”

However, some are worried that the postponement will have a chilling effect on the facility and will be wary of what the museum intends to do: presenting art that stimulates, inspires, and sometimes insults.

“What we have to learn is that we can’t look away,” said gallerist Lucy Mitchell Inns. She “hopes it is a tale.”

Tom Eccles, secretary general of the Curatorial Research Center at Bard College, said the episode was extraordinary.

“The seizures and beginnings of the Gaston show will be one of the major anomalies of the Museum of Contemporary Art,” he said. “People asked, or at least personally thought.” If that could happen to Gaston, who else? Who’s next? ‘”

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