The indefinite postponement of a major retrospective to honour the Jewish artist Philip Guston has sparked fury in the art world.
The exhibition, which was due to open at Tate Modern in London and tour art galleries in Washington, Houston and Boston, was cancelled because, according to the four galleries, it requires “additional perspectives and voices” to frame Guston’s depictions of racism.
The paintings, which feature Ku Klux Klan members going about their daily business wearing robes stained by the blood of their victims, were the artist’s way of presenting the banality of evil. Now, according to some critics of the decision, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has resulted in galleries postponing the exhibit as they want to wait until the “message of social and racial justice” at the centre of Guston’s work “can be more clearly interpreted”.
Canadian-born Guston, born Goldstein, often created work about racism and antisemitism. He died in 1980. His father, a Russian-Jewish blacksmith, fled the pogroms in Odessa but when he struggled to find enough work in the US to feed his seven children, he hanged himself. Philip, then 10, found his body.
Guston was traumatised by the antisemitism his father suffered and in his youth was an anti-racism activist, which is why the postponement has angered so many.
The Tate’s senior curator, Mark Godfrey, voiced his frustration, posting on Instagram that the decision “is actually extremely patronising to viewers, who are assumed not to be able to appreciate the nuance and politics of Guston’s works”.