An Exhibition and Panel Discussion in Washington DC: Philip Guston, Roma

Philip Guston - Rome Garden
Philip Guston, Rome Garden, 1971, oil on paper mounted on panel, 50.2 x 68.6 cm (artwork © Estate of Philip Guston)

Following a successful run at Rome’s Museo Carlo Bilotti last June, the exhibition Philip Guston, Roma will be on view at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, from February 12 to May 15, 2011. Through its collaboration with the Phillips Collection, the American Academy in Rome is bringing the exhibit, which focuses on a pivotal moment in Guston’s illustrious career, to the United States for the first time.

To inaugurate this show, the Phillips Collection and the AAR will host a panel discussion introduced by Academy president Adele Chatfield-Taylor on February 9 at 6:30pm in which Academy Trustees Chuck Close (1996 Resident) and Robert Storr, Peter Benson Miller (organizing curator for the exhibition), and Phillips curator Susan Behrends Frank discuss the importance of Italy and Italian culture to Guston’s work.

A celebrated exponent of the New York School, Guston was, with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, one of the pioneers of abstract expressionism. Guston, who had been a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1949, took refuge there a Resident in the autumn of 1970. An exhibition of his newest paintings, daring to reintroduce figural form and narrative into the reigning abstract expressionist mode, opened at the Marlborough Gallery in New York to scathing reviews from most of the art establishment. It was during this tumultuous period that Guston painted the Roma series, experimenting with his newly invented language of isolated figural images, challenging himself to draw inspiration from his environment, not just his imagination. For Guston, Rome was magical—a fertile place where he could meditate on art and escape the pressures of the contemporary art world in New York. Inspired by the paintings of Italian heroes like the Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, as well as the modernists Giorgio Morandi and Giorgio de Chirico, Guston combined a nostalgia for the past with recognizable objects from the Italian landscape.

Saturated in a palette of deep pinks and salmon that recall the city’s sun-drenched surfaces, the Roma series embraces figurative painting in its most rudimentary form. As Guston once said, “I imagine wanting to paint as a cave man would…. I should like to paint like a man who has never seen a painting.” The series allowed Guston to develop a vocabulary of pared down forms organized into unconventional narrative systems that ultimately provoked new directions in his late paintings. The sophisticated dialogue between stylistic considerations, political ideas, and autobiographical detail created multiple layers of meaning behind seemingly crude cartoonlike imagery.

The exhibit will feature thirty-nine paintings by Guston from the Roma series, painted in Rome between 1970 and 1971. Organized by the City of Rome and the Museo Carlo Bilotti – Aranciera di Villa Borghese, in partnership with the American Academy in Rome, Philip Guston, Roma is made possible by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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