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The MET Gets Major Philip Guston Donation

Philip Guston, Pittore, 1973. Photo: Philip Guston Estate/Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the lucky recipient of 220 works by Philip Guston, becoming the steward of the world’s largest collection of work by the renowned Canadian American artist. Guston’s daughter, Musa Mayer, has promised ninety-six paintings and 124 drawings by the artist, whose practice encompassed both abstraction and figuration. in partnership with her husband, Thomas, Mayer is also supplying the museum with a $10 million donation. The money is to be used to establish the Philip Guston Endowment Fund, which will facilitate scholarship around the artist’s work.

“We see Guston as one of the important artistic figures of the twentieth century — the Met has already collected Guston in a significant way,” Met director Max Hollein told the New York Times. “There is a whole cosmos around Guston’s abstract and figurative phases, but also around him as an artist.”

Mayer told the publication that she had contemplated bequeathing the trove to the Guston Foundation, which protects and advances the artist’s legacy, but was concerned that the paintings might be dispersed or infrequently shown. A condition of her gift to the Met, which already owns a number of works by Guston and hosted a traveling retrospective of his work in 2003, is that the institution continually keep roughly a dozen of the artist’s works on view in its modern and contemporary wing. The wing is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion overseen by Mexico City-based architect Frida Escobedo and made possible by a $125 million gift from activist collectors Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang.

Guston began as a muralist, eventually working in this capacity for the WPA. He gained fame in the 1950s as an Abstract Expressionist and seminal member of the New York School before moving late the following decade into cartoonish neo-expressionism, returning to figuration in the mid-’70s. His work in this vein was poorly received at the time and he endured what Mayer characterized as “a lot of lonely years” before beginning to be celebrated again, during his lifetime (Guston died in 1980). In 2020, a planned multi-institution retrospective of his work was postponed after its planned inclusion of a number of works depicting Ku Klux Klan members sparked controversy and a broader institutional conversation about censorship and art’s intended and perceived meanings. Its staging additionally complicated by the global Covid-19 crisis, an altered version of the retrospective opened in 2022; the contested works were displayed by Hauser & Wirth in 2021.

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