This monumentally large painting brings together many of the raw and visceral themes that characterize Philip Guston's return to figurative subject matter in the late 1960s. Prior to that he had been for many years one of the most lyrical abstractionists of Abstract Expressionism, a group that also included Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. The painting's poignant narrative of confrontation, struggle, and uncertainty is as ambiguous as it is compelling, with precedents in the social commentaries Guston painted during the 1930s and 1940s.
"The Street" is a serious investigation into states of disorder and confusion presented in the vernacular language of cartoon figures and naïve drawing. The composition is divided into three vertical sections, each depicting a different state of being: passive decay, violent aggression, and total disarray. At the right, a large trashcan is stuffed to overflowing with empty bottles, old strips of wood, a shoe, and other refuse. In the center is a barrage of disembodied limbs, hairy and paw-like, wielding trashcan lids as shields. These arms confront to the left a wave of skinny, interlocked legs whose movements seem thwarted by their own oversize shoes. Below, on the horizon line, which is the street itself, a pair of large spiders ominously sits poised for action.
Guston's work remained an intensely personal statement throughout its many transformations, often relying on his private iconography of images to convey ideas about the human condition and to express the artist's own fears and crises. As he wrote in 1974, his late paintings depict a "sort of Dante Inferno land." The unsettling color scheme of "The Street"—red, bright pink, and gunmetal gray—and its crude style of painting add to the sense of urgent turmoil and despair.
Inscription: Signed (lower right): Philip Guston; signed, dated, and inscribed (verso): PHILIP GUSTON/ "THE STREET" 1977/ OIL ON CANVAS "69x110 3/4 "
[David McKee Gallery, New York, 1977–79; sold in 1979 to HHK Foundation]; HHK Foundation for Contemporary Art, Inc., Milwaukee (1979–83; on consignment in 1983 to David McKee Gallery; sold to MMA)
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "1979 Biennial Exhibition," February 6–April 8, 1979, unnumbered cat. (lent by David McKee Gallery, New York).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Philip Guston," May 16–June 29, 1980, no. 83 (lent by the HHK Foundation for Contemporary Art, Inc., Milwaukee, Wisconsin).
Washington, D. C. Corcoran Gallery of Art. "Philip Guston," July 20–September 9, 1980, no. 83.
Milwaukee Art Museum. "Art In Our Time," October 9–November 30, 1980, unnumbered cat.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. "Philip Guston," November 12, 1980–January 11, 1981, no. 83.
Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. "Art In Our Time," January 15–March 15, 1981, unnumbered cat.
Denver Art Museum. "Philip Guston," February 25–April 26, 1981, no. 83.
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio. "Art In Our Time," June 6–July 19, 1981, unnumbered cat.
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Philip Guston," June 24–September 13, 1981, no. 83.
Richmond. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Art In Our Time," September 1–October 11, 1981, unnumbered cat.
Champaign. Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois. "Art In Our Time," November 15–December 31, 1981, unnumbered cat.
Atlanta. High Museum of Art. "Art In Our Time," January 23–March 7, 1982, unnumbered cat.
Iowa City. University of Iowa Museum of Art. "Art In Our Time," April 4–May 31, 1982, unnumbered cat.
Memphis. Brooks Memorial Art Gallery. "Art In Our Time," July 8–September 5, 1982, unnumbered cat.
London. Whitechapel Art Gallery. "Philip Guston: Paintings 1969–80," October 31–December 12, 1982, no. 25 (lent by the HHK Foundation for Contemporary Art, Inc., Milwaukee, Wisconsin).
University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin. "Art In Our Time," November 5–December 19, 1982, unnumbered cat.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. "Philip Guston: Paintings 1969–80," January 13–March 6, 1983, no. 25.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Aspects of the City," July 31–September 29, 1984, no catalogue (removed early for loan to Exh. Perth 1984).
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. "Philip Guston: The Late Works," September 27–October 28, 1984, no. 27.
Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Philip Guston: The Late Works," November 8–December 30, 1984, no. 27.
Madrid. Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. "Philip Guston: Retrospectiva de Pintura," March 1–May 8, 1989, no. 55.
Barcelona. Palau de la Virreina. "Philip Guston: Retrospectiva de Pintura," May 25–July 16, 1989, no. 55.
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. "Philip Guston Retrospective," March 30–June 8, 2003, no. 113.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Philip Guston Retrospective," June 28–September 27, 2003, no. 113.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Philip Guston Retrospective," October 27, 2003–January 4, 2004, no. 113.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Philip Guston Retrospective," January 24–April 12, 2004, no. 113.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Street," March 5–May 27, 2013, no catalogue.
Ross Feld inPhilip Guston. Exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1980, pp. 30–31, 33, colorpl. 73, identifies this painting as a version of Uccello's "Battle of San Romano" (1438–40, Louvre, Paris; National Gallery, London; Uffizi, Florence).
Andrea S. Van Dyke. Art In Our Time. Exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Museum. Milwaukee, 1980, unpaginated, ill. (color), states that this painting contains many of Guston's familiar images such as the chunky shoe, spiders and bottles; identifies the tangled leg imagery from paintings done in 1976; states that the piece of wood stuck with nails "represents an artist's easel and is always included in the works that show the artist either working on or contemplating his art"; comments that Guston's works are always at least in part autobiographical, noting that here the artist's tools are found among the trash.
James Burr. "Round the Galleries: The Rise and Fall of Philip Guston." Apollo 116 (October 1982), p. 273, fig. 1.
Edward F. Fry inPhilip Guston: The Late Works. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. [Sydney], 1984, pp. 19, 64, no. 27, ill. p. 42 (color).
Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 98, ill. (color), states that this painting "summarizes several raw and visceral themes that characterize Philip Guston's return in the 1970s to figurative subject matter after having been for many years one of the most lyrical of the first–generation Abstract Expressionists".
Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), p. 47, fig. 43 (color).
Kay Larson. "The Met Goes Modern: Bill Lieberman's Brave New Wing." New York Magazine 19 (December 15, 1986), ill. p. 44 (color).
Robert Storr. Philip Guston. New York, 1986, pp. 82–83, fig. 84.
Lisa Mintz Messinger in20th Century Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Vol. 2, Painting: 1945-1985. New York, 1986, pp. 50–51, ill. (color, overall and detail).
William S. Lieberman in20th Century Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Vol. 2, Painting: 1945–1985. New York, 1986, p. 7.
Michael Kimmelman. "At the Met with Elizabeth Murray: Looking for the Magic in Painting." New York Times (October 21, 1994), p. C28, ill. p. C1.
Robert Hughes. The Shock of the New: The Hundred–Year History of Modern Art–Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall. New York, 1996, p. 398, colorpl. 256.
Michael Kimmelman. Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere. New York, 1998, pp. xiii, 30–31, 122, 188, ill., calls it "Street" in the text.
Michael Auping inPhilip Guston Retrospective. Exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Fort Worth, 2003, pp. 13, 241, colorpl. 113, calls this painting a "powerful battle scene".
Mario Naves. "Guston, Vindicated Underdog, A Man Who Changed His Mind." New York Observer (November 17, 2003), ill. p. 18.
Sarah Schmerler. "Learning to Scrawl: A Met Retrospective Charts Philip Guston's Animated Progression." Time Out New York no. 414 (September 4–11, 2003), p. 16, ill. (color).
Post-War and Contemporary Art: Evening Sale. Christie's, New York. May 11, 2005, p. 122, under no. 31, ill. (color).
Christopher Bucklow. What is in the Dwat: The Universe of Guston's Final Decade. Grasmere, 2007, p. 88 n. 104, pp. 115, 120, 128, ill. pp. 98–99 (color detail).
David Kaufmann. Telling Stories: Philip Guston's Later Works. Berkeley, 2010, pp. 50–51.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 433, ill. (color).
Paulo Pasta. A Educação Pela Pintura. São Paulo, 2012, fig. 22 (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Masterpiece Paintings. 2016, p. 509, ill. (color), p. 534.