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Press release

Focused Installation of Philip Guston’s Late Works Opens at The Met May 25

The display celebrates major promised gift from Musa Guston Mayer

Opening May 25, Philip Guston: What Kind of Man Am I? celebrates the promised gift to The Met of 220 paintings and drawings from the artist’s daughter Musa Guston Mayer. The focused installation features eight works created during the last eleven years of Guston’s life, the most prolific period of his artistic career. The works are: Pittore (1973), Pantheon (1973), Sleeping (1977), Riding Around (1969), The Palette (1975), Painter’s Hand (1979), and two untitled paintings from 1980.

Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director, said, “We are delighted to celebrate Musa’s extraordinary gift to The Met with this special installation, providing a glimpse into the many ways in which we will engage with the work of Philip Guston in the years ahead. By focusing on outstanding paintings from Guston’s later career, the display highlights his unflagging commitment to push his paintings in ever-new directions as well as his enduring interest in the iconic figures of Western art history—from Masaccio and Piero della Francesca to Giorgio de Chirico—and demonstrates the myriad opportunities we now have to further scholarship and understanding of one of the great artists of the 20th century, thanks to Musa's generosity.”

Musa Guston Mayer, commented, “At the heart of The Met gift are the ‘not for sale’ (N.F.S.) works that my father kept for his personal collection. He was an artist whose career was marked by constant questioning and change, and his entire story could never be told with a few select works. So, after his death, my mother and I added other key works from 1930 to 1980 to serve as a lending collection for exhibitions. Last year, as I considered my father’s legacy, it became clear to me how important it was to seek a permanent home for this carefully curated collection in one of the world’s great museums, to serve as inspiration, to be seen by future generations, and to be a resource for scholars.”

Philip Guston (1913–1980) was born in Montreal to immigrants who had fled the persecution of Jews in present-day Ukraine a decade earlier. Raised in Los Angeles, he worked in the Midwest for most of the 1940s and settled permanently in New York in 1949, dividing his time between his studios in Manhattan and Woodstock. Although Guston is often associated with Abstract Expressionism, his career is too expansive to be understood solely in relationship to that movement. By 1968, he had returned to figuration and began forging a singular path, for which he is now best known.

Guston consistently interrogated his purpose and identity as an artist, giving rise to a self-reflexive body of work that embraces both abstract and representational content. He grappled openly with symbols of evil and prejudice and explored the experience of mortality and vulnerability, especially in the late work shown in the installation. At the same time, there is great pleasure to be had in his paintings, whose colors, brushwork, and materiality indulge close looking. Contradictions such as these go to the heart of Guston’s practice, endowing it with aesthetic and philosophical urgency.

The title of the installation What Kind of Man Am I? is drawn from a quote by the artist, in which he reflected on his conflictual feelings as an artist and a person living in the US in the 1960s and provides insight into the radical turn his practice took at this pivotal juncture in his career. “The [Vietnam] war, what was happening in America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue.” 

Philip Guston: What Kind of Man Am I? is organized by Kelly Baum, currently the Des Moines Art Center’s John and Mary Pappajohn Director and formerly the Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art at The Met, and Brinda Kumar, Associate Curator in The Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

About the 2022 Promised Gift

In December 2022, The Met announced the transformative promised gift of 220 works by Philip Guston from the personal collection of Musa Guston Mayer, the artist’s daughter. Comprised of 96 paintings and 124 drawings, the earliest created in 1930 and the latest made in 1980—the collection represents the full arc of Guston’s career. The gift includes works that range not only in style but also in size, as many are modestly sized works on paper and board. At the same time, Musa and Thomas Mayer made a major gift of $10 million to establish The Philip Guston Endowment Fund, which will be used to support initiatives related to the collection, advance scholarship regarding Guston, and further the artist’s legacy. 

The promised gift is discussed in a Perspectives article written by Musa Guston Mayer in which she reflects on her father’s art and its legacy. The article is on The Met’s website, here.

Philip Guston: What Kind of Man Am I? will be featured on The Met’s website, as well as social media using the hashtag #MetGuston.


May 25, 2023

Contact: Alexandra Kozlakowski

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