61 x 48.3 cm / 24 x 19 in
New York… Beginning 1 November 2016, Hauser & Wirth will present ‘Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975’, an exhibition devoted to the late artist’s satirical caricatures of the 37th President of the United States: Richard Nixon. Featuring some 180 works depicting Nixon and his cronies, the exhibition includes Guston’s infamous Poor Richard series and brings together over 100 additional drawings and one painting never before seen by the public at large. The exhibition marks the first time this entire body of work has been presented together to the public.
These trenchant works were created at an historic moment, amidst the tumultuous political climate of the early 1970s, as the United States suffered under the weight of civil unrest and social dissent following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Senator Robert F Kennedy, the chaos of the 1968 presidential election, and the enduring violence and brutality of the Vietnam War. In his studio in Woodstock NY, Guston’s distress over the political situation was fueled by conversations with his friend, the writer Philip Roth. The artist and the writer shared an intellectual disposition for the mundane ‘crapola’ of American popular culture, and in Nixon discovered a subject they could each mimic and animate in art. During the summer of 1971, Roth had recently completed ‘Our Gang,’ an outlandish political satire of the Nixon administration. Putting pen to paper, Guston similarly engaged in an artistic pursuit of the embattled President, turning toward the immediacy of drawing and reveling in the power of expressive line. The works in ‘Laughter in the Dark’ can be viewed within the distinguished tradition of political satire and social commentary by such artists as Hogarth, Daumier, Goya, and Picasso. Seeking a language to resolve a pictorial crisis that was at once personally and politically engaged, Guston’s adaptation of the comic-strip style of caricature emerged at a pivotal crux in his artistic career.
Untitled, 1971 Ink on paper
27.6 x 35.2 cm / 10 7/8 x 13 7/8 in
On view through 14 January 2017, ‘Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975’ is cocurated by Sally Radic, of The Guston Foundation, and Musa Mayer, the daughter of the artist. The exhibition is the first to be presented in Hauser & Wirth’s new temporary space at 548 West 22nd Street. The exhibition is accompanied by a brief chronology that serves to remind viewers of the ‘highlights’ of Nixon’s career.
About the Exhibition
In May 1971, Philip Guston returned from an eight-month sojourn in Italy following the scathing critical response to his October 1970 Marlborough Gallery exhibition in New York. That first showing of his late paintings had been assailed by critics and admirers of high Modernism as an act of heresy, a full-fledged betrayal of abstract painting. Unraveled and deflated by attacks from critics like Hilton Kramer, who publicly denounced Guston as ‘A Mandarin Pretending to Be a Stumblebum’ (the headline of his biting New York Times review), the artist lamented the art world’s rigidity. ‘It was as though I had left the Church,’ he stated at the time. ‘I was excommunicated.’ Less than one year later, Guston would return to the US with his immersion in figuration and the aesthetic of transgression only reinforced by criticism, now replete with the grotesque and the absurd.
The works on view in ‘Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975’ were created at this pivotal moment of Guston’s personal and artistic journey. The exhibition opens with ‘Alone’ and ‘In Bed II,’ two paintings from 1971 that culminate Guston’s outpouring of satirical Nixon images over the months of July and August that same year. Developed through the language of caricature, these works propose a new pictorial order that conveys both the pathos of a fraught inner terrain and the impossible turmoil of the exterior world. Each painting renders a solitary figure lying awake in bed, caught in an introspective state of contemplation and foreboding. These pictorial compositions suggest parallels between images of the young Nixon rendered in Guston’s Poor Richard series and the artist’s revealing self-portraits of later years. The lexicon of images that first animated his Nixon drawings, here begins to substantiate the themes and iconography that give such potency to his late work. The exhibition continues in three subsequent rooms where viewers will find the artist’s never-before-exhibited Nixon drawings and the Poor Richard narrative from 1971, as well as works from The Phlebitis Series from 1975.