PHILIP GUSTON AND THE POETS – Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice – 10.05.2017 – 03.09.2017

Beginning May 10, 2017, Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia presents the work of the pre-eminent American painter Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) in a major exhibition exploring the artist’s oeuvre in relation to critical literary interpretation. In a spirit reflective of how Guston himself cultivated the sources of his inspiration, Philip Guston and The Poets considers the ideas and writings of major 20th-century poets as catalysts for his enigmatic pictures and visions. Featuring works that span a 50-year period in Guston’s artistic career, the exhibition includes 50 major paintings and 25 prominent drawings dating from 1930 until his death in 1980. The exhibition draws parallels between the essential humanist themes reflected in these works, and the language and prose of five poets: D. H. Lawrence (British, 1885 – 1930), W. B. Yeats (Irish, 1865 – 1939), Wallace Stevens (American, 1879 – 1955), Eugenio Montale (Italian, 1896 – 1981) and T. S. Eliot (American-born, British, 1888 – 1965).

On view through September 3, 2017, Philip Guston and The Poets is curated by Prof. Dr. Kosme de Barañano and is organized by Le Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia in collaboration with the Estate of Philip Guston. The exhibition will be designed by GRISDAINESE, the noted Padua-based design and architecture studio of Stefano Gris e Silvia Dainese.

This museum exhibition, the first for Guston in a city that exerted a profound influence upon his oeuvre, is a reminder of the artist’s special relationship with Italy. As a young muralist, his earliest influences were the frescoes of the Italian Renaissance masters, and his love of Italian painting persisted throughout his career.

Originally part of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, the museum was established as an independent institution in 1879 and is considered the world’s most significant treasure house of Venetian painting up to the 18th century. Among its holdings are masterpieces by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Carpaccio, Lorenzo Lotto, Mantegna, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese.

Philip Guston and The Poets is organized in thematic groupings, each corresponding to selected writings and poems by one of the five poets. Beginning with D. H. Lawrence and his 1929 essay “Making Pictures,” Guston’s work is introduced through an exploration of the artist’s visual world, considering the very act of creation and the possibility that painting holds. In early and late works from his oeuvre, the exhibition probes into Guston’s ascent to “visionary awareness,” that is, his encounter with complete forms, images and ideas, and their physical manifestation.

In the work of Yeats, Guston’s journey, in search of his own vision of painting, is conceived in relation to the Irish bard’s poem “Byzantium” (1930). References of agony and purification are ascribed to Guston’s artistic evolution, as he moves away from the confines of modernist purity, the language of abstraction and the tenets of the New York School towards a total expressive pictorial structure, which he finds in figuration.

From the Italian poet, Eugenio Montale, with whom Guston shares a fragmentary syntax of tragic and powerful symbols, to Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot, the exhibition offers a literary exploration of metaphysics, enigma, and meaning as they appear in Guston’s oeuvre. By presenting Guston’s paintings within the realm of poetic discourse, rather than as a chronological study, in linear fashion, as often reflected in traditional exhibitions, the curatorial approach from which Philip Guston and The Poets has grown allows for the artist’s work be explored, examined and appreciated anew.

The enormous influence that Italy itself had upon Guston and his work will also be examined in the unique setting of Gallerie dell’Accademia. In 1948, the young artist first visited Italy after having received the Prix de Rome; he returned in 1960 when his work was featured at the Biennale di Venezia, and again in 1970 as an artist in residence in Rome, following the harsh criticism surrounding his first exhibition of figurative paintings in New York. Guston’s existentialist canvases, which some found cartoonish or crude, are saturated with the influence of Italy’s cultural and artistic heritage: from ancient and modern cityscapes that populate his Roma series, to references from Federico Fellini’s films, his work is indebted to the Italian masters, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Tiepolo and De Chirico to whom he pays tribute to in Pantheon (1973). Paintings inspired by the Italian Renaissance, including works which relate to Cosimo Tura and Bellini, will be exhibited, as well as works Guston created during his sojourn abroad.

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