Philip Guston: Works on Paper

May 2 through August 31, 2008

The Morgan Library & Museum presents the first retrospective of drawings by Philip Guston (1913–1980) in twenty years. Organized by the Kunstmuseum in Bonn, where it opened in March 2007 and the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, the exhibition traveled to the Louisiana Museum in Denmark and the Albertina in Vienna before coming to the Morgan—the only American venue.

Philip Guston was a prolific draftsman who often turned to drawing to explore new directions in his art before transposing them to painting. Several times during the course of his career he stopped painting altogether to concentrate on drawing. Such phases mark the dramatic changes that characterized Guston's art from figuration to abstraction and vice versa. The exhibition—which includes about one hundred drawings from the mid-forties to 1980—has a concentration of works from such crucial periods: 1947–49, 1952–54, 1958–62, and 1966–68.

Drawing was for Guston a return to basics. "It is the bareness of drawing that I like," he said. "The act of drawing is what locates, suggests, discovers." In the early fifties, as he was embarking on a major phase of abstract painting, Guston explored the power of simple lines in drawings reminiscent of exercises in calligraphy. In the late sixties, before Guston's dramatic shift from the luscious abstractions with which he had established his reputation as a major abstract expressionist to the crude, cartoon-like imagery that would be typical of the last decade of his art, Guston spent two years making drawing of startling economy with which, he said, he "tested" himself: "What would happen, I thought, if I eliminated everything except just raw feeling and the brush and ink, the simplest of means." The exhibition includes a group of drawings of tangible objects, such as shoes, books, and irons, with which everyday imagery made its way back in Guston's art, in a transformation that shocked the art world when these works were first exhibited in 1970.

Organized with the full cooperation of the artist's estate, the exhibition includes many little-known works that were left in the artist's studio after his death. It also includes major loans from museums and private collections. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive and richly illustrated catalogue in which several essays reconsider the importance of drawing in Guston's art.

Philip Guston: Works on Paper is organized by the Kunstmuseum Bonn and the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich.

The presentation of the exhibition at the Morgan is made possible in part with the generous support of Musa and Tom Mayer, the Singer Family Foundation, Renee and David McKee, and Monina von Opel and Edward Miller.