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Philip Guston and the Boundaries of Art Culture

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“In the Studio” (1975). In Guston’s later work, the subject is moral anguish.The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of UBS © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, New York

Art people have been shocked by the postponement, possibly until 2024, of a major exhibition, “Philip Guston Now,” by the institutions that were scheduled to mount it: the National Gallery of Art, in Washington; the Tate Modern, in London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I shared the reaction until I thought about it. At issue are some darkly comic paintings by the great American artist which feature cartoonish Ku Klux Klan figures smoking cigars, tootling around in open cars, and generally making fools of themselves. The dark part consists of abject self-portraiture, the focus of works, including the Klan pictures, that dumbfounded the art world when first shown, in 1970. At fifty-seven, Guston had trashed his status as the most sensitive stylist of Abstract Expressionism and unclenched raucous pictorial confessions of fear and loathing. Stricken with such regrets as having, in 1935, disguised his identity as the son of impoverished Jewish immigrants (his father hanged himself in 1923) by changing his name from Goldstein, he presented himself as a sad sack beset by bad habits and bad thoughts.

The subject matter is self-lacerating, albeit antic. The form stuns with visceral color, prehensile line, and the most insinuative brushwork of any modern painter, all indirectly nourished by Guston’s passionate reverence for Renaissance masters. He as much as announced that he had nothing going for him except a way with a brush, which he then exalted from a subbasement of the soul. Long resisted by many—I was slow to come around myself, having venerated his abstractions—the body of work has outlasted, in authenticity and quality, that of every other American painter since. As an inspiration and a challenge, he companions innumerable young painters everywhere, to this day. (He died, of a heart attack, in 1980.) A celebration by leading institutions is entirely in order. As for the Klansmen, they first appeared briefly, as murderous lynchers, in works that Guston, a lifelong leftist, made in the thirties. Do they lurk, repressed, in his abstractions? This would help to explain the mysterious tension in some of even his most elegant Abstract Expressionism, before they resurfaced as psychological cats out of bags.

But . . . the white hoods, icons of evil at the pitch of swastikas. Guston’s Klansmen are the first—and likely the last—things that most people will notice in the paintings at a time when it can seem that no symbol is safe from being politicized, let alone one already steeped in politics. What public reception to Klan imagery in a show of a white artist can the museums have expected? (A revolt against it began with staff members at the National Gallery.) Always risky, perhaps, the unintended but inevitably incendiary provocation belongs to a pre-2020 age of educated innocence. Does it now reveal the boundary of an art culture that is maintained by and for members of an élite so confident of virtue—putatively independent of race and class, democratically self-selected, oozing benignity—as to be unconscious of existing as such? Suddenly silhouetted, the faction is made up of a scant minority of citizens who take an active interest in art and espouse cosmopolitan values—the culturally privileged, whom museums represent and serve while, these days, laudably trying to extend their appeal to neglected audiences.

The National Gallery’s director, Kaywin Feldman, has said that the postponement—note, not the cancellation—responds to “a tough time in America.” That’s putting things mildly. The Guston affair is a symptom of a society-wide deterioration of trust in institutions and tolerance for uncongenial expression. Harsh light falls on long-tacit norms. Consider the fact, cited by Feldman as a decisive concern of the museum, that the curators of the show, with its racially charged content, are all white. A time-out to recontextualize does not, contrary to the thrust of an art-world open letter protesting the postponement, first published by the Brooklyn Rail and then quoted in the Times, constitute cowardice at a national institution. (Feldman now says that the show is likely to open sooner than was initially announced.)

In a small way, the controversy exemplifies divisions that are splintering the United States: votes of no confidence in the good will of contending interests. (Signatories to the letter include Black artists and intellectuals, as the conflict is widely cultural, not narrowly demographic.) Any difference may breed enmity. In our Partisan States of America, we watch our words—or, perversely, don’t—for fear of, or with ardent intent of, offending. Offense doesn’t spur debate; it replaces it. With apologies for amateur punditry, I doubt that this will stop after the Presidential election even if the conciliatory-minded Biden wins, with liberal unity against Trump fragmenting and rightists incubating ungodly new species of insurrection.

Welcome to an argument with myself, as I risk the appearance of wielding cancel culture against my lifelong allies in the cause of art. Regarding Guston’s Klansmen, I’m ambushed by imagining the intractable opposition of people who neither find humor nor seek subtlety in racist symbology. Guston’s subject is moral anguish, which, I suspect, increasingly amounts to a thorny luxury for old-fashioned and atomized liberals like me. Am I underrating the comprehension of viewers new to Guston? Do I condescend? I can’t rule it out. But what worries me is the assumption by art-world peers of mine that artistic license is an unexceptionable principle, rather than a persuasion of fortune-favored, cultivated liberal sentiment and taste. If I sound populist here, it’s because I’m the kind of liberal who is perhaps oversensitive to the feelings of all constituencies. Having, in thought, stepped outside my cohort, I can’t with honesty jump back in, however pained I may be that I won’t get to see an assuredly wonderful show in the coming months. I remain preoccupied by the sense of a crisis that spills beyond the misapprehension of a should-be canonical artist. The trouble resonates backward as well as forward in time. Indeed, it is endemic to democracy, a seething of differences that now and then boils over.

The cosmopolitan cast of modern art culture has a history. Until almost the middle of the twentieth century, in the United States, it could be popularly associated with urban clusters of bohemian mavericks and eccentric patrons, arguably besieged by yahoos. (From a provincial distance, that myth retained just enough zing in 1962 to make me drop out of college and drive non-stop from Minnesota to New York. Well, first to a job in Jersey City.) The glamorization of modernism owed much to the aura of Allied triumph in the Second World War, which established so many other parameters of national amity that have lately, and rapidly, been crumbling. Pioneering institutions and, this being America, the charisma of inrushing wealth closed the deal, giving pause even to yahoos. (You might think that a Jackson Pollock was something your kid could do, and that Andy Warhol’s fame was an emperor’s-new-clothes con, but you became less apt to say so in unfamiliar company.) Aggressive innovation remained a punching bag for conservatives, but arguing back was hardly worth the breath. Cosmopolis won, to its own satisfaction and the apathetic disregard of folk at large. After the sensations of Pop art and the jolts of Minimalism, in the sixties, avant-gardist rebellion turned inward with the esoterica of conceptual art and, later, with applications of critical theory, but they served only to shrink rather than to redraw the public profile of new art. A glaring precedent for the Guston affair came about with malice aforethought in 1989, when institutional displays of Robert Mapplethorpe’s (excellent) homoerotic photographs and Andres Serrano’s (puerile) “Piss Christ” set Senator Jesse Helms, of North Carolina, on a spectacular moralistic crusade. The art world soon recovered its obscurity, except for odd blips, until, as emblematized by the trophy aesthetics of Jeff Koons, its values were transmogrified into the news-making prices paid by a speculative international oligarchy of the ultra-rich.

Art goes on. Art that is transgressive will recur. But it will do so nakedly for anyone who chooses to characterize it, not only for those initiates who congratulate one another on their shared investment in standards of truth, beauty, and good conscience. Cold winds are blowing from the future onto aspirations to provide society, or even segments of society, with a capacity to bridge differences with mutual respect. I’ve often reflected that uses of “we” in critical writing are unavoidably presumptuous, though they are rhetorically meant only to invite, or perhaps to seduce, agreement. I’ve never felt less confidence in the pronoun, at a time of alienations that recall what W. B. Yeats perceived in another pandemic year, 1919: “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” ♦

Source:- The New Yorker

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COVID emotion and escapism captured in Gallery@501 local pandemic art – Sherwood Park News

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Alvaro Arce, who has lived in Sherwood Park since 2013, submitted two pieces, a painting titled “The Long Pause” and some steampunk bottles, for the Making Art in the Age of the Coronavirus window exhibit at Gallery@501. Photo Supplied

What better way to encapsulate the emotions of the pandemic than through art.

Gallery@501’s window exhibition, called Making Art in the Age of the Coronavirus, features work by local members artists created in the last six to eight months during COVID-19.

Some artists channeled their anxiety, while others created art that dealt directly with the pandemic, and some pieces were created as a way to escape reality.

Artist Alvaro Arce, who has lived in Sherwood Park since 2013, said the pandemic inspired his pieces.

“The painting is very dark surrealism and the other is some steampunk bottles,” Arce said. “During the lockdown, I was at home and I started fixing things and I found pieces of TVs, fans, and other things and took them apart and applied them to the bottles and painted them.”

The painting, which is a mixed media piece done on wood, is called The Long Pause.

Arce said he wanted to get the feeling across that things are strange and somewhat beyond real in life right now.


Sherwood Park artist Ken Duncan etched his single-celled organisms creations in leather.

Another local artist featured in the exhibition took a very different approach to the piece he submitted.

“The pandemic sort of lit a fire that had been bubbling around in the back of my mind. I was in Victoria a few years ago and spotted a book by Ernst Haeckel, a biologist from the time of Darwin and he was studying single-celled organisms and was drawing these things,” Ken Duncan, who’s lived in Sherwood Park for two years. “I saw it and I thought these things are fascinating with their forms, shapes, the way they work, the similarities, and I was studying the book for a couple of years and I sat down one day and was inspired to create my own single-celled organisms.”

Duncan said he started by painting them with watercolour but then decided to try another medium.

“I thought they would work well on leather. I took four or five of the designs and carved them onto a round piece of leather and mounted it onto a lazy-Susan,” Duncan said. “I worked on it for an hour here, a half-hour there for a month to six weeks.”

Duncan said they’re not copies of other microorganisms but ones he has created using real microorganisms as a guide.


The piece Onward and Upward created by local artist Jamie Panych is aimed at uplifting people during the pandemic. Photo Supplied

Another artist featured in the exhibition has a bit more traditional art piece in the show.

“It started off as a mixed-media project with the onward and upward theme I have for my paintings that is more spiritual and uplifting. It was something I was working on that I thought would fit into the COVID exhibition,” Jamie Panych, who has lived in the county since 1996.

The piece, which is called Onward and Upward, is aimed at uplifting people, according to Panych.

“It is a mixed-media piece representing a landscape with the sun breaking through the stormy clouds. I built up the mixed-media for the storminess and as you go upward into the painting it is calmer and the sun is breaking through,” Panych said. “There is also a dove in it that is a representation of hope as well. There is also a lion in there but he is hard to make out because I didn’t want him too in your face but I wanted to show bravery in trying times.”

Gallery@501 said the exhibit, which is set to showcase until Sunday, Oct. 25, is to show off the incredible talent in the community.

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University of Alberta med students bring therapeutic art to isolated seniors – Global News

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A group of Edmonton seniors have contributed to an art display inside the Southgate Centre shopping mall.

The group used self-portraits to express how COVID-19 has impacted their lives.

Devonshire Continuing Care Centre resident Hazel D’hont said it’s been a challenging few months.

“I do feel lonely. My daughter and son can only visit me by the desk (at the front of the facility),” she said. “If the doors were wide open (and back to normal), they would come anytime.”


Drawings inside Southgate Centre.


Courtesy: Danielle Portnoy

The 87-year-old woman said she has missed the regular programming that happened before COVID-19.

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“We did all kinds of things, especially bingo. I love bingo,” D’hont said. “You just kind of sit around now… and it’s been like that for many months.”

Read more:
Edmonton seniors’ centre reopens to help with socialization through COVID-19

The therapeutic art project that she took part in was created by two medical students at the University of Alberta.

Asad Makhani and Danielle Portnoy have prior experience working in long-term facilities doing recreational therapy.

Read more:
Workers inside Good Samaritan Southgate say resident care is being neglected

Makhani works part-time at Devonshire and Portnoy’s late father lived in a long-term care facility. The project’s name “Seniors Advocacy Movement” was chosen because the acronym SAM matches her father’s name.

“When I visited my dad, I felt that even before the pandemic, many people there were lonely and isolated. So now, with family restricted from visiting, it must be worse,” Portnoy said.

Asad Makhani and Danielle Portnoy


Asad Makhani and Danielle Portnoy.


Courtesy: Danielle Portnoy

The students chose the project because they had seen research that community art programs help combat isolation in seniors.

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“It’s a way to show their feelings,” Portnoy said. “And then putting it in Southgate makes it like they are socializing with people in the mall… but distantly.”

Asad, who helped participants with the activity, said the residents were excited about painting.

“We sat down one-on-one and a lot of them were really excited to participate in the activity. They mentioned they hadn’t painted in so long,” he said. “They were a lot happier. They were more engaged. It was a drastic change in their mood.”

The two students hope to bring the project to other long-term care facilities in the city.

Read more:
‘From here to the box’: Seniors voice terrifying concerns on long-term care amid COVID-19

“As long as it’s following Alberta Health guidelines, we would like to provide canvas and paint and expand to other long-term care facilities in the city,” Portnoy said.

D’hont said the art project was fun, but she valued the interaction it brought the most.

“It was nice to have more people around me. It certainly was. If we can open our doors once again… I’ll be happy.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Rhiannon Giddens on making art during a pandemic, and how music bridges divides – CBC.ca

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Grammy Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens says the pandemic is forcing artists to re-examine why they make art in the first place.

“I do think that art and commerce are uneasy bedfellows,” the singer-songwriter and founding member of old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops told The Current‘s Matt Galloway.

“So I think this is the moment, since nobody’s making money … to go, OK, so what is the role of art in society and how can we decouple this?”

Giddens is well-known for making music across genres; she also co-founded the group Our Native Daughters, an Americana-folk band. And like many performers, Giddens has had to adapt her approach to making music during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She’s kept busy in recent months by taking part in virtual concerts and collaborating with other artists from their respective locations around the world.

“At a moment where I really needed to make some music and to be in that space, it was a kind of a godsend,” Giddens said about the experience.

Watch Rhiannon Giddens and Yo-Yo Ma’s virtual collaboration

[embedded content]

But, she added, she misses the interaction and feedback she normally gets from performing for live audiences.

“Nothing’s being fed back to me because I’m not performing. So I have to figure out how to keep the well stocked, you know?”

Part of that comes from these creative moments, even if they’re from a distance, she said.

She’s also trying to find the positives in every moment, and the purpose of difficult situations like the pandemic.

“For me, it was stopping,” said Giddens, who realized how burnt out she was once her gigs and tours were cancelled because of the pandemic.

While that has been a challenge, she said she doesn’t get worked up about it.

“I just kind of firmly remain grateful and thinking about what I can do with what I have, the advantages that I have, in terms of making art that hopefully will speak to someone and … make a small difference.”

Music as a bridge

Giddens told Galloway she has always been intrigued by how music reveals the commonalities among people.

She hopes to explore that idea further in her new role as artistic director of Silkroad. Started by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998, the Boston-based non-profit organization seeks to create music that sparks “radical cultural collaboration.”

There are things that bind us. And I’ve always been interested in how that is reflected in our culture and our arts and our music.– Rhiannon Giddens

“When you look at history, when you look at different cultures, we actually are very similar,” she said. “There are things that bind us. And I’ve always been interested in how that is reflected in our culture and our arts and our music.”

Giddens was born and raised in North Carolina to a white father and Black and Native American mother. Although she now lives in Ireland with her two children, she remains vocal about the political and social issues currently gripping the United States, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the upcoming presidential election.

A MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ recipient who plays several instruments, Giddens is best known for her work on the banjo. She said the instrument parallels the history of America because it was created by African descendants before being adopted as a white ethnic cultural instrument.

Watch Giddens’s song Cry No More, recreated in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death.

[embedded content]

While many Americans are unaware of this history, she added, it’s important to understand it.

“So much of the heart of what American culture is, a lot of it comes from the struggles and the story of Black America,” she said. “And the conversation that is being had between cultures like that is America. That is American music. And the banjo very nicely represents that.”

She said her own personal experience informs her belief that music can serve as a powerful bridge.

“I think it comes from being a neither nor,” she said. “That’s what I am. I was neither Black nor white. I was neither city nor country. I’m neither classical nor folk. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time in each world … and I think [I] have a deep understanding of each world. But I’ve come to accept pretty early on that my job is as a bridge between those worlds.”


Written and produced by Idella Sturino.

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