Phillip Guston

Roma

February 12 - May 15, 2011

Exhibition Images


Philip Guston, Roma brings together for the first time 39 paintings from Philip Guston's Roma series, produced during his six months as artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1970–71. Saturated in deep pinks and salmons, Guston’s cartoon-like pictures evoke numerous aspects of the ancient and modern Roman cityscape and Italian art and culture, from the films of Federico Fellini to the works of both modern and Renaissance Italian artists.

The Roma paintings mark a pivotal time in Guston's career. Guston (1913–80), whose abstractions in the 1950s and 1960s won him critical acclaim, was a leading figure in the New York School that included such artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. By the late 1960s, however, Guston felt abstraction was no longer viable.  Profoundly affected by the social and political upheaval of the 1960s and the shift in the art world toward pop art and minimalism, Guston was determined to reinvent storytelling in modern painting. His initial effort at creating this new figurative vocabulary went on view at New York’s Marlborough Gallery just weeks before he left for Rome.  These new works, with their sophisticated political satire and self-parody painted in a deliberately clumsy style, stunned the artistic community, which neither understood nor accepted them. 

Psychologically spent from creating those brash allegorical narratives, Guston retreated to the solace of Rome, a special place for him since his time as a fellow at the American Academy in 1948–49. In Rome, reeling from the outcry provoked by his most recent work, Guston began a series of works in oil on paper known as the Roma series. In this little known group of pictures, Guston developed the tragicomic sensibility central to the monumental, existentialist canvases from the 1970s for which he is now celebrated.

Although individual paintings from the Roma series have been exhibited, the work has never before been gathered together and displayed as a group. The Phillips Collection is the only United States venue for this ground-breaking exhibition.

 As a part of La Dolce DC, a citywide celebration of all things Italian in partnership with the embassy of Italy, Philip Guston, Roma presents a crucial period in the life of a modern American artist inspired and shaped by Italian art and culture, not only during his Roman sojourn in 1971, but throughout his life.

Philip Guston, Roma is organized by the City of Rome and the Museo Carlo Bilotti—Aranciera di Villa Borghese, in partnership with the American Academy in Rome. The exhibition curator is Peter Benson Miller. Philip Guston, Roma is made possible by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. A 221-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition and is available in the Museum Shop.

Exhibition Sponsorship


Made possible by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art

Media Partner Capitol File

Part of citywide celebration of Italy