Enigma Variations: Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico

Main Gallery Sep 9–Nov 25, 2006

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Enigma Variations: Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico
Sep 9–Nov 25, 2006





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Giorgio de Chirico, The Poet and His Muse, 1925 (detail)

Enigma Variations: Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico explored the influence of de Chirico’s distinctive vision on Guston, and investigated the two artists’ shared motifs, subjects, and affinities. Although the Greek-born, Italian de Chirico (1888-1978) and the American Philip Guston (1913-1980) were from different generations and painted in different artistic environments, Guston closely followed de Chirico’s work throughout his life. Featuring works from the early and late careers of both artists, Enigma Variations examined Guston’s transformation of de Chirico’s visual vocabulary–antique statues, mannequins, gladiators, clocks, and canvas stretchers–through his own unique and inimitable style.
Guston’s interest in de Chirico’s imagery went hand in hand with a heartfelt admiration for the example the older artist set as an artist. De Chirico had weathered a barrage of criticism after his early success with his Metaphysical paintings from the 1910s, but he nonetheless embraced radical change and painted in a variety of styles while serially revisiting his own earlier motifs for the next fifty years. Guston too made a major stylistic shift: away from the formal purity of abstract expressionism from the 1940s and 1950s, which had won him great acclaim–to raw, controversial figurative paintings at the end of the 1960s, which were initially harshly reviewed. Enigma Variations featured rarely seen late works by de Chirico, about which Guston remained an outspoken champion, always inspired and delighted by de Chirico’s capacity to surprise. Enigma Variations investigated the specific parallels and points of intersection in ideas of these two twentieth-century masters, offering a unique lens through which to see and understand the work. The exhibition was cocurated by Michael Taylor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Lisa Melandri of the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

1(left) Philip Guston
By the Window, 1969
Oil on canvas
78 x 81 1/4 inches
Private collection, courtesy of McKee Gallery, New York copyright the Estate of Philip Guston

(right) Giorgio de Chirico
The Poet and His Muse, 1925
Oil and tempera on canvas
35 7/8 x 29 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection
copyright Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome