A show traces Philip Guston’s influence on contemporary artists

LONDON – A common challenge for curators of simple scientific exhibitions is the need to demonstrate artist A’s influence on artist or movement B. This often strains credibility, as selected examples are supported by some weight in the caption. A thing for the mind in the trade gallery, Timothy Taylor takes an altogether more creative approach to demonstrating influence, one that draws less from rigorous historical evidence and more from the curator’s creative interpretation grounded in painterly themes and similarities. It takes Philip Guston’s 1978 painting “Story” as a starting point to examine the myriad ways in which elements of this piece – stylistic, symbolic or thematic – have found their way into the work of 12 selected contemporary painters. Viewers may be cynical about the choice of Guston as a way to capitalize on the recent public controversy surrounding the exhibition of his work. However, the focus on painterly technique, combined with simple but clear parallels between his and contemporary artworks, is so industrious that the exhibition encourages visitors to think beyond the discipline of painting. The result is a refreshingly authentic take on the theme.

This is achieved with succinct explanations that avoid the dreaded contemporary art language, although they occasionally dodge into the grandiose. For example, Louise Bonnet’s Untitled (2020) is compared to Guston as “interested in the tenets of cartoons as social satire,” drawing a parallel along that specific line, despite the stylistic differences between Guston’s flat linearity and anti-realistic spatial composition, and Bonnet’s “rich bright -Dark, reminiscent of the Old Masters”. Bonnet casually associates the latter remark with one of the most revered periods in art history. Nonetheless, it serves as an entry point for understanding Bonnet’s intentionally grotesque, disturbingly disproportionate humanoid limbs. Likewise, it adds that George Condo “owes something to Cubism; His bulbous-eyed figures are layered in a network of fractured geometries, like instruments in a classical orchestra.” Again, association with an artistic genre (actually Condo calls his work “psychological cubism”) coupled with a categorically alternative metaphor challenges the viewer bold to think beyond such genres to find common ground. It is an exercise in thinking beyond the usual boundaries of art historical eras and genres and focusing instead on technique.

Installation view from A thing for the mind at the Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, from left: Maria Lassnig, The Knight (1991); Philip Guston, “History” (1978); Louise Bonnet, “Untitled” (2020)

Similarly, we are invited to view the work of Walter Price through this technical prism while making connections to the everyday objects found in Guston’s work; The curator’s notes states: “The artist uses the brushstroke as a tool to abstract images from the news cycle and everyday life.” The conviction in these explanations begins to waver in abstractions that suggest little or no coherent thought – it It’s difficult to reconcile Armen Eloyan’s Untitled (2022) with the statement that the muddy blobs were “clever [balance] dark humor with a searing existential vision” or seeing Daisy Parris’ harsh color hatching underpinned with “profound” words that indicate a “belief in a raw core psyche of shared human emotions”.

Among the established and emerging talent on display, it is Guston’s play that makes the most impact. Guston makes the images more visually striking by sticking strictly to variations of red and blue; The bluntness and obtuseness of his iconography is compellingly mysterious, while disembodied fingers, pointing hands and crude painter’s canvas float monumentally but awkwardly around one another in space. Its painterly surface is streaked with naivety. What a rare treat to see his painting up close, where one can tell it has been painted by the distortion of pigment between layers all great (wet on wet), so with a certain panache and speed. Looking at Guston’s contemporary counterparts formally rather than thematically, George Rouy’s False Window (2021) stands out for a range of interesting techniques, ranging from thickly applying opaque pigments across the surface to splitting paint diluted with turpentine.

Daisy Parris, “Hold Me in the Palm of Your Hand” (2022), Oil, acrylic and collage on canvas, 78 3/4 x 63 in

Perhaps one benefit of exhibiting in a gallery is that curators can be more creative and personal with the issue of influence. By linking genres and styles, the exhibition encourages the viewer to think outside the box. And it’s a fantastic state that the focus on painterly technique is very much alive in contemporary art.

A thing for the mind continues at the Timothy Taylor Gallery (15 Bolton Street, London, England) until August 19. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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