Every two years, when the Venice Biennale opens, the museums, galleries, and foundations of La Serenissima compete for attention, aiming to mount their finest shows. Today the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia—that trove of Old Master painting, rich with Canaletto, Mantegna, Titian, and many more—revealed its auspicious-sounding plan: “Philip Guston and the Poets,” a survey of a half-century of the artist’s work that will include 50 paintings and 25 drawings, charting his interests in relation to those of five poets: D. H. Lawrence, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Eugenio Montale, and T. S. Eliot.
The exhibition opens on May 10, with preview days on May 8 and 9, and is curated by Dr. Kosme de Barañano, a Guston expert who previously served as executive director of the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern and as deputy director of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. The show is a collaboration between the Accademia and the estate of Philip Guston, which has been quite active recently, having linked up with Hauser & Wirth to stage two critically acclaimed shows in New York.
Guston was no stranger to Venice. He represented the Untied States at the 1960 biennale alongside Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, and Theodore Roszak. Recalling that momentous year in a statement, Musa Mayer, Guston’s daughter, who is president of the Guston Foundation, said, “My father took my mother and me for a summer in Italy before I went away to college. Venice and the Gallerie dell’Accademia was our very first stop. More than half a century later, I can still vividly remember his love of the great Italian masterworks there.”
Ten years later, Guston stayed in Venice after presenting his historic and divisive 1970 show at Marlborough Gallery in New York, which revealed his shift from abstraction to his late style of witty, existentially potent cartoon-inflected figuration. Writing in the New York Times, Hilton Kramer famously trashed that show in a review headlined “A Mandarin Pretending to Be a Stumblebum.” Decamping for the Italian isle after the exhibition’s opening, Guston told his gallery not to send him clippings for the show, but Kramer’s ended up reaching his mailbox there.
“I was angry for about half an hour and then I threw it in one of the canals,” Guston would say later of reading that review. “Why should I be depressed in Venice?”
He continued, “So, when I returned about eight or ten months later, I was at Yale and a student asked, ‘How did you feel when you read the review in the Times?’ I explained to him that I was in Venice and then I started thinking, ‘That’s a hell of a review. Jesus, what if he had liked it, then I would have really been in trouble.’ So, that solved that problem.”