Mark Godfrey, a senior curator at Tate Modern in London, has been suspended after criticizing the museum’s decision to postpone a Philip Guston retrospective, the Art Newspaper reports. According to the report, he will return to his post after his suspension ends.
Godfrey had posted a lengthy statement to Instagram in September in which he decried the postponement of the exhibition, which was co-organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in Texas, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Tate Modern.
That exhibition had initially been expected to start its tour in 2020 at the National Gallery of Art, and was then delayed until 2021 because of the pandemic. The organizing institutions announced in September that they delayed the show even further into the future amid concerns from staff at the National Gallery of Art that viewers might not understand “painful” imagery in the artist’s figurative work featuring hooded Ku Klux Klan members. Initially, the exhibition was re-dated for 2024, but it is now scheduled to open in 2022.
“Cancelling or delaying the exhibition is probably motivated by the wish to be sensitive to the imagined reactions of particular viewers, and the fear of protest,” Godfrey wrote on Instagram. “However, it is extremely patronising to viewers, who are assumed not to be able to appreciate the nuance and politics of Guston’s works. By cancelling or delaying, a message is sent out that the institutions ‘get’ Guston’s Klan paintings, but do not trust their audiences.”
An attempt to reach Godfrey at his Tate email was unsuccessful. A Tate spokesperson declined to comment.
In his Instagram statement, Godfrey said Tate had thought through how audiences might feel about the Ku Klux Klan works, and that he had worked closely with the museum’s Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Network to figure out how best to present the works. He previously told ARTnews that the curators did not have a say in the show’s postponement.
The Guston retrospective’s delay has been widely decried by artists, curators, and scholars, as well as Guston’s daughter, Musa Mayer. In September, nearly 100 artists, including Nicole Eisenman, Adrian Piper, and Lorna Simpson, signed an open letter in which they said they were “shocked and disappointed” by the decision.
Some have supported the postponement, alleging that the exhibition should not be overseen by four white curators and that it is not the right show for the current moment. Darren Walker, a trustee at the National Gallery of Art, said in a statement, “An exhibition organized several years ago, no matter how intelligent, must be reconsidered in light of what has changed to contextualize in real time.”