Musa Mayer, Philip Guston’s daughter, has said she will donate 220 works by her father to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, a potentially transformative gift that will make that institution the one with the deepest Guston holdings in the world.
Guston, who is currently the subject of a traveling retrospective, is regarded as one of the most important American artists of the past century. He worked in a number of modes, painting sharp, unclassifiable figurations during the first part of his career before transitioning to a modish kind of abstraction in the postwar years. Then he shocked critics in the ’60s by returning to figuration.
The paintings he made during that time, a series of images showing Ku Klux Klan members in absurdist situations, became a flashpoint in 2020 as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. prepared to open the current retrospective. Fearing that some viewers would not understand Guston’s messaging, the museum, along with the other three co-organizing institutions, delayed the show and promised that it would revise the show, a move that provoked bitter controversy in and beyond the art world.
A newly edited version of the show, with trigger warnings and all, ended up opening in 2022 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; it is now at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
The Met, which hosted a different Guston retrospective in 2003, already has some Guston works in its holdings, few of which are major ones. The promised gift from Mayer, which includes a number of works featured in the current retrospective, will create a more comprehensive picture of Guston’s output, one that’s virtually unmatched by any other institution.
A special presentation of the works from the promised Mayer gift will go on display at the museum in May. Mayer also said she would give the Met $10 million for a fund that would facilitate studies of her father’s work.
In a statement, Max Hollein, the museum’s director, called the gift “truly extraordinary.” Images of works from that gift follow below.