Philip Guston. City Limits. 1969

Philip Guston City Limits 1969

  • Not on view

A three-man crew of slapstick thugs cruises a vacant metropolis in a beat-up jalopy. Wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods, they are plainly up to no good; but rather than invoking a specific evil, these men are symbolic embodiments of a general know-nothing violence. The principal story told here is that of an America run afoul of its democratic promise. Guston refused to exempt himself from responsibility: in other paintings he depicted an artist in Klan robes at his easel.

Guston began his career as a figurative painter, then, around mid-century, developed a lyrical Abstract Expressionism, a typical path for a member of the New York School. In the late 1960s, however, Guston made a surprising return to narrative painting—but not in the vein of the classic studio tradition in which he had trained. The art of Guston's last decade is antically cartoonlike. It has precedents in his earlier figurative period (and in his occasional satiric drawings of artists and writers), but rephrases them in a type of caricature dating to his childhood imitations of comic strips such as Krazy Kat. At the same time, paintings like City Limits have a strange baroque grandeur, and a bitter undertow—an insistence on the fascination of cruelty.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 265.
Oil on canvas
6' 5" x 8' 7 1/4" (195.6 x 262.2 cm)
Gift of Musa Guston
Object number
© 2019 The Estate of Philip Guston
Painting and Sculpture

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