Tate suspends curator for publicly criticizing Gaston Show’s decision to delay

Tate suspends curator for publicly criticizing Gaston Show's decision to delay


Mark Godfrey, senior curator of international art at Tate Modern, suspended
© Photo by Rich Polk / Getty Images for the Broad Museum

Tate suspended the curator of its Philip Guston exhibition following public criticism of the gallery’s decision to postpone the show for four years.

Three sources close to the museum said the managers had decided to punish Mark Godfrey, a senior curator of international art. Philip Guston: NowA major show featuring over 125 paintings and 70 drawings from 40 public and private collections.

“If you work at Tate, I expect you to stand in the party line,” says one source. “There is very little tolerance for dissent and an increasingly authoritarian managerial style,” said the source, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

On September 21st, the institutions hosting the Travel Philip Gaston Exhibition released a joint statement next year – Tate, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and the Museums of Fine Arts in Houston and Boston. Following the death of George Floyd, the “Ethnic Justice Movement in the US” began “for a time when we thought that the strong message of social and racial justice at the center of Philip Guston’s work could be more clearly interpreted.”

Guston’s portrayal of cartoonish Ku Klux Klan films has raised concerns that some visitors to the show may be upset.


Guston portrayed himself as a member of the Clue Clux Clan in The Studio (1969).
© Estate of Philip Guston

Four days later, Godfrey posted a lengthy statement on his Instagram account stating that the decision “makes viewers extremely patronizing and that the subtlety and politics of Gaston’s work cannot be underestimated.”

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The artist “panicked at America’s right – wing turn and wanted to reflect on white supremacy: how the hood hides evil and how evil triumphs over its insignificance,” Godfrey wrote. “But he was forced to imagine himself behind the developed look. Can one be white in America and be ignored by such forces, ”he asked.

Godfrey also challenged the notion that procrastination would allow coasters to add more context to Guston’s work. “When the curators Philip Guston now Four years ago we started working on our previous review, and we all felt the need to re-address the works presented by the Klan. It was originally intended to bring new sounds and perspectives into the catalog, including lessons from African-American artists Trenton Doyle Hancock and Glenn Ligon.

Tate and Mark Godfrey declined to comment.

Sources say Godfrey is expected to return to work at the end of the suspension.

The episode shows a dangerous pattern, says Robert Store, a painting professor at the Yale School of Art and author of the recent Gaston monograph. Museums are forums where people come together to discuss, agree and disagree on ideas. If Tate can’t even do it internally, everything falls apart. ”

“Mark Godfrey showed sincere and philosophical courage in talking about a mess made by a museum director in Washington DC. His article for the Gaston Catalog makes an astonishing and subtle contribution to this field. More than anyone else, he goes to the Jewish race in Guston. This is an important piece of writing, ”says Store.

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“Tate wants the curators to ask Godfrey’s skills,” Store says. The museum should embrace such people and not expel them, he added.

As for the Gaston show, the store fears it will never happen because of a dispute over a postponement.

“It was tainted; It may be ruined. Collectors are reluctant to submit their works to an already controversial show where museum leadership targets specific images. Curators may find it difficult to get the jobs they need, and a differently organized group can deceive the public. ”

To learn more about the Ust Guston controversy, watch our podcast What does the delay by Philip Guston tell us about museums and race?

Listen to what Robert Store has to say about his book about Phil Philip Guston This is America: Grayson Perry in race and class See Extract from the biography Philip Guston’s interest in ‘jokes’ played a major role in the development of his distinctive style.

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