Beginning 1 November 2016, Hauser & Wirth will present ‘Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975’, an exhibition devoted to the late artist’s satirical caricatures of the 37th President of the United States: Richard Nixon. Featuring some 180 works depicting Nixon and his cronies, the exhibition includes Guston’s infamous Poor Richard series and brings together over 100 additional drawings and one painting never before seen by the public at large. The exhibition marks the first time this entire body of work has been presented together to the public.
These trenchant works were created at an historic moment, amidst the tumultuous political climate of the early 1970s, as the United States suffered under the weight of civil unrest and social dissent following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Senator Robert F Kennedy, the chaos of the 1968 presidential election, and the enduring violence and brutality of the Vietnam War. In his studio in Woodstock NY, Guston’s distress over the political situation was fueled by conversations with his friend, the writer Philip Roth. The artist and the writer shared an intellectual disposition for the mundane ‘crapola’ of American popular culture, and in Nixon discovered a subject they could each mimic and animate in art. During the summer of 1971, Roth had recently completed ‘Our Gang,’ an outlandish political satire of the Nixon administration. Putting pen to paper, Guston similarly engaged in an artistic pursuit of the embattled President, turning toward the immediacy of drawing and reveling in the power of expressive line. The works in ‘Laughter in the Dark’ can be viewed within the distinguished tradition of political satire and social commentary by such artists as Hogarth, Daumier, Goya, and Picasso. Seeking a language to resolve a pictorial crisis that was at once personally and politically engaged, Guston’s adaptation of the comic-strip style of caricature emerged at a pivotal crux in his artistic career.
On view through 14 January 2017, ‘Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975’ is cocurated by Sally Radic, of The Guston Foundation, and Musa Mayer, the daughter of the artist. The exhibition is the first to be presented in Hauser & Wirth’s new temporary space at 548 West 22nd Street. The exhibition is accompanied by a brief chronology that serves to remind viewers of the ‘highlights’ of Nixon’s career.