The Street

Philip Guston (American, Montreal 1913–1980 Woodstock, New York)

Oil on canvas
69 x 110 3/4 in. (175.3 x 281.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Saul Gifts, Gift of George A. Hearn, by exchange, and Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1983
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© Estate of Philip Guston
  • Description

    This monumentally large painting brings together many of the raw and visceral themes that characterize Philip Guston's return to figurative subject matter in the late 1960s. Prior to that he had been for many years one of the most lyrical abstractionists of Abstract Expressionism, a group that also included Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. The painting's poignant narrative of confrontation, struggle, and uncertainty is as ambiguous as it is compelling, with precedents in the social commentaries Guston painted during the 1930s and 1940s.

    "The Street" is a serious investigation into states of disorder and confusion presented in the vernacular language of cartoon figures and naïve drawing. The composition is divided into three vertical sections, each depicting a different state of being: passive decay, violent aggression, and total disarray. At the right, a large trashcan is stuffed to overflowing with empty bottles, old strips of wood, a shoe, and other refuse. In the center is a barrage of disembodied limbs, hairy and paw-like, wielding trashcan lids as shields. These arms confront to the left a wave of skinny, interlocked legs whose movements seem thwarted by their own oversize shoes. Below, on the horizon line, which is the street itself, a pair of large spiders ominously sits poised for action.

    Guston's work remained an intensely personal statement throughout its many transformations, often relying on his private iconography of images to convey ideas about the human condition and to express the artist's own fears and crises. As he wrote in 1974, his late paintings depict a "sort of Dante Inferno land." The unsettling color scheme of "The Street"—red, bright pink, and gunmetal gray—and its crude style of painting add to the sense of urgent turmoil and despair.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: Signed (lower right): Philip Guston

  • Exhibition History

    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Philip Guston," May 16–June 29, 1980, no. 83 pl. 73 (color).

    Washington DC. Corcoran Gallery of Art. "Philip Guston," July 20–September 9, 1980, no. 83.

    Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. "Philip Guston," November 12, 1980–January 11, 1981, no. 83.
    Denver Art Museum. "Philip Guston," February 25–April 26, 1981, no. 83.

    New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Philip Guston," June 24–September 13, 1981, no. 83.

    Milwaukee Art Museum. "Art In Our Time," October 9–November 30, 1980, unnumbered cat.

    Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. "Art In Our Time," January 15–March 15, 1981, unnumbered cat.

    Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio. "Art In Our Time," June 6–July 19, 1981, unnumbered cat.

    Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Art In Our Time," September 1–October 11, 1981, unnumbered cat.

    Champaign. Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois. "Art In Our Time," November 15–December 31, 1981, unnumbered cat.

    Atlanta. High Museum of Art. "Art In Our Time," January 23–March 7, 1982, unnumbered cat.

    Iowa City. University of Iowa Museum of Art. "Art In Our Time," April 4–May 31, 1982, unnumbered cat.

    Memphis. Brooks Memorial Art Gallery. "Art In Our Time," July 8–Septemeber 5, 1982, unnumbered cat.

    The University Museum, University of Texas, Austin. "Art In Our Time," November 5–December 19, 1982, unnumbered cat.

    London. Whitechapel Gallery. "Philip Guston: Paintings 1969 1980," October 31–December 12, 1982, no. 25.

    Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. "Philip Guston: Paintings 1969 1980," January 13–March 6, 1983, no. 25.

    Kunsthalle Basel. "Philip Guston: Paintings 1969 1980," May 8–June 19, 1983, no. 25.

    Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Philip Guston: The Late Works," August 18–September 18, 1984, no. 27.

    Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. "Philip Guston: The Late Works," September 27–October 28, 1984, no. 27.

    Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Philip Guston: The Late Works," November 8–December 30, 1984, no. 27.

    Madrid. Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. "Philip Guston: Retrospectiva de Pintura," March 1–May 8, 1989, no. 55.

    Barcelona. Palau de la Virreina. "Philip Guston: Retrospectiva de Pintura," May 25–July 16, 1989, no. 55.

    Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. "Philip Guston Retrospective," March 16–June 8, 2003, no. 113.

    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Philip Guston Retrospective," July 12–September 28, 2003, no. 113.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Philip Guston Retrospective," October 27, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 113.

    Royal Academy of Arts. "Philip Guston Retrospective," January 24–April 12, 2004, no. 113.

  • References

    Ross Feld. Philip Guston. New York, 1981, pp. 30–1, 33, 115, pl. 73 (color).

    Nicholas Serota. Philip Guston: Paintings 1969 1980. London, 1983, p. 67.

    Joseph Ablow. Philip Guston: The Late Works. Australia, 1984, pp. 19, 42, ill. p. 64 (color).

    Lisa Messinger. "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (1984), p. 98 (color).

    Robert Storr. Modern Master Series: Philip Guston. Vol. 11, New York, 1986, pp. 82–3.

    Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), fig. 43 (color).

    Mark Rosenthal. Philp Guston: Retrospectiva de Pintura. Madrid, 1989, p. 131 (color).
    Michael Auping. Philip Guston Retrospective. New York, 2003, pp. 13, 241 (color).

    Post War and Contemporary Art: Evening Sale. New York, May 11, 2005, p. 122 (color).

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, ill. p. 433, (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History