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Finding the McKee Gallery requires navigating the chaos of Fifth Avenue at Christmastime: a colossal snowflake suspended by frail guywires hovers menacingly above the seething masses of fur-hatted dowagers, while the hideously out of touch Louis Vuitton window mocks the unemployed with visions of international travel. Once inside, however, the vulgarity of couture is replaced a different sort of luxury: a spacious gallery filled with small Philip Guston paintings.

Guston's late figurative paintings, much maligned by affronted Abstract Expressionists when they premiered, have never been convincingly explained by critics. His realm of cartoon Klansmen, shoes, and cigarettes is usually dismissed as playful formal experimentation or spiritual transvestitism, but neither captures the strange power of the series. The uniformly tiny canvases in the show provide an insight into the process of transubstantiation at play. Guston transmitted his inner world directly through the paint; the pinkish-gray background of the images is the lining of his brain. Even cityscapes are interior, contained by the physicality of the paint and devoid of sky.

The recombinations of a starkly reduced set of images and colors suggest obssessive late night brooding. Guston reproduced the cyclical, insular workings of his mind, repetitively depicting a thought he could only face through the mysterious hood of the Klansman.

The show is up until New Years, at 745 Fifth Ave:

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Mark Rothko
Philip Guston


Visual Arts
Figurative Painting




Abstract Expressionism
Ku Klux Klan