Tate Modern suspends curator after postponing Ku Klux Klan art show

Tate Modern bosses suspend curator for slamming their decision to postpone show featuring Ku Klux Klan paintings as ‘extremely patronising to viewers’

  • The Tate Modern will delay show of  Philip Guston’s work for four years
  • Guston’s work features Ku Klux Klan figures and comments on racial justice
  • Curator Mark Godfrey was suspended from gallery for criticising the decision
  • He called the decision to postpone the show ‘extremely patronising to viewers’

The Tate Modern has suspended a senior curator after he called its decision to delay a show with paintings featuring the Ku Klux Klan ‘extremely patronising to viewers’.

A touring exhibition of Philip Guston’s work, which features racial themes, was delayed by four years due to ‘the racial justice movement that started in the U.S’ following the killing of George Floyd.

After criticising the decision Mark Godfrey, formerly responsible for International Modern Art at Tate, was suspended from the gallery.

He wrote in a post to Instagram: ‘Cancelling or delaying the exhibition is probably motivated by the wish to be sensitive to the imagined reactions of particular viewers, and the fear of protest.

Guston’s work features cartoon-like Ku Klux Klan figures intended to be a comment on social and racial justice

‘However, it is extremely patronising to viewers, who are assumed not to be able to appreciate the nuance and politics of Guston’s works.

‘By cancelling or delaying, a message is sent out that the institutions ‘get’ Guston’s Klan paintings, but do not trust their audiences.’ 

Frances Morris, Director of the Tate Modern, said in a joint statement with five other institutions: ‘The world we live in is very different from the one in which we first began to collaborate on this project five years ago.’

The statement read: ‘We are postponing the exhibition until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the centre of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.’

After criticising the decision Mark Godfrey, formerly responsible for International Modern Art at Tate, was suspended from the gallery

It added: ‘The racial justice movement that started in the U.S. and radiated to countries around the world, in addition to challenges of a global health crisis, have led us to pause.

‘As museum directors, we have a responsibility to meet the very real urgencies of the moment. We feel it is necessary to reframe our programming and, in this case, step back, and bring in additional perspectives and voices to shape how we present Guston’s work to our public. That process will take time.

‘Collectively and individually, we remain committed to Philip Guston and his work. We plan to rebuild the retrospective with time to reconsider the many important issues the work raises.’

Frances Morris, Director of the Tate Modern, said: ‘The world we live in is very different from the one in which we first began to collaborate on this project five years ago.’ 

A ‘reconsidered’ Guston exhibition is planned for 2024, featuring 195 pieces from 40 different collections.

Guston’s work features cartoon-like Ku Klux Klan figures intended to be a comment on social and racial justice.

Sources have told The Art Newspaper that Godfrey is likely to return to his job after the suspension period.      

Mark Godfrey and The Tate Modern have been contacted for comment.  

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