Chris Ware at the NYRB:
In the summer of 1971, the painter Philip Guston, one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, began a series of drawings under the working title of “Poor Richard” that grew out of his disgust and fascination with Richard Nixon. Philip Roth, the writer and Guston’s close friend, offered encouragement to Guston in his pursuit of Nixon-as-subject; their anger at the path America was taking and, as Roth told Charles McGrath in a recent essay about the drawings, their “shared delight” in Nixon’s “vile character” buoyed their regular conversations. Drawn in the aftermath of Guston’s critically excoriated Marlborough Gallery exhibition of paintings of cigar-smoking Klu Klux Klansmen, these genuinely weird and directly narrative drawings were so wildly out of step with the non-objective, non-narrative, non-everything of the fine art world that they ended up largely unseen and unmentioned for decades.
Did I say “narrative”? If I had in, say, art school in the 1980s, which I attended, I would’ve been laughed out of class. For those non-fine art readers for whom relating anecdotes of their supermarket trips to their spouses is second nature, I remind you of this bit of art-world history: for decades, narrative and representation were basically off the table. Around World War I, someone (was it Duchamp? McCarthy? I wasn’t paying attention) realized that the eye—formerly known as the primary means of perception—lied, and reality was really particles and uncertainty and now it was time to move along, nothing to see here.