Philip Guston (1913-1980)
Oil on linen
Overall: 68 × 116 1/8 in. (172.7 × 295 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Learsy
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
After several decades of producing lyrical abstract canvases, at the end of the 1960s Philip Guston returned to the figurative work with which he had begun his career. This apocalyptic canvas, completed by the artist just three years before his death, portrays a metaphoric vision of a cabal, which is defined as “a small group of persons joined in a secret, often political, intrigue” or “the intrigues or plot of such a group.” Here, a heap of cartoonish single eyeballs, looking up, down, and out, huddle together against an opaque black field. Unattached to heads or bodies, and floating on what appears to be a sea of blood, the eyeballs convey Cabal’s sense of threat and menace. While these foreboding themes are emblematic of the human condition and Guston’s personal struggles, they also may relate to contemporary American politics in the wake of Watergate—and to the artist’s contempt for Richard Nixon—a frequent subject of Guston’s during these years.