Philip Guston


Not on view



Oil on linen

Overall: 68 × 116 1/8in. (172.7 × 295 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
50th Anniversary Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Learsy

Rights and reproductions
© Estate of Philip Guston

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.


  • America Is Hard to See

    Philip Guston, Cabal, 1977

    Philip Guston, Cabal, 1977


    Narrator: Artist Carroll Dunham talks about Philip Guston’s painting titled Cabal.

    Carroll Dunham: It seems pretty grim. You know? Piles of heads in a very desolate setting. The fact that there's so much white used to delineate the shapes seems like it reinforces this idea of nocturnal atmosphere, and ghostliness. I really think that all his paintings, even the ones that appear to deal with the most particular subjects, are all about evoking a kind of mood space. You know, a psychological and emotional weather, that is carried by the methodology, as much as it is by the images.

    Narrator: To hear Dunham talk about public reaction to Guston’s work and his influence on other artists, please tap the button to continue. 

Philip Guston
10 works

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