But the National Gallery had the support of its board of trustees, including Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, the philanthropic giant. Mr. Walker said in an email that if the museums had not taken a step back to rethink the exhibition, it would have appeared “tone deaf.” He added that the National Gallery’s director, Kaywin Feldman, had surveyed the trustees, and said that there was unanimous support for the postponement.
“What those who criticize this decision do not understand,” Mr. Walker said, “is that in the past few months the context in the U.S. has fundamentally, profoundly changed on issues of incendiary and toxic racist imagery in art, regardless of the virtue or intention of the artist who created it.”
A spokeswoman for the National Gallery, Anabeth Guthrie, said the directors consulted a range of employees at the four museums, including staff in interpretation, education, and community partnerships.
In their joint statement, the directors of the four museums said that “additional perspectives and voices” would be necessary before the show could go on, and that such a process would “take time.” Yet the curators — Harry Cooper at the National Gallery, Alison de Lima Greene at the M.F.A. in Houston, Mr. Godfrey at Tate Modern, and Kate Nesin at the M.F.A. in Boston — had already brought together a wide range of contributors for the show’s authoritative catalog, which is already in the shops.
The curators, as well as artists such as Trenton Doyle Hancock and Glenn Ligon, who are Black, and the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, who is Jewish, all offered perspectives on Guston’s personal experiences of confronting the Klan in his youth, and on the formal and political innovations of his cartoonish Klansmen. In mid-June, following the killing of George Floyd and intense debates over racial inequities in art, curators worked together to revise and broaden the exhibition’s wall panels and educational materials. Of particular concern was the debut of his Klan paintings in 1970. They reached out to artists, critics and others who had seen the show then, in order to reconstruct how Black viewers reacted to that initial display.
The exhibition was to include many of Guston’s paintings from 1968 through 1972, a period in which he was “developing his new vocabulary of hoods, books, bricks, and shoes.” Some of the figures in Guston’s works included caricaturish white-hooded figures smoking cigars, riding in a car, or, in one of Guston’s most well-known works, painting a self portrait at an easel.