Many years ago, I watched a documentary on Philip Guston, the American Abstract Expressionist. Walking alone, wearing a long coat, in the deserted rooms of MOMA where his canvases were hung, he was asked, how he felt being at his own retrospective. ‘Very good’, the painter replied, ‘because this is the only exhibition where I am allowed to touch the artworks.’
Retrospectives provide other delights too, mainly for the viewers, and to curators and critics as well. These shows – if well researched and imaginative – serve to be a monograph in order to understand, and enjoy an artist’s creative career. Actually, a retrospective is also important for an artist, perhaps essential, because that is the only occasion when he has the chance to view and analyse his lifelong work. An occasion for finding out connecting elements, missing points and surprizing achievement. Likewise, a spectator, when steps into the space of a retrospective show, enters the mind of the maker, and identifies with the artist’s search, and gets to know his unique frame of mind.
These large-scale exhibitions are also significant in/for the history of art, because most retrospectives are organized on the basis of an artist’s chronological development, from his beginning of a struggling individual to his successful stature. But not all these shows are arranged in this linear order, some are curated in a more unconventional manner, documenting an artist’s practice not through time, but in reference to his aesthetic concerns, themes, and recurrent images.
Regardless of the pattern of a retrospective, every one of these exhibitions brings a new meaning to an artist’s production. Like a novel, which with each new reading, turns into a new tale, the retrospectives also offer fresh visions and new versions to a person’s artistic output – no matter if seen several times before.
In the present issue of Art Now Pakistan various aspects of retrospective exhibitions are focused, highlighted, and investigated through two essays – both relevant at a time when Imran Mir’s retrospective ‘Alchemist of Line’ is being held at the Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi. Along with other regular sections, including Photo essay, Profile, Interview, and exhibition reviews the book reviewed this month is a retrospective of some sort. It is a book on M.F. Husain: an extensive view of his life and work – a retrospective really – created in words.