Missoula Art Museum - In Praise of Folly: Five Artists after Philip Guston

An innovative new exhibition at Missoula Art Museum

In Praise of Folly: Five Artists after Philip Guston featured Guston’s Cigar alongside new works by regional artists in response to Guston’s painting. 

Cigar Philip Guston

Five Artists in Response

In 2018, the Missoula Art Museum (MAM) borrowed Philip Guston’s Cigar (1969) as a single object loan to to hang in their collection galleries. Once the work was in the museum – and through conversations with Art Bridges – Cigar inspired the museum team to invite five nationally known artists with ties to their region to respond to Guston’s painting. The result, In Praise of Folly: Five Artists after Philip Guston, was a special exhibition on display in Missoula from January 25 through September 21, 2019. It featured Guston’s canvas alongside new works by artists Adrian Arleo, John Buck, Richard Notkin, Jay Schmidt, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Portrait of the Artist as a Sphinx Adrian Arleo
Adrien Arleo, Portrait of the Artist as a Sphinx, 2019, clay, glaze, wax encaustic, 21h x 58w x 16d inches, © artist, image Slikati Photo+Video, courtesy Missoula Art Museum

The artists were selected because of a conceptual or aesthetic affinity for Guston’s art and the expectation that the results would shed a new light not only on each artist’s individual practice, but also on the many ways Guston’s work might resonate with contemporary art. The responses to the political and racial content of Cigar and to Guston’s artistic style offered an exhibition that was varied in media and scale, with surprising conversations between the works of art. These five artists evoke, investigate, and complicate Guston’s artistic legacy, demonstrating the continuing power of his work as a touchstone for contemporary art. 


The museum developed a variety of exciting and diverse programs which helped to expand audiences, incorporate interdisciplinary approaches to art, and create new community partnerships. Programs also enhanced the museum’s commitment to its core values artist-driven projects, contemporary art, diversity, risk taking, and difficult conversations with civility.

In Praise of Folly was the basis for launching a new distance-learning program, Museum as Megaphone, which uses an interactive, online platform to engage rural and tribal schools when access to the physical museum is prohibitive. Students participate in real-time, interactive experiences in MAM’s galleries and connect directly with artists and art educators, including through an inquiry-based tours and hands on art projects. The museum successfully piloted this program with two classrooms from St. Ignatius Elementary School in St. Ignatius, Montana.

Trade Canoe The Surrounded Jaune Quick-To-See Smith
Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Trade Canoe: The Surrounded , 2018/2019, acrylic on canvas, 72h x 168w inches (three panels), © artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, image Slikati Photo+Video, courtesy Missoula Art Museum

Exhibition Microsite

The museum also created a corresponding website to compliment In Praise of Folly. This is an example of the type of creative and lasting record of an exhibition – that fall outside of the traditional print catalogue model – which Art Bridges is excited to fund. 


This project demonstrates how just a single work of art can have significant short- and long-term impact on an institution and community.

From the final report:

This opportunity pushed MAM to work in new ways, deepen our professionalism, and present projects using new platforms. MAM had never previously presented a single object focus, and the commissions deepened our engagement with artists. The challenging subject matter allowed us to draw parallels between current events and 1969, allowing a variety of social and political insights. We were able to appropriately discuss a number of difficult issues with K-12 students and adults. The project brought in a number of new collaborators and reaffirmed longstanding partners. Finally, Guston is surprisingly not well known regionally, and this was an opportunity to educate our audience about his importance as an artist and his place in art history.

Press for In Praise of Folly: 

Five Artists Tap Into the Humor and Rage of Philip – The Missoulian, March 15, 2019

Article Information

Published January 25, 2019

About This Project

  • Programming
  • Missoula Art Museum (MAM)

About  Missoula Art Museum (MAM)

Missoula Art Museum is a spectacular attraction in the heart of Missoula’s historic downtown: a fully accessible, free, public museum that boasts eight exhibition spaces, a library, education center, and an inviting information lounge.