AO On Site – Philadelphia: Arshile Gorky at Philadelphia Museum of Art through January 3, 2010

October 27th, 2009

waterfall philadelphia museum of art gorky
Arshile Gorky’s “Waterfall” (1942-43). Image courtesy of the museum. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is currently showing a retrospective of Arshile Gorky’s work. Closing in January, the exhibition includes “creative chambers” which explore thirty years of Gorky’s artistic evolution in still-life, from Cubism to Surrealism. After it closes in Philadelphia, the show will travel to Tate Modern and LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

gorky water of the flowery mill philadephia museum of art
Gorky’s “Water of the Mill,” courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

more images and story after the jump…

Curated by Michael Taylor, the retrospective showcases Gorky’s constant artistic growth. Immediately at the beginning of the show are several early, Impressionist paintings that could almost be attributed to Matisse or Cézanne, including Gorky’s Pears, Peaches, and Pitcher (1928). Soon, though, his work starts to betray Cubist tendencies, with clear Picasso influence on Still Life (1930-31). The contrast between the two paintings is stark, as Gorky begins to experiment with space, at least regarding inanimate objects. A series on human subjects, including The Artist and His Mother (1926-36), Woman with Palette (c. 1928), and Self-Portrait (c. 1937), all of which have certain non traditional attributes — blurred hands and faces — but don’t display the radical play in space that his concurrent work in still-life does, including the “Organization” and “Airport Murals” series. This changes in the 1940’s, when Gorky begins to introduce turpentine into his work and the thin lines which the medium allows. The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1943) is soon followed by Painting (1944), in which the use of line becomes more and more emphasized and begin to betray hints of Surrealism. Colors become bleaker, and fade against the line in Nude (1946), and The Betrothal (1947), emerging again in Soft Night (c. 1947) and Dark Green Painting (1948). These last few years were painful for Gorky, with a studio fire in 1946 and a car accident in 1948 that temporarily paralyzed his painting arm. The artist committed suicide a month later, after his wife left him for Roberto Matta, his mentor and friend. The art critic Harold Rosenberg called Gorky a “lifelong student,” to which his unusually varied body of work is testament, but Gorky was also haunted by a life of tragedy — so that color explodes finally, and violently, in Agony (1947) and The Black Painting (Last Painting) (1948).

still life gorky philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “Still Life” (1928), courtesy of PMA.

gorky the artist and his mother philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “The Artist and His Mother” (c. 1930-31), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gorky woman with palette philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “Woman with Palette” (c. 1928), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Gorky’s “Self-Portrait” (c. 1937), courtesy of PMA.

Born in Armenia in 1904, Arshile Gorky — born Vosdanig Adolan — was forced on a death march with his family through the country by British troops in 1915. His mother died of starvation in 1919, after which he and his sister immigrated to the United States, where the artist changed his name, claiming to be a relative of the writer Maxim Gorky. Eventually settling in New York, Gorky studied and taught at the Grand Central School of Art, and befriended many local artists including Willem de Kooning.  An ultimately Surrealist artist, Gorky leaves art a final legacy, as a precursor to Abstract Expressionism.

organization gorky philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “Organization” (c. 1933-36), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gorky philadelphia museum of art Mechanics of Flying, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limit
Gorky’s “Mechanics of Flying, from Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limit,” courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

the liver is the cock's comb gorky philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb” (c. 1943), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gorky painting philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “Painting” (c. 1944), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gorky philadelphia museum of art nude
Gorky’s “Nude” (c. 1946), courtesy of PMA.© 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gorky the betrothal philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “The Betrothal” (1947), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gorky soft night philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “Soft Night” (c. 1947), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

dark green painting gorky philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “Dark Green Painting” (c. 1948), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

agony philadelphia museum of art gorky
Gorky’s “Agony” (1947), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

gorky the black monk (last painting) philadelphia museum of art
Gorky’s “The Black Monk (‘Last Painting’)” (c. 1948), courtesy of PMA. © 2009 Estate of Arshile Gorky/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Related links:
Current Exhibitions – Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective [Museum page]
Museum Presents Retrospective Exploring the Achievement of Arshile Gorky [Artdaily]
From Mimic to Master of Invention [New York Times Art Review]

– R. Fogel