Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles Presents Arshile Gorky Retrospective

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), presents “Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective” open through September 20, 2010, at MOCA Grand Avenue.

This major traveling retrospective celebrates the extraordinary life and work of Arshile Gorky (b. c.1902, Khorkom, Armenia; d. 1948 Sherman, Connecticut), a seminal figure in the movement toward abstraction that transformed American art in the middle of the 20th century. “Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective” positions Gorky as a crucial forerunner of abstract expressionism, and as a passionate and dedicated artist whose tragic life often informed his groundbreaking and deeply personal paintings.

Arshile Gorky, “Agony”, 1947. Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 1/2 in., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, A. Conger Goodyear Fund. ©2010 Estate of Arshile Gorky/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The first full-scale survey of Gorky’s oeuvre since 1981, this exhibition includes more than 120 works spanning the artist’s 25-year career. It features the artist’s most significant paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, including two masterworks from MOCA’s permanent collection—Study for The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1943) and Betrothal I (1947).

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective is organized by Michael Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the exhibition was on view October 21, 2009, through January 10, 2010, before traveling to Tate Modern, London, February 10 through May 3, 2010. MOCA’s presentation, the third on the exhibition’s tour, is organized by MOCA Chief Curator Paul Schimmel.

“As the only West Coast venue, MOCA is proud to present the work of this historically important artist who developed a unique and deeply influential visual language,” commented Schimmel. “Gorky courageously re-shaped European modernism into the foundations of abstract expressionism. He inspired a new generation of artists demonstrating that the act of painting alone was enough to be both poetically charged and powerfully tragic. His legacy can be seen in the work of many of the major abstract expressionists represented in the MOCA’s permanent collection, including Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.”

“Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective” is the first major exhibition of its type in three decades and the first to benefit from the publication of three biographies of the artist: Nouritza Matossian’s “Black Angel: The Life of Arshile Gorky” (1998), Matthew Spender’s “From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky” (1999), and Hayden Herrera’s “Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work” (2003), all of which shed new light on the artist’s Armenian background and his central role in the American avant-garde.

This is the first major museum exhibition to highlight the artist’s Armenian heritage and examine the impact of Gorky’s experience of the Armenian Genocide on his life and work. The retrospective and its accompanying catalogue have also benefited from in-depth interviews with the artist’s widow, Agnes “Mougouch” Gorky Fielding, who has generously supported the project from the start, through key loans and first-hand accounts of Gorky’s artistic practice as well as his cultural milieu.

Among the works to be included are such renowned paintings as the two versions of The Artist and his Mother (1926–36, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and about 1929–42, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); Waterfall (1943, Tate Modern, London); the Betrothal series, three large-scale works from 1947 reflecting Gorky’s closer engagement with surrealist ideas and practices—Betrothal 1 (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), The Betrothal (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven), and The Betrothal II (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York)—which are being exhibited together for the second time at MOCA (the works were first exhibited together in MOCA’s exhibition Focus Series: Gorky’s Betrothals in 1994); The Plow and the Song (1947, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio), which demonstrates Gorky’s continuing engagement with memories of his rural Armenian childhood; Agony (1947, Museum of Modern Art, New York), Gorky’s haunting late painting, a product of his increasingly tormented imagination in the late 1940s; and Last Painting (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), which was left unfinished on Gorky’s easel at the time of his death in 1948. Some of the works included in the exhibition have not been on public view before, among them are the wood sculptures, Haikakan Gutan I, II, and III (Armenian Plow I, II and III) (1944, 1945, and 1947, collection of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, on deposit at the Calouste Gulbenkiam Foundation, Lisbon).

At MOCA, “Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective” will be presented in a generally chronological sequence. Thematic groupings will represent each phase of Gorky’s career, which underwent an astonishing metamorphosis as he assimilated the lessons of earlier masters and movements and utilized them in the service of his own artistic development. Beginning in the mid-1920s with Gorky’s earliest experiments with the structural rigor of the paintings of Paul Cézanne, and continuing through his prolonged engagement with cubism in the 1930s, the exhibition ends with a series of intimate galleries showcasing the abstract surrealist inspired burst of creativity that dominated the final decade of Gorky’s life and left us with so many breathtakingly beautiful paintings and drawings that form the foundation for abstract expressionism. In the early 1940s, Gorky’s contact with surrealism informed his breakthrough landscapes in Virginia and the visionary works made in his spacious, light-filled studio on Union Square, which he called his “Creation Chamber.” Several galleries in the exhibition highlight the artist’s working process by presenting Gorky’s most significant paintings alongside the numerous painstaking studies that informed their making.

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