MOCA Showcases Work of Pioneering Armenian-American Artist Arshile Gorky in West Coast Presentation

The Artist and His Mother, 1926-36, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 in

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective

LOS ANGELES—The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), presents Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective June 6 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. 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 late1940s; 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).

Betrothal 1, 1947, oil on paper, 51 x 40 in

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.

About The Artist

Born Vosdanig Adoian around 1902 near Lake Van in an Armenian province of Ottoman Turkey, Gorky was a first-hand witness to the Turkish government’s Armenian Genocide of 1915, which led the artist’s family and thousands of others to flee.In 1920, Gorky emigrated to the United States, where, claiming to be a cousin of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, he changed his name to Arshile Gorky. In 1924, Gorky settled in New York, where he became a largely self-taught artist.

At a time when the American avant-garde privileged originality over traditional working methods, Gorky was a nonconformist twho developed his personal vocabulary through a series of intensive apprenticeships to the styles of other artists. He becamefamiliar with modern European art and embarked on a systematic study of its masters and their methods, from Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, whose landscapes and still-lifes he emulated masterfully, to Pablo Picasso’s cubist and neoclassical works, andthe biomorphic abstractions of Joan Miró. Works by Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger informed, respectively, Gorky’s vast Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia series of the early 1930s and the sequence of murals on the theme of aviation that Gorky created in 1936 for the Administration Building of Newark Airport, under the aegis of the Public Works of Art Project (later the Works Progress Administration), through which Gorky and many other American modernists found employment during theGreat Depression. Gorky became fast friends with many of New York City’s emerging avant-garde artists, including Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, John Graham, Isamu Noguchi, and David Smith. He briefly studied at the Grand Central School of Art, later becoming an art instructor there. Among his students was Mark Rothko.

Gorky’s relationships with members of the surrealist group in exile in the United States during the 1940s—including André Breton, Max Ernst, Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta, and Yves Tanguy—contributed to the development of his mature style, a highly original form of surrealist automatism characterized by biomorphic forms rendered with thinned-out washes of paint, as in Waterfall (1943) and his 1947 Betrothal series. After his marriage in 1941 to Agnes “Mougouch” Magruder, whose parents had a farm in Virginia, Gorky’s experience of the American landscape would enrich his artistic vision, and, beginning in 1943, emerges as a central theme in the lush, evocative paintings for which Gorky is best known. The rich farmland and bucolic atmosphere of rural Virginia (and later Sherman, Connecticut) reminded Gorky of his father’s farm near Lake Van, and inspired him to create freely improvised abstract works that combined memories of his Armenian childhood with direct observations from nature. The resulting paintings, such as Scent of Apricots on the Fields (1944) and The Plow and the Song series (1944– 47), are remarkable for their evocative strength, lyrical beauty, and fecundity of organic forms.

Gorky’s last years were tragic. In January 1946, a fire in his Connecticut studio destroyed 27 recent paintings. Shortly thereafter, he underwent a painful operation for rectal cancer, and while recovering created some of the most powerful, though agonized, works of his final years, including the haunting Charred Beloved series (1946), which alludes to his lost paintings. In June 1948, Gorky was involved in a serious car accident that left him with a broken neck and temporarily paralyzed his painting arm. His young wife left him shortly afterward to pursue a brief affair with Matta, Gorky’s friend and mentor. Gorky took his own life on July 21, 1948, leaving behind an impressive body of work that secured his reputation as one of the great painters of the 20th century and an important precursor to abstract expressionism.

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Tate Modern, London, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Waterfall, 1943, oil on canvas, 60 1/2 x 44 1/2 in.

The international tour is made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art. The U.S. tour is supported by The Lincy Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition at MOCA is presented by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Generous support is provided by Lenore S. and Bernard A. Greenberg; Parx Casino and Racetrack, Philadelphia; Steve Martin; The MOCA Contemporaries; and the Pasadena Art Alliance. Additional support is provided by the MOCA Friends of Arshile Gorky: Kip and Mary Ann Hagopian in honor of Charles E. Young, Mrs. Joseph H. Stein, Jr., and Mrs. Louise Danelian.

In-kind media support is provided by Ovation TV, Asbarez Daily Newspaper/Horizon Armenian TV, YEREVAN Magazine, and Los Angeles magazine.

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a 400-page catalogue, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press. The catalogue includes essays by a group of noted art historians and curators: Harry Cooper, Jody Patterson, Robert Storr, Michael R. Taylor, and Kim Servart Theriault, who present new theoretical approaches to the artist’s work. The essays build upon new biographical details about the artist’s Armenian background that have emerged in recent years, while also exploring Gorky’s creative thinking, his unique experimentation and extraordinary command of materials, and his imaginative exploration of various themes. The catalogue is fully illustrated in color and includes a section devoted to Gorky’s exhibition history, a bibliography, and a chronology of his life and work. It is available for $65 at all MOCA Store locations.

Related Events

Members’ Opening
SATURDAY, JUNE 5, 7–11pm—MOCA Grand Avenue
MOCA members receive an invitation for two to celebrate the opening of Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective on the West Coast at this legendary party honoring an Armenian-American artist who produced some of the most significant paintings of the 20th century. Cash bar and featuring a special music set and collaboration arranged by Serj Tankian.
INFO 213-621-1794 or
FREE for MOCA members

Opening Weekend Reception
JUNE 2010—MOCA Grand Avenue
A special performance by Armenian-American Interscope recording artist Tamar Kaprelian will take place as part of the exhibition opening events.
INFO 213-621-1778

Art Talks
These informal discussions of current exhibitions feature artists, curators, critics, writers, and other arts professionals. Unless otherwise noted, talks take place in the exhibition galleries, attendance is FREE with museum admission, and reservations are not required.
INFO 213-621-1745 or

Arshile Gorky and Abstract Expressionism: A Contested History
SUNDAY, JUNE 6, 3pm—MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium
In conjunction with Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, Michael Taylor, exhibition curator and The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, explores Gorky’s complex and often misunderstood relationship with the abstract expressionist movement. The initial reception of Gorky’s work after his death in 1948 paved the way for his gradual assimilation into the canon of abstract expressionism as it was formed in the 1950s by, among others, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Thomas Hess, Sam Hunter, and Dore Ashton. Gorky’s work was acclaimed by these critics and art historians as an important precursor to the largescale abstract paintings of his friends and colleagues, such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Although universally accepted at the time, this reading of Gorky’s work has been contested in recent years, since it deliberately downplays the artist’s longstanding allegiance to surrealism during his lifetime, leading to a fundamental misreading of his work and its meaning.

Arshile Gorky: Armenian Refugee and Exile
SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 3pm—MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium
On the occasion of the exhibition Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, Richard Hovannisian will discuss Gorky’s relationship to Van and the history of the Armenian Genocide. Hovanissian is a professor of Armenian and Near Eastern history and Armenian Educational Foundation chair in modern Armenian history at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); the author or contributing editor of 25 volumes about Armenian or Armenian and Near Eastern history; and has served as a consultant to the California State Board of Education, authoring the chapter on the Armenian Genocide in the State’s Social Studies Model Curriculum on Human Rights and Genocide.

Screening and Q & A with Atom Egoyan In conjunction with Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective,
THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 7pm—Pacific Design Center, SilverScreen Theater
MOCA and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) present ARARAT (2002, 115 min.), a film within a film. Written and directed by Academy-Award® nominated director Atom Egoyan and starring Arsinée Khanjian, Christopher Plummer, and Eric Bogosian, this film weaves together tales about a contemporary Armenian family, artist Arshile Gorky, and a tragic part of the history of the Armenian people. The screening will be followed by a Q & A with Egoyan.

Gorky and (American) Surrealism
SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 3pm—MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium
In conjunction with Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective,artist, writer, and critic Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe will discuss Gorky, the painter, his work, and its relationship to surrealism. Gilbert-Rolfe has exhibited his work nationally and internationally for over 35 years. Recent exhibitions include a 20-year retrospective (Ulrich Museum, University of Kansas 2006). He is the author of several critical texts including Beyond Piety: Critical Essays on the Visual Arts 1986–1993 and Immanence and Contradiction: Recent Essays on the Artistic Device. He is chair of the Graduate Art Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Curator-led Exhibition Walkthrough

THURSDAY, JULY 8, 6:30pm—MOCA Grand Avenue
Join Paul Schimmel, MOCA chief curator and exhibition coordinator, for a walkthrough of Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective.

The Crisis of Arshile Gorky
THURSDAY, SEPT 16, 3pm—MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium
Hear Kim Theriault, author of the critical study Rethinking Arshile Gorky and associate professor of art history, theory, and criticism at Dominican University, discuss Arshile Gorky, the Armenian Genocide, and crisis of identity in the artist and his work. Theriault is one of the first scholars to connect Gorky’s traumatic past with his abstract work.

Art Talks are made possible by The Times Mirror Foundation Endowment, Good Works Foundation, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.

Daily Program: Life with Gorky
JUNE 6–SEPT 20, daily—MOCA Grand Avenue, Jean and Lewis Wolff Reading Room
Life with Gorky (2010, 19.19 min.) is an intimate portrait of the artist by his granddaughter Cosima Spender, featuring interviews with Mougouch Gorky, the artist’s widow. Charting Gorky’s development as a painter, the film considers the impact of the artist’s surroundings on his work, from the traumas of his Armenian childhood to his New York studio and the Virginia landscape. Life with Gorky is produced by the Arshile Gorky Foundation and Peacock Pictures for Tate Media and sponsored by Bloomberg.
INFO 213-621-1745 or
FREE with museum admission; no reservations required

Course: Memory in the Abstract: Painting and Arshile Gorky
SATURDAYS: JULY 10–AUG 14, 11am–2pm—MOCA Grand Avenue and UCLA Extension Arshile Gorky’s paintings define him as a crucial founder of abstract expressionism, and also as a passionate and dedicated artist whose tragic life often informed his groundbreaking and deeply personal paintings. His vivid explorations of homeland, family, and memory tell their stories through color, shape, and a dreamlike abstraction of the familiar world. In conjunction with the exhibition Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, UCLA Extension offers a six-week course that examines the artist’s work for inspiration. Students will tour the exhibition at MOCA during the first class. The following five meetings are held in the studio, where Gorky’s techniques and concepts will be explored and students will create their own paintings looking at his methods and style.

Instructor: Portia Hein’s paintings and works on paper have been featured in exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe, and China, including (keep feeling) Fascination (2006) at California State University, Los Angeles’s Luckman Gallery and Southern Exposure (2005) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
Advance registration required

INFO/REG 310-825-9971 or
290 MOCA members, V7861B; $300 general, reg. # V7861

Sunday Studio
These free, artist-led workshops are held on the first Sunday of every month for all ages.
INFO 213-621-1765 or
FREE; no reservations required

SUNDAY, AUG 1, 1–3:30pm—MOCA Grand Avenue

Drop in with your family and friends to explore how issues of identity can influence an artist’s work with visiting artist Shizu Saldamando. Participate in a spotlight tour of Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective with our gallery educators; then, create your own artwork inspired by the exhibition.

SUNDAY, SEPT 5, 1–3:30pm—MOCA Grand Avenue
Spend some time in a spotlight tour of Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective to explore some of the artist’s painting techniques and processes. Then, join guest artist Michael Pizzaro for painting with sounds, a hands-on workshop inspired by the exhibition.
First Sundays are For Families is generously supported by Bank of America, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA)—Celebrating 30 Years as the Nation’s Leading Contemporary Art Museum
Founded in 1979, MOCA’s mission is to be the defining museum of contemporary art. The institution has achieved astonishing growth in its brief history—with three Los Angeles locations of architectural renown; more than 13,500 members; a world-class permanent collection of nearly 6,000 works international in scope and among the finest in the nation; hallmark education programs that are widely emulated; award-winning publications that present original scholarship; and groundbreaking monographic, touring, and thematic exhibitions of international repute that survey the art of our time. MOCA is a private not-for-profit institution supported by its members, corporate and foundation support, government grants, and retail and admission revenues. MOCA Pacific Design Center is open 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Friday; 11am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday; and closed on Monday. Admission to MOCA Pacific Design Center is

always free. MOCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA are open 11am to 5pm on Monday and Friday; 11am to 8pm on Thursday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. General admission is $10 for adults; $5 for students with I.D. and seniors (65+); and free for MOCA members, children under 12, jurors with I.D., and everyone on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. courtesy of Wells Fargo. For 24-hour information on current exhibitions, education programs, and special events, call 213/626-6222 or access MOCA online at



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One Comment;

  1. Sylva Portoian,MD said:

    Arshile Gorky (1904-1948)*

    Arshile, You were born near dancing lake Van,
    Before Picasso, the famous painter, the Spainian.
    Started very young your initial creative ideas
    Establishing new art from bleeding brushes
    Of unrecognized Armenian Genocide
    But because you’re Armenian they
    Left your painting needlessly… unidentified.
    What an unlucky nation We Are
    Till when, so-called civilized governments will continue ignoring
    Our Arts, Our Clever minds, and Our Truthful-Soulful Harts*.

    May 1, 2010
    I wrote this poem after I read advertising for your paintings,
    “Major retrospective of Gorky is being held at Tate Modern until May 3, 2010”
    Describing you, one of the most revered painters of 20th century.

    *Hart: Heart in one syllable, lyrical because it is the only one.

    This poem will apear in poetry books’ Sydromes of Souls’ July 2010