MOCA Offers 2 For 1 Admission To Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective

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LOS ANGELES—The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), is extending an exciting offer of two admissions for the price of one to Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective through September 20, 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.

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. 

“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.” 

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. 

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 who developed his personal vocabulary through a series of intensive apprenticeships to the styles of other artists. He became familiar 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, and the 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 the Great 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. 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, Asbarez Daily Newspaper/Horizon Armenian TV, YEREVAN Magazine, and Los Angeles magazine.


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

SUNDAY, SEPT 5, 1–3:30pm—MOCA Grand Avenue
Sunday Studio
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 Pisaro for painting with sounds, a hands-on workshop inspired by the exhibition.
INFO 213/621-1765 or
FREE; no reservations required

Sunday Studios 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.
SUNDAY, SEPT 12, 3pm—MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium

The Crisis of Arshile Gorky
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. 

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; 11am to 6pm 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 5pm to 8pm, 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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