WASHINGTON (Library of Congress)—The Library of Congress is set to host its 15th Annual Vardanants Day lecture in late September with a presentation on Arshile Gorky and his contributions to Abstract Expressionism by Professor Kim S. Theriault.
The lecture, titled “The Story Behind the Stamp: Arshile Gorky and the Development of Abstract Expressionism,” will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, in the Mumford Room, located on the sixth floor of the Library’s James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Near East Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division, the event is free and open to the public; tickets are not required.
In 2010, the Armenian American artist Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) was one of several influential abstract expressionists honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a special stamp. Theriault will discuss Gorky’s seminal influence on that artistic movement and sign copies of her book, “Rethinking Arshile Gorky” (Penn State University Press, 2009).
Born Vostanik Adoyan on April 15, 1904, the artist known as Arshile Gorky was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide that began in 1915. Gorky was haunted for the rest of his life by the loss of his homeland, the demolished city of Khorkom in the Western Armenian countryside, and the impact it had on his family. His paintings, which anticipated the movement of abstract expressionism by a decade, were thought to reflect the pain and loss of his childhood.
He emigrated to the United States in February 1920 and lived with his sister in Watertown, Mass., where he got his first taste of art at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Mostly self-educated, he took some painting lessons in the early 1920s from a woman who told him that an Armenian could not be a painter. Thus he created a Russian past for himself, and changed his name to Arshile Gorky (Russian for “Achilles” and “the bitter one”).
After attending the School of Fine Art and Design in Boston, Gorky moved to New York City to attend the National Academy of Design. He subsequently taught at the New School of Design in New York and gained a small circle of admirers, among them the painter Mark Rothko, who studied under him. His big break came in 1930, when he was invited to display his work in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art. Since then, his paintings and drawing have hung in every major American museum, including the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art (which maintains the Gorky Archive) and in many institutions worldwide, including the Tate Modern in London. The misfortunes that began in his early life brought him to an early death by his own hand in 1948.
Kim S. Theriault is an associate professor of art history, theory and criticism at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. She completed her doctorate at the University of Virginia in 2000, with her dissertation titled “Re-Placing Arshile Gorky: Exile, Identity and Abstraction in Twentieth-Century American Art.” She has given presentations throughout the country and published numerous articles about Gorky in scholarly journals. In 2009, her book “Rethinking Arshile Gorky” was published.
The Vardanants Day lecture series was created to explore and present all aspects of Armenian culture and history. It is named after the Armenian holiday that commemorates the battle of Avarayr (May, A.D. 451), which was waged by Armenian General Vardan Mamikonian and his compatriots against invading Persian troops who were attempting to re-impose Zoroastrianism on the Christian state. As a religious holiday, it also celebrates Armenia’s triumph over forces of assimilation.
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.
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