Venice, at Ca' Pesaro the first Italian retrospective on Arshile Gorky, great exponent of abstract expressionism

From May 8 to September 22, 2019, Ca' Pesaro in Venice is hosting the exhibition 'Arshile Gorky. 1904 - 1948', the first major Italian retrospective dedicated to Arshile Gorky.

The first Italian retrospective exhibition dedicated to Arshile Gorky (Vostanik Manouig Adoian; Khorkom, 1904 - Sherman, 1948), a great Armenian artist naturalized from the United States and one of the leading exponents ofabstract expressionism, is being held in Venice at Ca’ Pesaro - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna from May 8 to September 22, 2019. The exhibition is entitled Arshile Gorky. 1904 - 1948 and exhibits eighty works that allow a comprehensive look at Gorky’s art to be explored. From his questioning of the modern masters in the 1920s to his last paintings of the 1940s, there is always a particular vision in Gorky’s work that distinguishes him as one of the pivotal figures in 20th-century American art, alongside Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Gorky left Armenia to take refuge in the United States at the age of fifteen: he had to escape the Armenian genocide, and in the U.S. he lived between Boston and New York, where his art enjoyed widespread success, which ended with his suicide in 1948 that closed a life full of satisfaction but also bitterness and personal problems.

The exhibition is curated by Edith Devaney, curator at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and is being held in close collaboration with The Arshile Gorky Foundation and family members: thanks to these collaborations, it will also allow visitors to admire works that have rarely been shown in public. The exhibition itinerary also relies on prestigious museum loans: the National Gallery of Art, Washington; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; and Diocese of the Armenian American Church, New York.

Gabriella Belli says, “Gorky’s extraordinary personality, for the first time in Italy with a monographic exhibition,” says Gabriella Belli, director of the Civic Museums of Venice, “will illuminate still-shadowed areas of our country’s art history, letting us explore in depth the osmosis of European painting with American painting, of which Gorky was undoubtedly one of the most important innovators.”

“The most important works from Gorky’s career,” adds Edith Devaney, “will be brought together in an exhibition that will allow us to reaffirm the value of his experience within the development and definition of 20th-century American Art, highlighting how his influence continues to this day.”

“About a century ago the young Arshile Gorky,” explains Saskia Spender, the artist’s granddaughter, “came as close to Venice as he had ever been in person, when the ship that would take him to America called at Naples. Actually, he was never far away, at least spiritually, from the art of Pompeii, Paolo Uccello and De Chirico, among his favorite predecessors. He liked to work as fast as Tintoretto famously did because, as he once said, ”when we are in tune with our time we do things more easily. We hope that this exhibition will make visitors appreciate the value of Gorky’s special position and also his prolific energy, it should be added that for the first time in Italy we will be able to see his work with such breadth. Gorky was a man who rejected boundaries and labels of all kinds, from his own name down to art historical categories. The Venice exhibition will only confirm that such individual expression could only emerge in mid-century New York."

Arshile Gorky. 1904 - 1948 follows the evolution of Gorky’s characteristic artistic vocabulary, which stemmed from his artistic and intellectual engagement with European movements, albeit autonomous from their directives. Gorky integrated the landscapes of Paul Cézanne, the line of Ingres, the composition of Paolo Uccello, the logic of Picasso, even the vivid forms of Joan Miró. In fact, Gorky, by absorbing and reacting to the work of past masters and modern artists, was able to develop his own vision and imagination. The exhibition thus begins with the artist’s earliest portraiture, the period when he had his many encounters with New York’s emerging avant garde artists, among them Stuart Davis, John Graham and David Smith. This was a creative environment in which Gorky himself was a leading figure. A central work is Self-Portrait (ca. 1937), which references Picasso’s neoclassical portraits of the 1920s. Gorky’s portraiture was not only a way to explore the present (portraits of family, close friends and his peers) but also a way to pay tribute to the family he had lost.

Gorky went on to synthesize Cubist issues and structure with Surrealist content and techniques, particularly isolating and elaborating biomorphic forms in his landscapes and still lifes of the 1930s. The series of drawings known as Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia represents a pivotal moment in the development of the artist’s abstraction, his vocabulary resulting perfected by motifs arising from his questioning of Cubism and Surrealism. Drawing played a fundamental role in Gorky’s practice, forming his ideas and preceding almost every painting. Gorky’s creativity is explored in the exhibition through the display of works on paper documenting the entire course of his career.

In the 1940s Gorky came into contact with the Surrealists, including André Breton, Wifredo Lam, Max Ernst and Roberto Matta. These new acquaintances would contribute to the development of automatism and the subconscious in his paintings. Works such as Apple Orchard (c. 1943 - 1946) give an account not only of his skill and a new precise and fluid line, but also of a changed approach. Gorky’s work had been further revitalized by a reconnection with nature, cemented in the summers of 1942-1945 spent in Connecticut and at Crooked Run Farm in Virginia. This period spent en plein air and not immersed in his studio or in New York museums allowed him to extract universal symbols and motifs grounded in observation. Gorky closely examined botanical and biological forms and translated the visual metaphors he saw in nature into new metamorphic forms capable of expressing his innermost psyche.

The last chapter of the exhibition focuses on the last masterpieces such as The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944), One Year the Milkweed (1944) and Dark Green Painting (ca. 1948). In these works, Gorky’s instinctive symbols are transformed into a personal vocabulary of recurring fantastic forms that result, Clement Greenberg noted in 1947, in “some of the best modern paintings ever made by an American.” The artist imbued these works evocative of childhood memories, his deep affinity with nature, and the complexities and contradictions he felt in his own existence. Gorky’s distinctive lexicon (a mix of his own energy and empathy, subconscious and abstract imagery) make him a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism in America. Gorky lived through an extraordinary era of historical and cultural upheaval, marked by an unprecedented movement of people during the two world wars, which was followed by the rise of New York City as art capital over Paris. This historical context, is documented in the exhibition through archival material loaned by the Arshile Gorky Foundation, and outlines not only the chronology of Gorky’s life but also events of the period that had a profound impact on his life. The artist’s work has had a lasting influence on generations, particularly artists such as Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jack Whitten. The exhibition will also feature a film directed by Cosima Spender, the artist’s granddaughter, which brings together a number of contemporary artistic voices to reflect on Gorky’s life, work and legacy, along with previously unseen footage of the artist.

An illustrated catalog with essays by the curators (Edith Devaney and Gabriella Belli) and Saskia Spender, with texts in English and Italian, will accompany the exhibition. For information you can visit the Ca’ Pesaro website.

Pictured: Arshile Gorky, Year the Milkweed (1944; oil on canvas, 94.2 x 119.3 cm; Washington, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund) © 2018 The Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Source: release

Venice, at Ca' Pesaro the first Italian retrospective on Arshile Gorky, great exponent of abstract expressionism
Venice, at Ca' Pesaro the first Italian retrospective on Arshile Gorky, great exponent of abstract expressionism

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