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Art review: ‘Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective’ @ MOCA

June 8, 2010

Arshile Gorky was an essential pivot in Modern abstract art — a critical hinge between rarefied European aesthetics before World War II and a more muscular, thoroughly American variety that emerged after, in the late 1940s and 1950s. That’s the way he still comes off in the rich, not-to-be-missed retrospective that opened Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Artist and His Mother, 1926-36 Oil on canvas 60 x 50″

A slight difference, though, distinguishes this show from the Guggenheim Museum’s 1981 Gorky retrospective — the last time the Armenian-born immigrant’s art was surveyed in comparable depth. (MOCA’s beautifully installed show has 73 paintings, 49 drawings and three small, carved sculptures.) Today the context is different.

We know a lot more about Gorky and his work, thanks to a proliferation of smaller, more focused exhibitions since then. Museum and gallery shows have looked closely at his portraits, his great series on the theme of “Betrothal,” his final paintings and especially his drawings. His once-sketchy biography, distorted by a sheaf of letters now known to have been forged by a nephew, is fully fleshed out in the catalog’s detailed chronology.

We also know a lot more about the early stirrings of postwar American abstraction. The old story, which had Abstract Expressionism springing forth like Athena from the head of Surrealism’s Zeus among a heroic band of downtown New York artists, has long since collapsed.

By Christopher Knight

Read more at:

‘Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective’ @ MOCA

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