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Arshile Gorky: HAUSER & WIRTH.

Arshile Gorky's paintings and drawings are generally associated with the earliest days of Abstract Expressionism. Despite this connection, Gorky exhibitions in New York are few and far between. There haven't been many since 1981, when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum mounted a retrospective of work by this Armenian emigre, who came to America in 1920. As each new generation has molded its interpretation of his art in their own work, his achievements have been repeatedly revised. When I studied his "tidy" paintings and drawings in graduate school when Minimalism and Pop art reigned, William S. Rubin focused on how the artist's whiplash lines and patches of color celebrated nature.

The recent landscape-themed show at Hauser & Wirth, with work from 1943 to 1947, presented a scruffier Gorky. There were paintings that seemed unfinished and works on paper with a messy, unkempt character. With lines, colors, and surfaces not calibrated exactly as they might be found in completed works, the exhibition felt like an orchestra warming up before a performance.

The drawings on view offered a wonderful grab bag of assorted ideas. Several works on paper were squared off so that the imagery could be transferred to a larger canvas. The way color was dappled onto the biomorphic forms of two drawings from 1944 and 1945-46 suggested that the transplanted Armenian had admired a Joan Miro show held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1941. The futuristic shapes found in another drawing from 1946 had a visionary quality.

Spending time with The Plough and the Song, 1947, generously lent by the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio, revealed differences between this jubilant masterpiece and the other artworks spread across three floors. The fluid yellow ground suggested a lazy summer afternoon harmonized with semiabstract floral elements and anthropomorphic forms. The outline of a large face in this work has always made me think that Shakespeare's Ariel is about to materialize. Is this painting some sort of reverie or memory by a New Yorker who'd vacationed in the sylvan countryside of Virginia?

In comparison, many of the other paintings had darker grounds, less discrete patches of color, and fewer--and, in some instances, no--lines. In Pastoral, 1947, Gorky seemed to be trying to create discrete shapes by surrounding sections of bare canvas with fluid brown paint. Devoid of both lines and passages of color, The Opaque, another late work from 1947, was covered with watery gray areas that suggested how little gesticulation Gorky needed to make a convincing, expressive picture.

As for a study for Agony, 1946-47, the work revealed that much would change before the painting that belongs to MOMA was completed. There were various ideas percolating in works on paper with smudges and erasure marks. Because the background of the study for Pastoral, 1946-47, which was hanging near the painting, was less tentative, it was ultimately more satisfying. There was even an exceptional ca.-1946 work, featuring only lines.

Where was Gorky headed in the last months of his life? The show included a tantalizing untitled oil on canvas from ca. 1947-48, executed shortly before the artist committed suicide at forty-four, almost a month after an automobile accident left his neck broken and his painting arm unusable. Luridly colored shapes emerge from beneath feathered as well as smudged fields of white. This late painting is downright hallucinatory.

Caption: Arshile Gorky, Pastoral, 1947, oil and pencil on canvas, 44 1/8 x 56".
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Author:Tuchman, Phyllis
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:576
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