The highly regarded international art gallery Hauser & Wirth has announced it is to take on exclusive worldwide representation of the Arshile Gorky Estate. The story of Arshile Gorky (1904 – 1948) is that of the quintessential American artist seeking to forge a new identity divorced from his Old World roots. Through constant cycles of radical reinvention, his quest yielded a personal approach to painting that established Gorky as ‘the father of Abstract Expressionism’ and thereby a seminal figure in the evolution of modern art. With its emphasis on the autonomous expressive potential of line, form, and colour, his revolutionary work profoundly impacted scores of fellow artists, including Willem De Kooning, David Smith, and Mark Rothko, and was championed by André Breton and Roberto Matta. Representing the artist’s Estate, Hauser & Wirth will further explore his legacy and enduring influence through new exhibitions and publications, and by commissioning original research and scholarship.
Hauser & Wirth will present its first exhibition of Gorky’s work in New York in 2017. Curated by Paul Schimmel, this exhibition will travel to the gallery’s space in Los Angeles and will be accompanied by a comprehensive publication focused on Gorky’s expansive oeuvre. The artist’s position as a pivotal post-war figure is currently highlighted by a selection of key works on view in the major exhibition ‘Abstract Expressionism’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, England, until 2 January 2017.
‘We are thrilled to welcome the Arshile Gorky Estate into our gallery’s family of artists’, remarked Iwan Wirth, co-founder and President, Hauser & Wirth.
‘‘We are thrilled to welcome the Arshile Gorky Estate into our gallery’s family of artists’, remarked Iwan Wirth, co-founder and President, Hauser & Wirth. Gorky’s incredible body of work prefigures the explosive event of Abstract Expressionism so directly that it is impossible to overstate his importance in the ongoing narrative of American art. As one of the foremost expressionist painters of his generation – of any generation – Gorky is a perfect fit within our programme. His fearlessness and inventiveness connect him to many of the artists we represent, from Philip Guston to Paul McCarthy, and make his work as relevant today as ever. We look forward to collaborating with the Estate and working closely with the artist’s family to share Gorky’s contributions internationally and to share them with new generations.’
Saskia Spender, President of the Arshile Gorky Foundation, says: ‘We are delighted that Gorky is joining Hauser & Wirth. As a gallery with a compelling international presence and a history of nurturing artists’ estates, as well as the ability to present exhibitions that are innovative and stimulating, we are convinced this will be the perfect home for Gorky. We very much look forward to a close collaboration.’
Gorky emigrated from Ottoman Armenia to the United States in 1920, fleeing the Armenian genocide. In an attempt to assimilate into the new culture in which he found himself, Gorky changed his name and consciously assumed the persona of an avant-garde artist. After five years living under strained conditions with his family in Massachusetts, Gorky moved to New York and became absorbed into the cultural milieu of a city on the brink of modernism. Uncommitted to the political causes that engaged many of his contemporaries, Gorky busied himself with questions of artistic theory and the pursuit of a personal vision. He ardently studied European modern masters, absorbing the work of those he admired: from Paul Cézanne and Giorgio de Chirico, to Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and André Masson. This practice taught him to understand their artistic processes and eventually to surmount their techniques with his own. Gorky’s first paintings from independent efforts in the 1920s are constituted of layers of accumulated paint which was then sanded down to achieve a glass-like surface, rich in colour and employing fictionalised symbolism pertaining to his childhood on Lake Van.
Gorky’s world was permeated by his early experiences and his sense of dislocation as an immigrant to the United States; partially faithful recollections of Lake Van and the surrounding landscape emerge, dream-like, within his compositions. Sustained by a sense of nostalgia, his touching and much celebrated self-portrait, ‘The Artist and His Mother’, exemplifies the experience of an émigré reconciling his past with the construction of an American identity. Begun in 1926, this icon of the migration story now resides in a place of honour within the new Whitney Museum of American Art, New York NY. The work exhibits a tenderness and innocence that Gorky believed were essential qualities for a painter to remain receptive to the outside world.
After a decade of working and a period of moderate critical success, Gorky initiated a series of studies and paintings observed from his rural environment while on holiday in Connecticut, which became a crucial intermediary step in the development of his individual style. His Waterfall series from 1942 exhibits a spontaneity and free use of paint that belies the complexity of its compositional rigour. The following year, Gorky temporarily relocated to Virginia where he refocused his work on nature as primary subject matter: his drawings from this period took on a new fervour, which he later translated into some of the most evocative paintings of his career, including the highly complex, ‘The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb’ (1944), now in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo NY.
In these primal responses to nature, Gorky granted as much presence to the space between the objects he observed as the objects themselves. Returning to idealised memories of his early life, Gorky incorporated fabricated elements from his childhood amongst the reality of his surroundings. In this conflation of truth and memory, the observational yields to a lyrical essence rendered in vivid, incandescent auras that reverberate within outlined forms, such as in the magnificent ‘Scent of Apricots on the Fields’ (1944). His compositions seemingly implode upon themselves, culminating in a sense that the paintings are being created from the centre outwards. Gorky’s highly personal vision was crystallised in these late works where, in his unswerving belief that art comes from within, his ‘otherness’ empowered him to carve his own art form guided by memory and imagination.
In spite of his devotion to European art, Gorky remains a profoundly American painter, and the success with which he reinvented his identity upon his arrival is a tribute to opportunities afforded by the United States.
Gorky’s work is represented in museum and private collections worldwide, including: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo NY; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas TX; Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge MA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Valencia, Spain; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles CA; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; The Menil Collection, Houston TX; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York NY; Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles CA; The Museum of Modern Art, New York NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York NY; Tate, London, England; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York NY, and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven CT.