Holland Cotter saw the Arshile Gorky show in Philadelphia and reports in the NY Times that eclecticism rules. “As you move from Gorky playing Cézanne, to Gorky doing Cubism, to Gorky the Surrealist. Constant throughout, though, is an impression, as strong and invisible as a force field, of physical and psychic concentration. It radiates from meticulously drawn, plotted, eraser-smudged and redrawn studies for paintings and from the painted, scraped-down, piled up, scratched-into surfaces of the paintings themselves, which betray revisions made to incorporate new formal and technical information that Gorky gleaned from prowling museums, poring over art magazines and talking with artists. And much as he was one of the great absorbers in art, Gorky was also one of the great pretenders in life. The two roles, both about survival through invention, are closely related. Just as he changed aesthetic identities, he changed personal histories….
“In 1946 Gorky’s life started to unraveled with shocking force. His studio burned, with a significant loss of work. He had debilitating, humiliating surgery for rectal cancer and sank into a depression. Over the next year his marriage foundered; his wife had a fling with his mentor-friend Matta. In 1948, after losing the use of his painting arm in a car accident, Gorky hanged himself. Knowing about this end naturally darkens our view of all that came before, but darkness really was there early with his family’s life as refugees and his mother’s death, and despite the relocations and reinventions, it never withdrew. What kept life manageable was art, and specifically the practice of art, a practice that Gorky turned into an art, a kind of yoga of learning, looking, focusing, doing, redoing, humbly, pridefully, hourly, daily.
“Creation was salvation. That sounds romantic, but why put it any other way? Gorky was a Romantic, though that only becomes fully evident in his art at the end. If the Philadelphia show seems to take a long time to get to the end, the great stuff there is worth the wait. And besides, you’re getting some of it all along the way, in art that is all one thing, all one life.”
“Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective,” organized by Michael R. Taylor. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Through Jan. 10, 2010.