Sunday, 21 February 2010

Bitter lemon

Arshile Gorky at Tate Modern yesterday afternoon. It was one of those trips where the walk there and back was more compelling than the exhibition. Gorky was highly derivative (down to his name, which he lifted from the Russian writer).

It was like seeing pastiches of Picasso, Léger, Miró, Cézanne and Kandinsky but by an artist with an inability to give his forms any dynamism and with no appreciation of colour. After the sixth or so room (he was productive, I'll give him that) you begin to wonder at how Gorky never quite manages to get his colours to work: they either boringly meander across the canvas or sit there being mildly objectionable, gloopily orange or snottily green. The two versions of 'The Artist and his Mother' (below) were good  - but that's two paintings out of a hundred or more works. They seemed flukish - nothing else approached them.

The brochure describes his work as a 'pivot' between European high modernism and American abstract expressionism. To me he looked more like the last gasp of an American provincialism that was capable of picking up a third-rate émigré pasticheur and hailing him as a notable modernist painter (the fact that he was apparently mistaken as a relative of the writer Gorky says a lot: Gorky wasn't Maxim's family name - it was a nom de plume meaning 'bitter' in Russian. And Maxim wasn't his first name either but that's by-the-by).

I'm at a loss to explain why the curators at Tate Modern have made such a fuss over him. He died over sixty years ago and I thought time was supposed to sort these things out. The owl of Minerva has obviously been unavoidably detained. Anyway, thank God for Jackson Pollock.


dearieme said...

"Arshile Gorky": schoolboys would have fun with that name, if schoolboys had ever heard of him.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of my reaction to Theodore Roethke, it was good but somehow i kept thinking it was like Wallace Stevens only not as good. i would very much have liked to have come across TR first, to see if his poetry would have struck me as somehow not up to scratch if i didn't have the better example of Stevens to hand.

worm said...

I agree - I've always thought his stuff looked like a big snotty sneeze

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hmm, I don't know his work and I think I'm not about to bother. Even the pictures you show, which do indeed show that he was not incompetent, seem to have the heads and bodies from two different styles, and not joined together to any good effect as far as I can see.

Brit said...

Is that you, Elberry, on the left in that pic?

Gaw said...

Dearieme: And to think he actually chose it.

Elb: Your erudition leaves me stranded.

Worm: Pithy.

Gadjo: Good spot - must be rubbish!

Brit: The ears certainly look familiar.