Arshile Gorky is a pivotal but enigmatic figure in the history of Modern Art — specifically in the alleged shifting of the narrative center of Capital-A Art from Paris to New York somewhere around World War II. Gorky was a quintessential example of American self-reinvention: a figurehead to the ab-ex pioneers in his spongelike eclecticism and existential heroicism, but at the same time a haunted European cast from the Old Master mold — with a psyche rooted in peasantry, Catholicism and genocide, and almost pathologically addicted to biographical fabrication. When Gorky was working the Manhattan art world of the 1930s and ’40s, nobody knew that he was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Nobody knew he was born Vosdanig Adoian and was not, as he claimed, related to Russian writer Maxim Gorky (whose real name in any case was Aleksey Peshkov). Nobody knew that he had never received the professional training he claimed, and was, in fact, largely self-taught through study of reproductions in library books and visits to public museums. The man they knew as Gorky was, arguably, Vosdanig Adoian’s greatest artistic creation — an evolving pastiche of behaviors, narratives and props coalescing into something approximating the persona of The Great Artist — as envisioned by an untutored immigrant’s imagination and molded by the inchoate expectations of the emerging East Coast cultural elite.
more from Doug Harvey at the LA Weekly here.