2019 Venice Biennale

Arshile Gorky Will Receive First Italian Retrospective During 2019 Venice Biennale

Arshile Gorky, One Year the Milkweed, 1944, oil on canvas, 94.2 x 119.3 cm/ 37 1/16 x 46 15/16 in.


With the opening of the 2019 Venice Biennale less than six months away, many participating nations have picked artists for their pavilions, and details about the central show, curated by Ralph Rugoff, are trickling out. Now there is news of another contribution to the glorious bounty of art that will overtake the Most Serene Republic when the Biennale opens in May: a retrospective for the painter Arshile Gorky, the Armenian-American’s first in Italy, to be staged at the Ca’ Pesaro museum of modern art, a sumptuous baroque palace along the Grand Canal.

Titled “Arshile Gorky: 1904–1948” (the years that bracketed Gorky’s painfully short life, which he ended by suicide), the exhibition will chart the full span of his career, from early experiments in an array of modes informed by historical painters to his astonishing late work, which was a sturdy, ingenious bridge between Surrealism and Abstract-Expressionism. The show will sport some 80 works, from Tate in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and elsewhere, and is being presented in cooperation with the Arshile Gorky Foundation, which is represented by Hauser & Wirth gallery.

Arshile Gorky in the late 1920s. Unknown photographer.

Handling curatorial duties for the show, which runs from May 8 through September 22, 2019, are Gabriella Belli, the director of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (which includes Ca’ Pesaro) and Edith Devaney, the curator of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where she organized the landmark exhibition “Abstract Expressionism” in 2016.

Asked about the thrust of their plan, Devaney noted that no less a figure than Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, once derided the artist’s work up until 1943 as derivative, overly indebted to greats of the past. But “what we can see from our perspective now, and what this retrospective survey seeks to demonstrate,” she said, “is that Gorky’s artistic voice can be detected from the very start—even when he appears to be immersed in an interrogation of the work of others.”

Gorky, Devaney said, was “synthesizing a new approach to painting,” and his interest in mining the work of his predecessors and peers in order to do so can be seen even in some of his later works. For instance, in The Beginning, a loan from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which the artist painted in 1947, one can sense “Miró’s line, restrained elements of Kandinsky’s color, and Matta’s balancing of imagery of reality with abstractions from the imagination,” she said.

“As one of his late works, executed only a year before his death,” Devaney said, “there is a cruel irony to the title.”

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