ARSHILE GORKY: His Life and Work

Hayden Herrera, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $40 (784p) ISBN 978-0-374-11323-0

Most recently seen as a silent, enigmatic figure in the Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan's Ararat, modernist painter Gorky (1900?–1948) is fastidiously served in this comprehensive biography. Born near Lake Van in Ottoman-held Armenia, the young Gorky witnessed the Armenian genocide, a horror that Herrera (Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo) covers with extreme care. Following Gorky's emigration to the U.S. in 1920 and his name change from Manouk Adoian (he claimed to be the cousin of Russian writer Maxim Gorky), Herrera establishes the bulk of the narrative around Gorky's paintings, describing what he was working on when and under what circumstances. Most of Gorky's work life was based in New York, where, by the 1930s, he was paid a salary by the WPA for murals and other work in his surrealist style, largely derived from Miró and Léger, as the 64 pages of color and b&w images affirm. Herrera expects and encounters many difficulties in untangling the secretive Gorky's feelings and mostly confines herself to quoting others extensively, including long passages from the letters of Gorky's American wife, Agnes Magruder (or as Gorky called her, "Mougouch"). Herrera's restraint and suspension of judgment can flatten out events, yet she lingers for paragraphs on Gorky's many paintings, describing them, speculating on their meanings with lucidity and documenting their sales. The result is a book that, exhaustive in its research, will be a starting point for scholars and critics, but that will fail to engross casual readers. Conversely, readers already familiar with Gorky who are looking for political meanings to his suicide, shown here as undertaken in physical and marital distress, may find less than they are looking for. (July)

Forecast:The Gorky of the film Ararat is an early Gorky, who paints in an autobiographically realist style. This book will find some readers looking for more than the movie gave them, but the lack of a forthcoming major Gorky retrospective is a drawback.

Reviewed on: 05/05/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 784 pages - 978-0-374-52972-7
Open Ebook - 784 pages - 978-1-4668-1708-1
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