Arshile Gorky, Painting, ca. 1944, oil on canvas, 65 3⁄4 x 70 1⁄4".

Arshile Gorky

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Arshile Gorky, Painting, ca. 1944, oil on canvas, 65 3⁄4 x 70 1⁄4".

THERE WERE TWO Arshile Gorkys to be found in this retrospective: Gorky the Authentic, and Gorky the Faker. As the exhibition made clear, most of Gorky’s work teeters on the fulcrum point between these two categories. The installation in Philadelphia began with Gorky’s self-portrait of circa 1937, the one with haunting eyes and lumpy, fingerless hands that barely support an insubstantial palette. Next to the portrait, a wall label shared details of Gorky’s tragic life story—of his mother’s death by starvation, his survival of the Armenian genocide, his eventual suicide. Thus was Gorky the Authentic introduced to the general public as a sort of midcentury van Gogh, cut down in the prime of his artistic career by a world too callous to grasp his genius. The scale of the tragedy is different, of course (van Gogh’s personal pathology seems especially trite compared with the historic

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