Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Photo: © The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
P120
Enigma
c. 1933–34
Oil on canvas mounted on panel
36 x 47 7/8 in. (91.4 x 121.6 cm)
Front, lower right: A. Gorky
Reverse not seen
Exhibitions
Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York, 48 Living Americans in Contrasted Groups, December 1934, as "Organization at Night."
Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, New York, Mr. and Mrs. M. Martin Janis Collection, February 2–March 2, 1935, as Enigma (unconfirmed).
Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, New York, The Art of Today: An Exhibition of Contemporary Pictures and Sculpture Arranged and Sponsored by the Women's Advisory Committee of the Albright Art Gallery, January 3–31, 1936, no. 46, p. 7, as Enigma.
Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago, International Moderns, April 5–30, 1937, no. 10, as Enigma.
Sidney Janis and San Francisco Museum of Art (organizers), Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States, 1944, no. 50, p. 29, as "Nighttime Nostalgia," dated 1935. Traveled to: Cincinnati Art Museum, February 8–March 12, 1944; Denver Art Museum, March 26–April 23, 1944; Seattle Art Museum, May 10–June 4, 1944; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, July 8–23, 1944; Portland Art Museum, Oregon, August 9–26, 1944; San Francisco Museum of Art, September 6–24, 1944.
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, Two Lyric Abstractionists: Gorky, Works of the Middle Period / Trökes, Recent Gouaches and Drawings, March 31–April 24, 1954, no. 41, as "Night Time, Enigma and Nostalgia."
David Anderson Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Drawings: 1929–1934, February 3–March 1, 1962, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
XXXI Biennale di Venezia: Internazionale d'Arte, U.S. Pavillion, Venice, Italy, Arshile Gorky, June 16–October 7, 1962, no. 3, p. 113, as "Night Time, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948, December 19, 1962–February 12, 1963, no. 23, ill. in b/w, p. 21, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia." Traveled to: Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C, March 12–April 14, 1963.
Arts Council of Great Britain (organizer), Tate Gallery, London, Arshile Gorky, Paintings and Drawings, 1965, no. 25, ill. in b/w, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia," [London: no. 25, ill. in b/w; Rotterdam: no. 36, ill. in b/w as "Nacht, orakelspreuk en nostalgie / Nighttime, enigma and nostalgia"]. Traveled to: Tate Gallery, London, April 2–May 2, 1965; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, May 22–June 27, 1965; Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, July 24–September 5, 1965. (Museum Boymans van Beuingen 1965)..
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, 1976–77, no. 4, ill. in b/w, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia," dated 1929–34. Traveled to: Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, United Kingdom, December 19, 1976–January 16, 1977; Serpentine Gallery, London, March 12–April 11, 1977.
Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Paris — New York, June 1–September 19, 1977, ill. in b/w, p. 417, as "Nighttime enigma and nostalgia."
Newark Museum, New Jersey, Murals without Walls: Arshile Gorky's Aviation Murals Rediscovered, November 15, 1978–March 11, 1979 (Exhibition catalogue: O'Connor 1978b), no. 3, ill. in b/w, p. 67, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia." Traveled to: Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, New York, July 1–August 6, 1979; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C, October 4–November 25, 1979; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, December 23, 1979–February 3, 1980; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 28–April 20, 1980; Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, California, May 10–June 22, 1980; Queens Museum, New York, September 6–November 2, 1980.
Xavier Fourcade Inc, New York, Arshile Gorky: Important Paintings and Drawings, April 3–28, 1979, ill. in color, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 43, ill. in color, p. 97, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia," dated 1933–34. Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 11–November 8, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948, October 17–December 23, 1989, no. 11, ill. in color, p. 69, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia." Traveled to: Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, January 19–March 25, 1990.
Gagosian Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, 1929–1942, October 27, 1998–January 9, 1999, ill. in color, p. 25, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 55, ill. in color, p. 211, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia." Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010.
Literature
Herdle, Isabelle C. "Gorky Painting Stirs Interest at Art Gallery." Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), December 2, 1934, discussed p. 55; ill. in b/w, p. 56, as "Organization at Night."
Porter, Fairfield. "Reviews and Previews." Artnews (New York) 53 (April 1954), discussed p. 53, as "Night Time, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Schwabacher, Ethel. Arshile Gorky. New York: The Macmillan Company for the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1957. Monograph, fig. 15, ill. in b/w, p. 51, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia," dated 1929–34.
Barilli, Renato. "La Pittura di Arshile Gorky." La Biennale 43 (April–June 1961), ill. in b/w, p. 13, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Reiff, Robert F. "A Stylistic Analysis of Arshile Gorky's Art from 1943–1948." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, New York, 1961, fig. 11, ill. in b/w, p. 289, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
O'Hara, Frank. "Art Chronicle." Kulchur (New York) 2, no. 6 (Summer 1962), discussed p. 55, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Rosenberg, Harold. Arshile Gorky: The Man, the Time, the Idea. New York: Horizon Press, 1962. Monograph, ill. in b/w, p. 41, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Levy, Julien. Arshile Gorky. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1966. Monograph, pl. 61, ill. in b/w, p. 85, as "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia," dated c. 1934.
Kagitani, Y. "Arshile Gorky: A Man Who Lived in the Middle of Solitude." Mizue (Tokyo) 9, no. 858 (September 1976), ill. in b/w, p. 31.
Rand, Harry. Arshile Gorky: The Implication of Symbols. London and Montclair, N.J.: George Prior and Allanheld & Schram, 1980, 1981. Monograph, fig. 4–2, ill. in b/w, p. 55, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Karp, Diane. "Arshile Gorky: The Language of Art." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1982, fig. 59, ill. in b/w, p. 227, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Jordan, Jim M. "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings." In The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, by Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater. New York and London: New York University Press, 1982, no. 120, ill. in b/w, pp. 251–52, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Seitz, William C. Abstract Expressionist Painting in America. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press for the National Gallery of Art, 1983, fig. 56, ill. in b/w, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Lader, Melvin P. Arshile Gorky. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Monograph, fig. 42, ill. in b/w, p. 49, as "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia."
Waldman, Diane. Willem de Kooning. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1988, fig. 6, ill. in b/w, p. 20, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia," dated 1934.
Rand, Harry. Arshile Gorky: The Implication of Symbols. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991. Monograph, fig. 4–2, ill. in b/w, p. 62, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Rosenblum, Robert. "De Chirico's Long American Shadow." Art in America (New York) 84 (July 1996), ill. in b/w, p. 51, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Herrera, Hayden. "Arshile Gorky at Gagosian." Art in America (New York) 87 (May 1999), discussed p. 152, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Spender, Matthew. From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999, ill. in b/w, p. 89, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Rosenblum, Robert. "De Chirico's Long American Shadow." In On Modern American Art: Selected Essays by Robert Rosenblum. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999, fig. 25, ill. in b/w, p. 51, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Beredjiklian, Alexandre. Arshile Gorky: sept thèmes majeurs. Suresnes, France: Alphamédian & Johanet; Lisbon: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, 2007. Monograph, discussed pp. 24, 30, 35, 63, as "Nuit, énigme et nostalgie."
Alberro, Alexander. "The Apprenticeship of Arshile Gorky: On Arshile Gorky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Texte zur Kunst (Cologne) 77 (March 2010), discussed pp. 147, 209, as "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia."
Patterson, Jody. Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in 1930s New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020, fig. 25, ill. in color, p. 70, as "Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia."
Notes
The painting was mounted posthumously on a wood panel; no documentation of the reverse of the original canvas has been made available.

Commentary

In 1929, Gorky began a series of abstract works which is now referred to as "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia." While he continued working on this until 1937, it was between 1931 and 1934 that he was most dedicated to developing the composition. Ultimately, he produced nearly one hundred drawings and three related paintings. The body of work can be divided into subsets, such as the posthumously titled, "Écorché"; "Fish and Head"; "The Fatal Temple"; and "Column with Objects." Two subsets have Gorky's own titles: Objects and Enigma (this painting), for which there are six related drawings.1 In an object questionnaire he completed for the Museum of Modern Art in 1941, Gorky expressly designated one of the six drawings, Objects (D0140), as a preparatory work for this painting.2

Etta (1895–1980) and M. Martin Janis (1892–1969), the first owners of the painting, were important early patrons of Gorky's. Their introduction to the artist was made through M. Martin's brother, Sidney Janis (1896–1989), who later became one of the postwar era's most important art dealers and represented the Arshile Gorky Estate after he opened his New York gallery in 1948. 

In a letter dated November 26, 1949, to fellow Gorky patron Mina Boehm Metzger (1877–1975), M. Martin Janis recalled: "My wife and I knew [Gorky] well and greatly grieved at his untimely passing. In our collection, there are 5 examples of Gorky's [works] all acquired in 1934, when we first met him."3 

In 1966, Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, exchanged the painting with the Arshile Gorky Estate for Xhorkom (P148). 

1. See D0173, D0174a, D0176, and D0177.

2. See: D0140. MoMA, Drawings and Prints Object File, 324.1941. 

3. Letter from M. Martin Janis to Mina Boehm Metzger, November 26, 1949, AGF Archives. Four of the five works in question have been conclusively identified: D0174ab, P074, P120, P125.

Related Work
1932
Ink on paper
D0140
Ink on paper
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