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Around June 1942, the Museum of Modern Art exchanged Painting (P212) with Gorky for Garden in Sochi (P248). According to Agnes "Mougouch" Gorky (1921–2013), "there was a moment during this transaction when [Alfred H.] Barr took out a tape measure to compare the two works after which the green Sochi being slightly larger [than P212], Gorky received some extra money to make up the difference."1
Shortly after the exchange, at the request of Dorothy C. Miller (1904–2003), a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Gorky shared a brief text about the painting that centers on his childhood village, Khorkom (also spelled Khorgom; now Dilkaya, Turkey): "[A]bout 194 feet away from our house on the road to the spring my father had a little garden with a few apple trees which had retired from giving fruit. There was a ground constantly in shade where grew incalculable amounts of wild carrots, and porcupines had made their nests. There was a blue rock half buried in the black earth with a few patches of moss placed here and there like fallen clouds. . . . This garden was identified as the Garden of Wish Fulfillment. . . ."2
According to Mougouch, the painting's central, boot-shaped form is based on the goatskin and sheepskin butter churns used by Kurdish mountain tribes and familiar to Gorky from his childhood.3
She also reported that the painting was completed in one night, around October 1941, soon after she and Gorky had returned to New York from their honeymoon.4 "When we got back from San Francisco [on October 1, 1941] there was a letter from [Lloyd] Goodrich waiting for him [Gorky], saying the Whitney wanted a work of his for the Biennale. Gorky read this and said 'I will call him the day after tomorrow.' Whereupon he worked that whole night and most of the next day, making the dark green Garden in Sochi."5 Jim M. Jordan notes that it is more likely that Gorky gave the painting its final surface in one night.6 When the painting was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art's Annual Exhibition of Paintings by Artists Under Forty in 1941 (November 12–December 30), the paint was reportedly still wet.7
The first known documentation of the title, Garden in Sochi, appears in Gorky's written statement for the Museum of Modern Art (quoted above), which is dated June 26, 1942. Mougouch explained that the title references the Black Sea port of Sochi, which was in the news at the time it was selected.8
1. Agnes Gorky Fielding, interview by Matthew Spender, September 24–October 6, 1991, transcript, 9, Matthew Spender Papers, AGF Archives.
2. "Arshile Gorky: Text for the Museum of Modern Art Describing the Garden in Sochi Series," June 26, 1942, Artist File: Arshile Gorky, The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York. Reprinted in Matthew Spender, ed., Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018), 255; a copy of the original typescript is in the AGF Archives.
3. Agnes Gorky Fielding, as quoted in Jim M. Jordan, "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings," in Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater, The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue (New York and London: New York University Press, 1982), 438.
4. Agnes Gorky Fielding, as quoted in ibid, 397.
5. Agnes Gorky Fielding, interview by Matthew Spender, October 31 and November 25, 1994, transcript, Matthew Spender Papers, AGF Archives.
6. Agnes Gorky Fielding, as quoted in Jordan, "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings," 397.
7. Spender, From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 231.
8. Agnes Gorky Fielding later remembered Gorky selecting the title, Garden in Sochi, the same night the painting was reportedly created; however, given the work was exhibited as Painting in the Whitney Museum's Annual Exhibition of November–December 1941, it is Gorky's June 1942 statement for The MoMA that offers the first known documentation of the title, Garden in Sochi. "Mougouch Gorky: How Breton and Gorky Worked on Titles," December 22–28, 1993, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 336; see also: Spender, From a High Place, 185–86.