Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

P296
How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life
1944
Oil on canvas
40 x 45 1/16 in. (101.6 x 114.5 cm)
Front, lower left: A. Gorky / [paraph] / 44
Reverse not inscribed
Exhibitions
Julien Levy Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky, March 6–31, 1945 (Exhibition checklist: Breton 1945b), no. 9, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Painting in the United States, 1945, October 11–December 9, 1945, no. 117, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Galerie Maeght, Paris, Le Surréalisme en 1947: Éxposition Internationale du Surréalisme présentée par André Breton et Marcel Duchamp, July 7–September 30, 1947, pl. X, ill. in b/w, as "Comment le tablier brodé de ma mère se déplie dans ma vie."
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Arshile Gorky Memorial Exhibition, January 5–February 18, 1951, no. 31, p. 47, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 4–April 22, 1951; San Francisco Museum of Art, California, May 9–July 9, 1951.
Milwaukee Art Institute, 55 Americans, September 9–October 23, 1955, no. 21, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, in conjunction with the Houston Symphony Orchestra (organizer), Houston Music Hall, Large Scale Paintings II, October 30–November 5, 1956, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 33 Paintings by Arshile Gorky, December 2–28, 1957 (Exhibition catalogue: Sidney Janis Gallery 1957), no. 14, ill. in b/w, as "How My Mother's Embroidered Apron unfolds in my Life."
XXXI Biennale di Venezia: Internazionale d'Arte, U.S. Pavillion, Venice, Italy, Arshile Gorky, June 16–October 7, 1962, no. 11, p. 113, as "Come il grembiale ricamato di mia madre si dispiega nella mia vita."
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948, December 19, 1962–February 12, 1963, no. 61, ill. in b/w, p. 32, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C, March 12–April 14, 1963.
Portland Art Museum, Oregon, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. C. Bagley Wright: Twentieth Century American and European Paintings and Sculpture, November 8–December 6, 1964, no. 14.
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Tate Gallery, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, April 2–May 2, 1965, no. 55, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Arshile Gorky, Paintings and Drawings / Arshile Gorky: Schilderijen en Tekeningen, May 22–June 27, 1965, no. 65, as "Zo ontvouwt zich het geborduurde schort van mijn moeder in mijn leven / How my mother's embroidered apron unfolds in my life." Traveled to: Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, July 24–September 5, 1965. (Museum Boymans van Beuingen 1965)..
Edmonton Art Gallery, Canada, The Collective Unconscious: American and Canadian Art: 1940–1950, December 5, 1975–January 18, 1976, ill. in b/w, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C, The Golden Door: Artist Immigrants of America 1876–1976, May 20–October 20, 1976, no. 69, ill. in b/w, p. 199, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, 2 Jahrzehnte amerikanische Malerei 1920–1940, June 10–August 12, 1979 (Exhibition catalogue: Schmidt 1979a), no. 140, ill. in b/w, p. 133; p. 154, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Kunsthaus Zurich, August 23–October 28, 1979.
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Peinture américaine, 1920–1940 / Amerikaanse schilderkunst, 1920–1940, November 10–December 30, 1979 (Exhibition catalogue: Schmidt 1979b), no. 135, ill. in b/w, p. 125; p. 149, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 164, ill. in color, p. 192, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 11–November 8, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Abstract Expressionism: The Critical Developments, September 19–November 29, 1987, no. 9, ill. in color, p. 175, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948, October 17–December 23, 1989, no. 37, ill. in color, p. 111, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, January 19–March 25, 1990.
Gagosian Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Late Paintings, January 11–March 5, 1994, ill. in color, p. 25, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (organizers), Arshile Gorky: The Breakthrough Years, 1995–96, no. 5, ill. in color, p. 99; ill. in color, p. 56, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, May 7–September 17, 1995; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, October 13–December 31, 1995; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, January 13–March 17, 1996.
Brooklyn Museum, New York, Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940–1960, October 12, 2001–January 6, 2002, no. 197, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, February 16–May 12, 2002; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, June 21–September 15, 2002; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 17, 2002–February 23, 2003; Phoenix Art Museum, April 4–January 29, 2003.
Foundation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, Action Painting, January 27–May 12, 2008.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 115, ill. in color, p. 276, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010.
Seattle Art Museum, From Abstract Expressionism to Colored Planes, March 16, 2013–August 1, 2015.
2016 Seattle possibly
Seattle Art Museum, Big Picture: Art After 1945, July 23–December 31, 2016.
Literature
"Portraits by Famed Artists Now Showing." The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), April 19, 1953, discussed p. 30, as "How My Mother's Apron Unfolds in My Life."
Schwabacher, Ethel. Arshile Gorky. New York: The Macmillan Company for the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1957. Monograph, fig. 48, ill. in b/w, p. 107, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Rosenblum, Robert. "Arshile Gorky." Review of Arshile Gorky, by Ethel Schwabacher. Arts Magazine (New York) 32, no. 4 (January 1958), ill. in b/w, p. 33, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Reiff, Robert F. "A Stylistic Analysis of Arshile Gorky's Art from 1943–1948." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, New York, 1961, fig. 59, ill. in b/w, p. 337, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Gendel, Milton. "The Venice Bazaar, 1962." ARTnews (New York) 61 (September 1962), ill. in b/w, p. 21, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Osborn, Margaret. "The Mystery of Arshile Gorky: A Personal Account." Artnews (New York) 61, no. 10 (February 1963), ill. in b/w, p. 43, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Rosenberg, Harold. "The Art Galleries: Art and Identity: The Unfinished Masterpiece." The New Yorker 38, no. 46 (January 5, 1963), discussed p. 76, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Leider, Philip. "The New York School in Los Angeles." Artforum (New York) 4 (September 1965), discussed p. 8, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Levy, Julien. Arshile Gorky. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1966. Monograph, pl. 99, ill. in color, p. 123, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life, dated 1944.
Rubin, William S. Dada and Surrealist Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1968, fig. 409, ill. in b/w, p. 392, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Hughes, Robert. "Art: The Triumph of Achilles the Bitter." Time (New York) 117, no. 19 (May 11, 1981), discussed p. 81, as "How My Mother's Apron Unfolds in My Life."
Jordan, Jim M. "Gorky at the Guggenheim." Art Journal (New York) 41, no. 3 (Fall 1981), discussed p. 265, as "How my Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in my Life."
Larson, Kay. "The Man Who Would Be Best." New York 14 (May 11, 1981), discussed p. 73, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Morgan, S. "Becoming Arshile Gorky." Artscribe (London), no. 31 (October 1981), discussed p. 20, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Waldman, Diane. "Arshile Gorky: Poet in Paint." In Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in collaboration with The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1981. Exhibition catalogue, discussed p. 53, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Jordan, Jim M. "The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: New Discoveries, New Sources, and Chronology." 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, discussed p. 86, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
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. 296, ill. in b/w, pp. 453–55, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Seitz, William C. Abstract Expressionist Painting in America. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press for the National Gallery of Art, 1983, fig. 71, ill. in b/w, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Lader, Melvin P. Arshile Gorky. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Monograph, fig. 68, ill. in color, p. 74, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Tashjian, Dickran. "Arshile Gorky's American Script: Ethnicity and Modernism in the Diaspora." Bucknell Review: Perspective: Art, Literature, Participation (Lewisburg, PA) 30, no. 1 (1986), ill. in b/w, p. 151, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Kuspit, Donald. "Arshile Gorky: Images in Support of the Invented Self." In Abstract Expressionism: The Critical Developments. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987. Exhibition catalogue, discussed p. 61, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Hughes, Robert. "Art: The Triumph of Achilles the Bitter." Time (New York) 117, no. 19 (May 11, 1981). In Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, discussed p. 223, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Anfam, David. "Arshile Gorky: Tradition and Identity." Antique Collector (London) 61, no. 2 (February 1990), fig. 7, ill., p. 32, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Anfam, David. "Convulsive Images." Art International (Paris) 11 (Summer 1990), discussed p. 100, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Oberhuber, Konrad. "The Thousand and One Nights of Arshile Gorky." The Journal of Art (New York) (May 1991), discussed p. 13, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Bacon, George. "Late Gorky at Gagosian." The Art Newspaper (London) 5 (February 1994), discussed p. 27, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Ash, John. "Arshile Gorky: How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life, 1944." Artforum (New York) 34 (September 1995), ill. in color, p. 78, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Ashton, Dore. "A Straggler's View of Gorky." In Arshile Gorky: The Breakthrough Years, Karen Lee Spaulding, ed. Fort Worth, Texas: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, in association with Rizzoli, New York, 1995. Exhibition catalogue, ill. in color, p. 56; ill. in color (detail), p. 38, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Bevan, Roger. "Autumnal Gorky." The Art Newspaper (London) 6 (May 1995), discussed p. 13, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Sawin, Martica. Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1995, discussed p. 369, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Sylvester, David. "The Birth of 'Woman I.'" The Burlington Magazine (London) 137, no. 1105 (April 1995), discussed, p. 225, as "How my mother's embroidered apron unfolds in my life."
Akiskal, Kareen K., and Hagop S. Akiskal. "Abstract Expressionism as Psychobiography: The Life and Suicide of Arshile Gorky." In Depression and the Spiritual in Modern Art: Homage to Miró, Schildkraut, Joseph J. and Aurora Otero, eds. Chichester (U.K.) and New York: John Wiley, 1996, fig. 19–3, ill. in color, p. 224, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Balakian, Peter. "Arshile Gorky and the Armenian Genocide." Art in America (New York) 84 (February 1996), ill. in color, pp. 64-65, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Matossian, Nouritza. Black Angel: The Life of Arshile Gorky. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998, pl. 10, ill. in color, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Cotter, Holland. "Suspended Between Modernism and an Armenian Past." New York Times, April 12, 2002, discussed p. E35, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Herrera, Hayden. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, fig. 157, ill. in color, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Rosand, David. The Invention of Painting in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004, fig. 71, ill. in b/w, p. 141, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Cooksey, Chelsea L. "Arshile Gorky: The Abstraction of Symbol, Figure, and Form." M.A. Thesis, Purchase College, State University of New York, 2009, fig. 13, ill. in color, p. 59, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Theriault, Kim S. Rethinking Arshile Gorky. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Monograph, pl. 23, ill. in color; ill. in b/w (detail), p. 178, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Sarkissian, Nouneh. "Arshile Gorky: Fruition through Complexity." KCW Today (London), December 27, 2016, discussed, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Devaney, Edith. "Repossessing Nature." In Ardent Nature: Arshile Gorky Landscapes, 1943–47. Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2017. Exhibition catalogue, ill. in color, p. 28, as How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life.
Notes
Reverse, upper stretcher bar [not in artist's hand]: Comme s'est déroulé sur ma vie le tablier brodé de ma mère.
The reverse inscription information and marking on the upper stretcher bar are known from a photograph provided by the Seattle Art Museum.

Commentary

The painting was one of nine exhibited in Gorky's first solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1945. They were titled with the help of André Breton (1896–1966) who visited the artist in Roxbury, Connecticut, on New Year's Eve 1945, and at the 36 Union Square studio multiple times before March of that year.

On the process they chose, based on a play of associations, the artist's wife Agnes "Mougouch" Gorky (1921–2013) later explained: "Breton told Gorky to bring out his work and to talk about each one as it came up, which Gorky did, very freely and easily. Breton chose an appropriate fragment from Gorky's words. After a while, Gorky got the hang of it, and could cho[o]se titles by himself. . . . For later shows this [collaborative method] was not necessary[Gorky] found a title easilybut for many years before 1945 he hadn't thought in terms of titles as no painting ever seemed finished to him."1

In Julien Levy's (1906–1981) later approximation of Gorky's words, the painting's title arose from the following associations:

"I tell stories to myself, often, while I paint, often nothing to do with the painting. Have you ever listened to a child telling that this is a house and this is a man and this is the cow in the sunlight . . . while his crayon wanders in an apparently meaningless scrawl all over the paper? My stories are often from my childhood. My mother told me many stories while I pressed my face into her long apron with my eyes closed. She had a long white apron like the one in her portrait (see P114 and P115), and another embroidered one. Her stories and the embroidery on her apron got confused in my mind with my eyes closed. All my life her stories and her embroidery keep unraveling pictures in my memory. If I sit before a blank white canvas. . . ."2 

1. Agnes Gorky Fielding, interview by Matthew Spender, October 1, 1991, transcript, Matthew Spender Papers, AGF Archives; see also: Agnes Gorky Fielding, "How Breton and Gorky Worked on Titles," December 22–28, 1993, in Matthew Spender, ed., Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018), 336. 

2. Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1966), 34.