365 Days of Art: July 17 – Distraught Gorky Roams NYC Streets

Arshile Gorky, The Limit, oil and paper on canvas, 1947

July 17, 1948

A distraught Arshile Gorky roams the streets of New York. He tells a former student that his wife has left him, and that he is unhappy. Another former student suggests that someone stay with Gorky until his psychiatrist appointment in three days’ time.

That night, Gorky tries to visit an old friend in the East Village and brings a gift. Discovering his friend isn’t home, he proceeds to Isamu Noguchi’s studio, still carrying the small papier-mache bird for his friend. The bird is lost somewhere in Noguchi’s studio and is never found.

This man is a walking open wound. And the metaphor of the paper bird—acccch.

365 Days of Art: July 16 – Gorky Physically Confronts Matta, and His Wife Leaves Him

Arshile Gorky, Dark Green Painting, 1948

July 16, 1948

Arshile Gorky physically confronts Matta over sleeping with his wife Agnes (aka Mougouch), and she leaves Gorky on the advice of his own doctor.

The morning after a huge fight, Gorky’s wife initially thinks they’ve cleared the air. She writes a letter to Matta to let him know that Gorky knows about their affair, then drives to New York with her husband and children for various medical appointments.

After her doctor’s appointment, Agnes calls Matta and learns that Gorky has just chased him through Central Park trying to beat him with either a stick, or his cane. Matta also relays to her his suspicions that that Gorky is insane, based on Gorky having compared him with Josef Stalin and other things he’s said in anger. He tells Agnes to talk to Gorky’s own doctor about his behavior. Based on the doctor’s advice, she takes the children and flies to her parents’ home in Virginia, leaving Gorky.

Agnes later writes:

I told him [Dr. Weiss] everything. I told him I’d had a two-day fling [with the artist Matta] and that Gorky had discovered it… he [Dr. Weiss] said ‘I’ve been watching him and he’s been going down under.’ He said he had seen it in Gorky’s painting. Gorky was ‘sinking into darkness…’ Gorky was insane… Dr. Weiss said, ‘Yes, I found Gorky very disturbed. He’ll beat you up. He’ll kill you all. It’s very dangerous and I have to save the lives I can save. I’m sending you to your mother’s. I’m going to call up the airport and get you and the children tickets.'”

365 Days of Art: July 14 – Gustav Klimt is Born

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (Lovers), 1908-1909, oil and gold leaf

July 14, 1862

Gustav Klimt is born. He is commercially successful, even in his lifetime, and rarely at a loss for commissions. His stylized works that focus on flat patterns, stylized, elongated bodies (mostly female), and use gold leaf as a material are still famous today.

365 Days of Art: July 13 – Peggy Guggenheim Arrives in US with Plans to Open Art Gallery

July 13, 1941

Peggy Guggenheim arrives in the US from Europe with plans to open an art gallery. This simple-sounding plan leads to the creation of Art of This Century, probably the most influential art gallery ever, with her artists becoming commercially successful, and introducing the fine arts into pop culture.

She is known for her chutzpah (at least twice buying art as World War II waged around her), her network and savvy, and her sexual escapades.

I love this photo of her at her palazzo in Venice. It’s a museum now, called The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Be careful; the marble stairs are slippery–I fell down the whole staircase!

365 Days of Art: July 11 – James Abbott McNeill Whistler is Born

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1, 1871

July 11, 1834

James Abbott McNeill Whistler is born.

His motto is “art for art’s sake”. One of his best moments (which we’ll cover later in the year) is filing suit against the art critic John Ruskin who unnecessarily slams his work; his bon mots and Oscar Wildesque zingers in the courtroom have everyone laughing out loud. One quote from the trial that I identify with is when he states his birthplace as St. Petersburg, Russia. Questioned on this, he states:

“I shall be born when and where I want, and I do not choose to be born in Lowell [Massachusetts]”. Amen. If you know Lowell, you still understand this. I basically feel the same way about Pittsfield.

He often titles his paintings as if they are musical compositions: “arrangements”, “harmonies”, and “nocturnes”.

365 Days of Art: July 10 – Van Gogh Writes Sad Letter to Theo

Wheatfields, Vincent van Gogh, 1890

July 10, 1890

After his last visit to Paris, which everyone agrees was tense and strained, Vincent writes to his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo:

Dear brother and sister,

Jo’s letter was really like a gospel for me, a deliverance from anguish which I was caused by the rather difficult and laborious hours for us all that I shared with you…

Once back here I too still felt very saddened, and had continued to feel the storm that threatens you also weighing upon me. What can be done – you see I usually try to be quite good-humoured, but my life, too, is attacked at the very root, my step also is faltering. I feared – not completely – but a little nonetheless – that I was a danger to you, living at your expense – but Jo’s letter clearly proves to me that you really feel that for my part I am working and suffering like you.

There – once back here I set to work again – the brush however almost falling from my hands and – knowing clearly what I wanted I’ve painted another three large canvases since then. They’re immense stretches of wheatfields under turbulent skies, and I made a point of trying to express sadness, extreme loneliness. You’ll see this soon, I hope – for I hope to bring them to you in Paris as soon as possible, since I’d almost believe that these canvases will tell you what I can’t say in words, what I consider healthy and fortifying about the countryside…

I often think of the little one, I believe that certainly it’s better to bring up children than to expend all one’s nervous energy in making paintings, but what can you do, I myself am now, at least I feel I am, too old to retrace my steps or to desire something else. This desire has left me, although the moral pain of it remains…

Wishing you luck and good heart and relative prosperity, please tell Mother and Sister sometime that I think of them very often, besides this morning I have a letter from them and will reply shortly.
Handshakes in thought.

Ever yours,

By the end of the month, he will be dead.

365 Days of Art: July 9 – Portrait Subject Describes Sitting for Gilbert Stuart

Stephen Salisbury, by Gilbert Stuart, 1823-1824

July 9, 1823

Stephen Salisbury, from Worcester, Massachusetts (holla!) writes home to his son about having his portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart at Stuart’s studio in Boston:

Your aunt &c. has prevailed on me to Sit before Stuart for a likeness, which he has accomplished to their Satisfaction, as well as my own.”

His wife Elizabeth adds:

…we were permitted to see the picture yesterday forenoon—the likeness is very striking. your Father has just gone to sit for the fourth time, he expects to sit again tomorrow & the next day, which will I suppose finish.”

Up to this point, his son had thought Salisbury was staying in Boston in order to buy horses because for some reason, Salisbury does not want anyone to know that he is sitting for a portrait. The painting is in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum.

365 Days of Art: July 7 – Vincent Writes a Letter But Doesn’t Send It

Vincent Van Gogh, self portrait, 1889

July 7, 1890

Vincent writes a worried letter to Theo and his wife, Jo, which he he doesn’t send. He had visited them at their home the day before, a visit which Jo characterizes years later as tense and strained.

Vincent writes:

Can I do anything about it – perhaps not – but have I done something wrong, or anyway can I do something or other that you would like?…it nevertheless gave me a lot of pleasure to see you all again. Be very much assured of that.

365 Days of Art: July 6 – Pope Decrees Swiss Guard to be Honored in Fresco

Mass at Bolsena (detail), Raphael, 1512

July 6, 1512

After the Swiss help drive the French army out of Italy, Pope Julius II issues a papal bull to honor them: he gives the Swiss the title of “Protectors of the Liberty of the Church”, sends silk banners to every town in Switzerland, and instructs Raphael to alter the design of The Mass at Bolsena to feature them.

This is a total anachronism, since the fresco depicts an event from 1263, and the Swiss Guard didn’t exist until the late 1400s. Fittingly then, Raphael has also included two other time-traveling protagonists: himself as a Swiss Guard (the one who is looking out) and Pope Julius II receiving Communion.

The Swiss Guard protect the Vatican to this day.

Mass at Bolsena, Rahael, fresco, 1512

365 Days of Art: July 5 – Gorky is Released from the Hospital; Fears for Painting Career

Arshile Gorky in his traction collar. Photo taken by Wilfredo Lam, July 1948 in Sherman CT

July 5, 1948

Arshile Gorky is released from the hospital following his car accident, wearing a leather and metal collar that leaves his painting arm immobilized.

His wife Agnes (nicknamed Mougouch) later writes:

After the accident, everything was awful as far as Gorky was concerned. Everything just collapsed. When he came home he had to wear his leather collar. He hated it. When he was lying down he’d take it off. His arm was not getting better. He was in misery about the arm”.

He is in extreme discomfort to the point of distress, and is also coping with his colostomy bag. He and his wife continue to argue, and he sleeps in the guest room or on the sofa. But his number one concern is painting, and he makes attempts to become left-handed in order to resume drawing and painting. According to his friend Peter Blume, Gorky:

…was depressed after the break of his neck for fear that he would not be able to paint… Everybody kept saying, ‘Of course you’re going to paint again.’ But I don’t know if that convinced him.”

365 Days of Art: July 4 – American Negro Exposition Opens with Juried Art Show

July 4, 1940

The American Negro Exposition, with a national juried art exhibition, opens in Chicago and commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Dioramas featuring highlights of 7,000 years of African and American history grace the Chicago Colisseum hallway. Murals reflect accomplishments by African Americans over the past 75 years. All but one juried prize are awarded to Chicago artists. At about the same time, another exhibition featuring work by black Chicago artists is held in DC, and Chicago assumes the crown of the center of the black American arts movement.

365 Days of Art: July 3 – Tracey Emin is Born

Tracey Emin, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, 1963 - 1995, 1995

July 3, 1963

Tracey Emin is born. She is known for confessionally incorporating her personal life into her work, and use of text, particularly wordplay (and spelling errors).

One of her best-known pieces is a tent that displays the stitched names of–literally–Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995. This isn’t pure exhibitionism but rather about all kinds of intimacy; Emin includes the name of her grandmother, and twin brother. Poignantly to me, she also includes two aborted fetuses that she aborted. And yes, boyfriends.

Another confessional piece is My Bed, which is displayed as-is, exactly how she lived in it for several days when she felt suicidal: yellow stained sheets on mattresses that are surrounded by garbage that she was too depressed to clean up: condoms, empty cigarette packs, dirty underwear with period stains, slippers that she kicked off.

Emin also exhibited several drawings about Princess Diana and her death, work which she called sincere and not cynical.