Words Matter

The lovely Nina and I were in Philadelphia this weekend, visiting some old friends, and today we took in the Arshile Gorky show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gorky was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and the show made quite an impression on us (fittingly, I suppose, given that Gorky was a founder of Abstract Impressionism). I was also impressed by an important detail in the curator’s notes.

“Arshile Gorky” was not the artist’s real name: he was born Vostanik Manoog Adoyan in Armenia in about 1902. He had a brief life, and a hard one. Suffering from colon cancer in Connecticut in 1948, abandoned by his wife and children, having lost much of his life’s work in a fire the year before, and having lost, also, the use of his painting arm as a result of a car accident, he hanged himself.

But the central tragedy of the young artist’s life took place in 1915, when he and his mother and sister were swept up in the brutal pogrom against ethnic Armenians in Turkey, and driven on the forced death march to Yerevan. His beloved mother died of starvation in his arms.

I was gratified to note that in the audio tour and other notes, the presenters referred to this horror frankly, and without resort to timorous euphemism, as the Armenian “Genocide”. It was nothing less, modern-day revisionism by the Turks notwithstanding.

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