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Arshile Gorky Straddles Old and New Worlds

Part of an Ongoing Exhibition Series With The National Gallery of Art

NORFOLK, Va. – (July 2015) – The Chrysler Museum of spotlights a 20th-century genius whose life work had footings in two worlds, both literally and artistically. Arshile Gorky: Between Worlds is on view in the Chrysler Museum’s McKinnon Wing of Modern and Contemporary Art (G. 223) through October 11, 2015. Admission is free.

Born in a rural village in Ottoman Turkey, Arshile Gorky (ca. 1904–1948) fled the ethnic cleansing of minority Armenians in 1915, escaping to Russian territory before immigrating to America. Settling in New York City in the 1920s, he trained himself as an artist by moving rapidly through a series of borrowed styles, creating Post-Impressionist works inspired by Paul Cézanne, Cubist abstractions based on Pablo Picasso’s innovations, and biomorphic imagery—abstract forms derived from natural shapes—favored by the Surrealists.

Forging his way from Eastern Europe to America, from the country to the city, and from figurative art to abstraction, Gorky emerged as an innovative leader in modern art. The unique artistic style he developed—dreamlike abstractions based on direct observation—seen in the four representative paintings on view at the Chrysler, convey the tragedy and beauty of what was, what is, and what can be. 

Film excerpts from Atom Egoyan’s 2002 Ararat give additional insights into Gorky’s work. The movie, a work of historical fiction, investigates Gorky’s childhood memories through his painting of The Artist and His Mother. Like many survivors of the Turks’ ethnic cleansing of Armenians in 1915, Gorky, who witnessed his mother’s death, rarely discussed his experiences. Like much of his work, his painting draws on personal experience, even grief, but leaves viewers to construct their own interpretations.

Arshile Gorky: Between Worlds is the third exhibition in our series pairing modernist masterworks from the Chrysler Collection and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. These Collection Conversations bring to Norfolk leading works by some of the great names of 20th-century art while the National Gallery of Art ( undergoes extensive building renovations.

Chrysler visitors also have a chance to see a work by Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), who stood at the creative pinnacle of the Austrian Art Nouveau.  The artist is again in the public eye thanks to the popularity of the feature film The Lady in Gold.  Based on the best-selling book by Anne-Marie O’Connor (who spoke at the Museum for the Norfolk Society of Arts lecture in April), the movie chronicles the restitution battle over Klimt’s world-famous 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Baby (Cradle), now on view at the Chrysler, was painted approximately a decade later, and shows Klimt’s quintessential style from the Vienna Secessionist movement. His densely worked, jewel-like portraits and complex allegorical canvases captured the mystery and heightened sensuality of late 19th-century Viennese society, but this unusual work, instead, depicts an infant lying in a cradle, his tiny head just visible beneath billowing layers of brightly-hued coverlets and swirling eddies of blues, sparling golds and greens. Klimt capitalizes on color and brushstroke to add movement, dynamism, and sparkle to an otherwise banal scene. This charming painting is on view in the Museum’s Art Nouveau Gallery (G. 220) within the Roberts Wing upstairs through October 11, 2015. Admission is free.

The Chrysler’s final Collection Conversation with the National Gallery of Art will be Georgia O'Keeffe: A Place of Her Own, opening October 21, 2015.


The recently expanded Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection was given to the Museum by Walter Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. In the years since Chrysler’s death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically expanded its collection and extended its ties with the Norfolk community. The Museum now has rapidly growing collections, especially of contemporary glass and 21st-century works.

In 2011, the Chrysler opened a full-service glass studio to tie with a 560-pound capacity glass furnace, a full hot shop, a flameworking studio, nine annealing ovens, and a coldworking shop. In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art also administers two historic houses in Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House.

The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St., are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. The Historic Houses on East Freemason Street are open weekends.

General admission is free at all venues. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit


Contact Virginia Hilton
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