Where We Are Audio Guide Playlist
Narrator: This painting of artist Arshile Gorky and his mother is based on a photograph from 1912. A few years after the photo was taken, Gorky and his family were among more than a million ethnic Armenians who were victims of the Armenian genocide. The artist and his sister survived the ordeal. Geoffrey Hartman is Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University.
Geoffrey Hartman: We know that this painting was done when the mother was dead. She died close to him, he says in his arms of starvation when he was, then he would have been, what, sixteen years old.
It's clear in the picture that there may have been some, a painting of actual hands, at least the right hand. But there does seem to be a violence in erasing the two hands. So I am struck by the muteness here. If you wanted to bring that muteness back to the actual features of the painting, you would probably mention the very tightly closed mouths.
Of course, we know that trauma often produces muteness. Sometimes psychologists call it elective silence, often especially in the young child. There's a refusal to speak or a difficulty of speaking. That is when you begin to stutter, for instance. What one could very metaphorically say there is some stuttering there, around the hands. You know, the painting begins to stutter, shake and stutter around the hands.
Arshile Gorky (c. 1902-1948), The Artist and His Mother, 1926-c.1936. Oil on canvas, 60 × 50 1/4in. (152.4 × 127.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Julien Levy for Maro and Natasha Gorky in memory of their father 50.17 © 2017 The Arshile Gorky Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY
- 700 Introduction to Where We Are
- 701 Jacob Lawrence, War Series, 1946-47
- 702 Georgia O'Keeffe, Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918
- 702-2 Georgia O'Keeffe, Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918
- 703 Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5, 1914–1915
- 710 Morris Louis, Tet, 1958
- 710-2 Morris Louis, Tet, 1958
- 711 Jay DeFeo, The Eyes, 1958
- 712 Barnett Newman, Day One, 1951-52
- 713 Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939
- 721 Henry Koerner, Mirror of Life, 1946
- 721-2 Henry Koerner, Mirror of Life, 1946
- 722 Edward Hopper, New York Interior, 1921
- 723 James Castle, Drawings
- 730 Archibald Motley, Gettin' Religion, 1948
- 731 Arshile Gorky, The Artist and His Mother, 1926-c.1936
- 732 Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire), 1948
- 740 Charles Sheeler, River Rouge Plant, 1932
- 741 Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927
- 742 Elizabeth Catlett, Prints
- 743 Frank Stella, Die Fahne hoch!, 1959
- 744 Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927
- 750 Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958
- 750-2 Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958
- 751 Isamu Noguchi, Humpty Dumpty, 1946
- 752 Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning, 1931
- 752-2 Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning, 1931