Who is Agnes Magruder?

An exquisite Arshile Gorky pencil and crayon drawing is the focal point for Jason Andrew‘s latest curatorial blockbuster, “Arshile Gorky and a selection of contemporary drawings,” at Outlet Fine Art in Bushwick. Fully displaying Andrew’s curatorial acumen, the show features work by over thirty artists. Some pieces–like Joan Snyder’s and Hermine Ford’s–closely recapitulate Gorky’s compositional tendencies in fluidly connecting disparate abstract images within the drawing. Others are more allusive. Most play along the boundary between representation and abstraction, and all, in context, reflect the integral importance of drawing in the artist’s overall practice. The net result is a gracefully coherent exhibition that covers a wide distance yet stays within the intended frame of reference.    

Like everything involving Gorky, the backstory of the 1946 drawing is fascinating. Borrowed from a collector, the piece is titled To my Mougouch (dedicated to Agnes Magruder). After doing a little research, I learned that Agnes Magruder was Gorky’s young wife. They met at a party in New York City in 1941 when she was a 19-year-old bohemian and he a 40-year-old struggling artist.

[Image: Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), To my Mougouch (dedicated to Agnes Magruder), 1946
Graphite and crayon on paper, 8 � x 10 7/8 inches. Private Collection, New York, courtesy Norte Maar and Outlet Fine Art

The story goes (according to a quote in her 2013 obituary) that, at 16, Magruder had been caught in flagrante delicto with a sailor abroad, and her prominent Washington family, mortified by her bad behavior, shipped her back to the United States to attend college in Iowa. When she arrived, she bought a one-way bus ticket to New York City, where she enrolled in drawing classes at the Art Student’s League. She hung out with the artists from the New York School, and met Gorky through Willem de Kooning.

They fell in love, married on a road trip to San Francisco with Isamu Noguchi, and had two daughters, but Gorky was a possessive, jealous husband. By the late 1940s, he became physically abusive–during one of their arguments, she fell down the stairs and Gorky’s doctor told her she and the children must leave him because he was becoming too dangerous. In 1948, after a series of setbacks–colon cancer, a bad car accident, earlier news that his wife was having an affair with Roberto Matta, and the family’s abandonment–Gorky hanged himself in a shed on their Sherman, Connecticut,  property.

After Gorky’s suicide, Magruder married twice more, first to a painter and later to a travel writer. She had two more daughters and died last June at 92.  

Looking at his drawing–a love letter to his wife–in the context of their turbulent lives, I’m astonished that it ended up as the linchpin of a terrific and quite uplifting exhibition under the subway tracks in Bushwick. �Mougouch,” Gorky’s nickname for Agnes, is Armenian for �little mighty one,” which strikes me as an apt description for this drawing as well. 

Arshile Gorky and a selection of contemporary drawings,” Artist include Arshile Gorky with Gregory Amenoff, William Anastasi, Judy Dolnick, Hermine Ford, Margrit Lewczuk, Michael Prodanou, Joan Snyder, Joan Witek and Liz Ainsile, Todd Bienvenu, Andrea Burgay, Joshua Cave, Paul D�Agostino, Thomas Micchelli, Lucy Mink, Ryan Michael Ford, EJ Hauser, Steve Harding, Susanna Heller, Daniel Herr, Christine Hiebert, Andrew Hurst, Leslie Kerby, Francesco Longenecker, Brooke Moyse, Mike Olin, Cathy Nan Quinlan, Sarah Schmerler, Natalie Simon, Andrew Szobody, Colin Thomson, Jessica Weiss.

Curated by Jason Andrew. Outlet Fine Art, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through June 29, 2014.


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One Comment

  1. Such a tragedy that Gorky was violent towards women. He sounds like he was really a troubled person,going through the illness, accident and his wife's affair– but you forgot to mention the catastrophic fire that occurred early in '46, which destroyed all his most recent paintings as well as some he'd been hoarding all his adult/secretive life. I always understood that it was this fact that pushed him over the edge, however now I see it was more complicated.
    Sharon, thanks for the posting on Gorky, I do love his work.

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