Sara Cohan


I was twenty-eight years old when I visited the Whitney Museum for the first time. I immediately dashed to see the beloved painting The Artist and His Mother by Arshile Gorky. As I stood in awe in front of the painting, my eyes wandered to the museum placard. It read ‘‘Arshile Gorky, American Artist.’’ My heart stopped. It felt like as if the wave of genocide denial so often experienced by those of Armenian descent had crashed against that wall of the Whitney—erasing not only Gorky’s heritage but my own. A scholar in the field would have known what to expect. At the time, I was young and unprepared for this experience. How could Gorky be just an ‘‘American’’ in the eyes of the Whitney, without the slightest hint of his origins or experiences?