Ron Gorchov, an artist whose work often took the form of saddle-shaped canvases with minimalist forms painted onto them, died at 90 on August 18. His death was announced by New York’s Cheim & Read gallery, which co-represented him alongside Maurani Mercier gallery in Brussels, Modern Art in London, and Thomas Brambilla in Bergamo, Italy.
Since 1967, Gorchov created canvases that are curved in such a way that they arc away from the wall, jutting toward the viewer in a manner that lends them a sculptural quality. Sometimes, the paintings appeared in monumental stacks, running up tall walls. Works of the kind have accrued a cult following in New York, where Gorchov was long based, with curator Robert Storr among his most vocal proponents.
In 2005, on the occasion of a show at Vito Schnabel Gallery, Storr wrote, “Ron Gorchov could have been a contender—more times over than any other painter of his generation. If he gets the breaks and goes the distance this time, he will be one of the greatest comeback kids the New York School has ever seen. What are the odds on this happening?”
Many critics have praised Gorchov for retaining his commitment to abstract painting at a time when the medium was presumed dead. During the 1970s, after Minimalism’s rise, many artists in the city had moved on to different mediums, in the process prioritizing lofty ideas about how art existed in relation to its viewer. But Gorchov, along with a cohort of painters that included Bill Jensen, Lynda Benglis, and Robert Mangold, continued to work in painting anyway, and their work evidenced an engagement with form that was considered bygone.
Gorchov crafted his canvases by stapling linen to a frame, then adding a layer of white primer and several layers of pigment. No attempts were made to hide the staples, and Gorchov’s strokes were often loose, leaving multiple colors exposed. In a 1975 review of Gorchov’s show at Fischbach Gallery, Roberta Smith called the technique “clumsy”—which she invoked as an endearing quality.
In a 2013 interview with fellow artist Natalie Provosty, Gorchov said, “I don’t want to be the kind of artist that feels he has to make perfect work. Work doesn’t need to be perfect. I like the illusion of perfection.”
Critics writing on Gorchov’s art during the 1970s and ’80s frequently labeled it “primitive” (a term now considered outmoded) because of its resemblance to art of ancient peoples. Gorchov, for his part, preferred the word “elementary” because of his work’s simplicity. He often chose colors that recalled the rich hues of Henri Matisse, whose art also employed stripped-down forms toward elegant means.
Ron Gorchov was born in 1930 in Chicago and took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago throughout his childhood. He ultimately studied at the Roosevelt College and Art Institute in Chicago, then the University of Illinois, and moved to New York with his wife Joy in 1953. At the time, the New York School had risen to fame, and Abstract Expressionism was in. But Gorchov would pursue something different, drawing inspiration early on from John Graham, a figurative painter.
Gorchov’s first show was presented at the vaunted Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1960. The critic Dore Ashton gave the show a positive notice, writing in the New York Times, “Unlike many painters of his generation, Mr. Gorchov handles color with ease, and his canvases combine peacock blues, sea greens, carmine reds and pinks in sumptuous profusion.” That same year, Gorchov figured in a Whitney Museum exhibition of up-and-coming painters that also included Joan Brown and Alex Katz. He started out showing Surrealism-inspired semi-figurative works and transitioned to full-on abstraction.
Gorchov’s art appeared in various notable presentations over the course of his career. He showed his paintings at two editions of the Whitney Biennial and in “Rooms,” the now-legendary first show at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens that was curated by Alanna Heiss in 1976. MoMA PS1 later surveyed Gorchov’s work in 2006, and in the recently renovated Museum of Modern Art, a painting by Gorchov hangs in a section organized by the artist Amy Sillman.
Throughout his career, Gorchov maintained a faith in painting, even in spite of many critics’ and historians’ attempts to do away with its prominence in the second half of the 20th century. He once told Storr and Phong Bui, “Even though it was always made for a small audience, I believe that painting will be looked at; it’s lasted 40,000 years, why not another 40,000 years? OK, let’s say it’ll only last another 10,000 years, why should it come to a dead stop?”