a source on Armenian Art

The New York Times Glances at the Cafesdjian

I think it was quite obvious from the start that the ambitious Cafesdjian Art Center project was simply never going to be a second Gulbenkian Museum. One could never really assemble a collection of such outstanding caliber anymore, but that's besides the point. The problem with the Cafesdjian foundation is that it jumped in the turbulent waters a tad too soon. There was no clear prerogative of what this museum was or was attempting to be. A museum dedicated to glass? An international contemporary art museum? Or an interesting site for temporary exhibitions and events... Throughout the seven years that the project has been in development there was an evident lack of direction. The enormous museum building was almost communist-size in its ambitions and scale. Did they stop to think what they were going to fill it with or how they would sustain it? Perhaps not, for there was so much money on the plate and everyone wanted a piece as evidenced in this reportage from www.168.am

All of these issues glaringly surfaced during the recent opening of the centre. The gargantuan museum building has been temporarily abandoned, while the Cafesdjian Foundation focuses on the existing spaces in the Cascade complex.

I was not fortunate enough to be present at the opening, which also included the first ever exhibition of works by Arshile Gorky in Armenia, from the Cafesdjian collection. But, the event was of sufficient interest to Michel Kimmelman of 'The New Yorker' to make the trip. The article is fascinating in the way it exposes the predominant feelings of Western and particularly American cultural (and dare I say political) elite towards projects such as the Cafesdjian museum. Kimmelman is clearly amused and slightly impressed with an endeavor that he surely considers a folly on a grandiose scale. He goes on to criticise the architectural complex of the Cascade, specifically outlining the "bizarrely" disjointed exhibition spaces. Mr. Kimmelman fails to note that the numerous changes and additions to the Cascad comples were undertaken by the Museum's current director - Mr. de Marsche - who was undoubtedly instrumental in bringing Kimmelman to grace the opening ceremony and deliver a lecture.
The critic goes on to describe a dispiriting trip to the National Art Gallery of Armenia. Widely considered to be one of the best collections of art in the entire ex-Soviet Union and in Middle East, the NGA only impressed Kimmelman with its strange 'un-museum' like building (mmm... last time I checked most museums in US look either like offices or Parlament building), creaking floorboards, grumpy old ladies and lack of visitors. Fair enough - it's not exactly Mr. Kimmelman's cup of tea maybe, but for an art critic, he should have at least made an effort to visit the first-ever museum of Contemporary Art in USSR - The Igitian Center. Or at least mention the incredibly vibrant, I would even say buoyant cultural scene of Yerevan which is overflowing with festivals, exhibitions and art events... but no... that would only detract from the persistently bleak picture Kimmelman wants to paint. Mrs de Marsche, currently running the Cafesjian Center's shop (among other things) gives him a helping hand by retelling an encounter in a cafe, which oh so tragically illustrated the woeful state of the public health care system in Armenia. Kind of ironic coming from an American journalist? He emphasises the fact the future of the museum is already under a big question mark, because it costs a lot to run and one can't expect much help from the government. Again, I'm puzzled. Many (most) of the museums and art institutions in US have little or no help from the government and run due to the continuing support from a board of trustees and a foundation set up by people such as Mr. Getty and Mr. Norton Simon. Surely, the Cafesdjian Museum with its significant private backing, the most desired real-estate spot in the entire country and a pleathora of other financial tie-ins, should at least be able to insure a steady stream of mid-level exhibitions and events for the next ten years?

What perplexes me is the condescending, sneering sentiment I see in American journalism whenever the issue of culture or cultural activities in 'third-world' countries rears its head. Does Kimmelman want to suggest that the Cafesdjian Art Center has no place in Armenia because art is of little or no consequence in a country that sturggles to survive economically? Or does he simply think that Cafesdjian's money and art would have been better placed in some Mid-Western US town? Or maybe it's the 'incongruity' of a small country like Armenia having a large and important contemporary art center? All I can say is this; had Kimmelman spent a few more days in the country (as oppossed to two) and got to know it first-hand instead of listening to more garbage by foreign diplomats his reaction might have been "where else but in Armenia?"

If you haven't read it already, the full article is here.