a source on Armenian Art

Paravon Mirzoyan's 'Unprecedented' Gift to the National Gallery of Armenia

I am desperately trying to remember a case in the history of museum management, when a gallery director would turn much-needed exhibition halls into his private studio in order to paint couple of enormous paintings and then present (and accept!) said enormous paintings into the permanent exposition of the gallery. It seems that such a precedent has occurred for the first time in Armenia (correct me if I'm wrong) just a couple of weeks ago, when the National Gallery director Paravon Mirzoyan officially presented his panneux to the gallery and hung them in one of the most visible spots of the entire building - the 4th floor foyer which leads to the halls containing medieval Armenian frescoes.

The event was a cause of derision among the artistic circles, and quite a few attacks in the press (see here). But of course, this comedy of errors pinpoints to fundamental flaws in the management and use of an extraordinary institution that since its foundation in 1921 has bore the flag of Armenian art for over 90 years (the last ten years the flag has been passing from hand to hand and is in a constant state of a limbo).

Not having witnessed the 32 square meter panneu, which reportedly depicts some kind of a synthesis of 'Armenia' (the second, yet to be painted work will depict 'Artsakh') - I can not judge the artistic quality of Mirzoyan's latest opus. However, what astonishes me is the blatant form of self-promotion by the director of the largest art museum in the country. Mirzoyan has always generously given his works to the museum, which is now bursting with examples of his art. I don't need to explain what this 'official' presence in one of the most venerated artistic repositories of the Caucasus signifies for the market value of Mirzoyan's output.

The gallery has gone through many upheavals in recent years. Restructuring of personnel, claims of theft, illegal money-laundering activities, etc... etc... Mirzoyan's reign in the past seven years or so hasn't been entirely unproductive however (as some critics would note). Under his stewardship the museum hosted an increasingly large slate of important exhibitions, acquired a wholly new department of film (essentially a cinematheque run by Melik Karapetian), activated the publication of highly important catalogues which revealed the many riches of the national art collection and finally some long-due renovation and building maintenance work was done to freshen up the gallery and bring into a semblance of a modern museum.

Yet in other, equally important areas the director's vision leaves a lot to be desired... The constant, blatant misuse of gallery's exhibition spaces to hold retrospective exhibition by artists less than worthy of the honour is the most obvious transgression. I will not shy away from naming at least one such artist - Valmar - a widely ridiculed painter of little consequence, who recently had a large one-man show at the gallery. These exhibitions take place with blind disregard of gallery's long-standing policy that it should only hold retrospectives of major, long-established painters (who are usually dead or in very advanced age).

It is no secret that the director has himself used the gallery to hold two retrospectives of his own, publishing a lavish catalogue, the cost of which was subsidised from gallery's coffers. Meanwhile an important exhibition of Minas Avetisyan, which showcased many hitherto unknown works of was relegated to two pathetic rooms and the catalogue barely even registered on the radar with mere 300 copies seeing the light of day.

All this is taking place while the museum has so far failed to note the major jubilee of Armenia's greatest master of modernism - Yervand Kotchar and seems not to have taken any steps yet for the celebration of Vardges Surenyants' 150th anniversary. Surenyants (1860-1921) is one the most significant Armenian artist of the late 19th early 20th century and is still a consistently strong drawcard for the gallery's visitors. His 1907 painting 'Salome' is undoubtedly one of the very few internationally famous works of Armenian art. Hence this major jubilee is one that should have been noted on an unprecedented scale. Despite a proposed plan for these celebrations in the Ministry of culture, there are no signs yet of it taking place.

While Mirzoyan has stated a number of times that the mission of the gallery is "the study and publication of its collections and Armenian art history in general" (see here) - which supposedly excludes any contemporary art - Mirzoyan and co are actively involved in the propagation of the 'master's' oeuvre for nation's benefit.