Exploring Armenian Art

Kara Marston, who works for National Geographic Digital Media, has shared highlights of her native Armenia with us at Intelligent Travel. Today she looks at the latest cultural offerings from the country. 

31029.jpgAt the age when most the kids in my neighborhood were reading Where the Wild Things Are and immersing themselves in the whimsical art of Maurice Sendak, I became captivated by the solemn portraits of Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky. His haunting self-portrait, “The Artist and His Mother,” appeared on the cover of The Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians, a book I was given as a child to help me understand Armenia’s violent history. During a recent weekend visit, I finally had the opportunity to view the artist’s complete work first hand at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The “Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective” exhibition includes 178 paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings, showcasing the artist’s entire career from the early 1920s until his death in 1948. The exhibit was impressive and seeing the portrait in its original form impacted me more than I had imagined. The accompanying audio tour describing Gorky’s piece–inspired by a photograph taken of the artist and his mother before she died in the Armenian genocide– brought forth memories from my own family’s story of escaping the massacres. The photograph had served as a reminder for his father, who had immigrated to the United States, not to forget the family he left behind.

Cafesjian MuseumAs Gorky’s work is being showcased at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, his pieces are simultaneously being exhibited in Armenia for the first time ever at the $35 million Cafesjian Center for the Arts, which opened to critical acclaim only three weeks ago, drawing nearly 20,000 visitors.

Just as the photograph that inspired Gorky’s portrait served as a reminder to his father not to forget his heritage, the Cafesjian project will hopefully bring added incentive for members of the diaspora to make the journey to Armenia and learn about our heritage and culture firsthand. It will undeniably appeal to tourists in the Caucasus.

For the people of Armenia, The Cafesjian Center for the Arts will offer the unique opportunity to explore a world beyond closed, landlocked borders. Optimistically, I hope that the Center will lift the spirits of Yerevan residents, providing an oasis for locals to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the Center’s galleries, gardens and sculptures. However, despite my optimism and hope for the center to bring new life to Yerevan, in a country like Armenia only one thing is certain, and that is uncertainty itself.

[Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective]
[The Cafesjian Center for the Arts]

Photos: Above, courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art; below, Kara Marston.

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    I love learning about new cultures, people and art – and it’s great to learn more about a country I know little about. Kara, thanks for writing so well and letting me into your world a little – Armenian art is amazing! Josh from bad credit mobile phones.

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