Notes From Hairenik
Yesterday when walking around Yerevan's Cascade area, one of the most stunning places in the Armenian capital,  Anush and I decided to pop into the new Cafesjian museum, officially known as the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. It has only been open for a couple of months, and I happened to see an advertisement for an Arshile Gorky exhibit there which apparently ends on January 31. So we made a decision on the spot to see it. I thought I'd mention it on this blog.

The museum is quite impressive to say the least. Seven halls comprise the center, one of which is an auditorium where currently jazz concerts are performed. The other rooms are used for display space for artwork and Cafesjian's own collectibles. Each hall is located on its own stage, or step if you will, of the Cascade monument. To access the upper halls you can either make the trek upwards on foot by hiking up the stone steps, or you can use the series of escalators found inside. Four of the venues required an admission fee for entrance (purchased inside), which is only 1,000 dram ($2.60) to see the entire collection of work.

The first floor and the Sasuntsi Davit Hall contain samples of an exquisite glass sculpture collection belonging to philanthropist and investor Gerard Cafesjian, after whom the center of arts and the related foundation is named. Whatever contained in the museum from his own private stock is a miniscule number as he has an estimated 5,000 items in his collection.

In the Sasuntsi Davit Hall works by the glass sculptors Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, are showcased--most of them are extraordinary monolithic designs. The first floor gallery, to which admission is free, features vessels, tables and other unclassifiable works made from melted glass. The artists, mostly European, managed to do unthinkable things with glass. One memorable piece featured layers of glass in its design that were paper thin with intricate patterns resampling snow crystals.

The Gorky exhibit featured several sketches and a few paintings from his Cubist and Abstract Expressionist stages of his career. The time period of the displayed works range from the beginning of his days as an emerging artist up to his last years. As art followers know, Gorky was the founder of the Abstract Expressionism movement alongside Willem de Kooning. There are some fine examples on display there from that era of his body of work. Too bad they will only be shown through the end of this month.

Another gallery that was awe-inspiring--and was actually quite an enjoyable surprise for me--contained the huge murals painted by the artist Grigor Khanjyan. The tryptic includes "The Creation of the Armenian Alphabet," "The Battle of Vardanank," and "The Rebirth of Armenia." I have only seen these works in books and on posters here and there, and I never knew where they were actually housed. I had seen however the "Armenian Alphabet" depicted on a gigantic tapestry hanging in the the residence of the Catholicosate, which was presented to Vazken I by the artist. These works were all realized on site during the 1980s and 1990s on gigantic plaster slabs. The third mural was completed by another painter faithfully imitating Khanjian's style after the artist's death in 2000. They are extraordinary, highly significant works of modern Armenian art, and admission to the gallery housing them is free.

There is also a great collection of photographs by Pattie Boyd, who was married at different times to rockers George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Some of the pictures capture the Beatles during their time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, and there are quite a few of Clapton from various points in his career during the '80s and '90s. That exhibit regrettably is also going to close soon.

The Cascade was intended to house a series of galleries when it was being constructed in 1980. The plans to properly finish the structure and facilities--although they were largely complete--was not realized at the time since work could not be finished before the Soviet Union collapsed. Cafesjian had intended to erect a gigantic structure at the top of the Cascade, which was previously a void space littered with wide holes that were sealed by huge steel plates. According to what I have heard off the record, construction has been indefinitely postponed due to financial constraints, so there is nothing but an enormous pit there now where a foundation of concrete has been poured. Thus the vital, missing link to the Monument Park situated at the top has yet to be finished. I don't know whether the renovation of the original halls was part of the master plan of the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, but I will say that overall it is an impressive, tastefully presented complex, on par with fine art museums you would visit in Europe or the United States. The arts center is a must-see for visitors and citizens of Armenia alike. I should also add that the renovation of the Cascade park stretching from the statue of the legendary architect Alexander Tamanyan to the base of the monument has also finally been completed, which features works by several sculptors including Fernando Botero, whose giant bronze cat is found there.

If you're in Yerevan now, get over to the Cascade when you have some free time. The galleries are all open until 8:00 pm on weekends.

Photo: Arshile Gorky, The City, Oil on Canvas, 1935

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