(note: the time stamp of all posts and comments on this blog is the time in umm el-fahem, israel)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

july 8th, ... no.7 - folk museum, the cafejian (?controversial?)

i think that i have confused some of the dates of when i did/saw what. no matter. everything that i did in the city of yerevan (museums, markets, feasting, ...) happened after the show opened, sometime between june 22nd and june29th.

anthropological, archaeological and cultural art/objects are of great interest to me. i decided to visit the
hovhannes sharabeyan museum of folk art. the holdings began as a collection put together by a group of ethnographers and are now known as the armenian folk art museum.

i made my way to abovian street on whi
ch one can find the old and the new like this fast food eatery
as i continued my walk to the museum i passed a soviet era wrought iron fence with ornamental work that seemed to me a perfect rendering of soviet imposition on armenian sensibility. the design repeated itself in each section of the fence (as in image below) as one followed the fence up the block.
street/building addresses are confused and confusing in yerevan. they feel very haphazard and often i knew that i was almost there but not quite. and the not quite became very frustrating. streets bend and wind, numbers jump around and the logic behind the system, if there is a system, alluded me. but finally i came upon the museum (image taken from the web)
i was the only visitor and the lights were turned on as i entered a room and turned off when i left the room. as in the parajanov museum i bought a second ticket that permitted me to take photos. the rugs that i saw here were much more tribal in nature than those that i saw in the history museum. many were smaller (throw rug variety) and the designs involved more animals and less purely geometric patterns.
movses had shared with me a book that he keeps in the ceramics studio about armenian salt cellars. today there are available for the tourist trade ceramic pieces that lack the interest and charm of the originals but are supposedly reminiscent in an hand-held size. in the folk art museum are traditional salt cellars that are in excellent condition and are beautifully made and delightfully whimsical. from their size it is clear that they had a place of pride in the armenian home and their role was both functional and decorative.
the museum is small and the last room displayed handwork by youngsters from armenia and turkey. i was not able to make a connection between the work being displayed side by side, perhaps because of my inability to read the armenian text or engage the museum worker (once again an older woman ). and in general signage was sparse.

a new exhibit was also in the process of being hung (to open the following day) that appeared to be canvases with roughly painted landscapes.

a wistful feeling of nostalgia seemed to overlay the gallery spaces.

i left and took a mini bus to the area of the cafejian center for the arts. (yes, once inside i took the escalator, not the stairs, to the top.)
one enters on the ground floor where the only gallery that is open to the public free of charge is located. this gallery currently houses an exhibit of glass pieces, much of it by the american dale chihuly, including an imposing site specific wall piece. the museum shop located behind the exhibit is similar to a MoMa or LA MoCA store in stark opposition to the dimly lit, tiny shop spaces in armenian state-run museums. the young woman in the shop speaks impeccable english and rushed to engage me it conversation. she proudly pointed out items that are the work of young armenian women artists and also that of armenian children (sold to help support the school that these children attend). she was also quite knowledgeable about the items from the cafejian collection exhibited in the galleries above. the items in the shop were expensive, some VERY expensive (e.g., glass pieces created specifically for the store). it is difficult for me to imagine that much is sold as the inventory is so pricey.

cafejian's collection inclu
des the powerful structural glass work of the czech couple stanislav libensky and jaroslava brychtova now on display.

the outside spaces on each tier offer great views of the city
and the use traditional armenian jugs (see image below, metal rather than ceramic) in the fountains makes one quite thirsty. there is water to drink on at least one of the out door areas and i was so hot that i decided to drink it, throwing caution to the wind (except there was not a breeze in the air). it was not only wet, it was delicious -- wonderful spring water and as
everyone had told me since my arrival it was perfectly fine for tourists to drink. there are such fountains found all around all sections of the city/country.

i am not sure if it is clearly evident in the image below but chiseled into the pink armenian stone is work that mirrors the traditional delicate, hand filigreed work found on armenian flatware.
an installation piece in a small gallery on the top floor is the sensuous Swarovski Light Socks. installations are unfamiliar to the general armenian viewing public although i am doubtful that even a tiny percentage of the general public not involved in the art world and not among the oligarchy set has been above the ground floor gallery, if that (the outside cascade space however is used by all).
DIVERSION, observations of the economic situation:
from the unscientific poll that i took among armenians of my acquaintance not many had been to the cafejian center for art. this may be because of the entrance fee (money is tight. period. one sees many designer stores in yerevan and young armenians would blend into those walking the streets of any large city
around the globe yet the economy -- to use the vernacular -- sucks. unemployment is HIGH. professionals may not be doing the work that they were schooled and/or trained to do. those that are fortunate to be working in their chosen fields are paid paltry sums (e.g. $33/month teaching on the university level).

regardless, individuals and the society is marked by spontaneous generosity: of spirit and of material things. it is clearly a valued part of the culture. (example: susanna hired naver to take me in his taxi to eghegis. when he came to pick me up i grabbed a couple of oranges, a chunk of bread and a
bottle of carbonated mineral water that i had in the hostel and took it for the road. but when naver pulled up to a rest stop after driving more than half the distance to eghegis he opened the trunk of his taxi and took out multiple bags filled with bottles of soda and cookies and pastries and candies -- big on sugar not nutrition, but still -- and laid it out for the both of us. the day's work was an opportunity for him to make some money yet on the road he was showing me the same hospitality that i would have experienced in his home.)

back to the cafejian. below is an image of my reflection in a glass door leading out to one of the terraced areas as i was alone and...
and below are images of two pieces (stairs and friends) by the british sculptor lynn chadwick that are among the sculptures in the grassy expanse leading up to the cascade/cafejian.

CONTROVERSY? - while there is pride in the cafejian there is concern as well. members of the armenian art community feel that the work of armenian artists deserves to be considered among the proposals for temporary exhibits, but to date this has not happened. while this may reflect an understanding clarified in the agreement between the armenian government and the cafejian foundation the reasoning behind it is certainly not clear to armenian artists.

to be continued

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