“Nobody writes to Colonel”

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Famous Soviet-Armenian painter Minas Avetissian’s museum in his native Jajur village rarely gets visitors. While signing the visitor journal today, we noticed, that the last time someone dropped by was on July 7th, nearly 8 days ago.

You’d expect the only museum of the great artist to be more popular with visitors, especially given the wave of protest over transportation of his frescos to Yerevan from Gyumri.

The museum, a nice solid building on a central road in Jajur, several kilometers north-east of Gyumri, is open every day from 11:00 to 18:00 except Mondays. It was built by Lincy Foundation and is maintained by the Armenian Ministry of Culture. There’s a small entrance fee – a mere 200 drams lets you dive into Minas’ world of incredible colors and shapes.

The museum houses about two dozens of paintings, a fresco, as well as the decoration and clothes the artist made for Aram Khachaturian’s “Gayane” ballet.

Here, and only here, I started to understand all the fuss about moving his wall-paintings away from Gyumri. Minas is an amazing artist.

The exhibit took me about 40 minutes to get through.

Armenia -- An overview of Minas Avetissian Museum in Jajur, Shirak Region, 15Jul2011

Armenia -- A general view of Minas Avetissian Museum in Jajur, Shirak Region, 15Jul2011

There were no other visitors all that time.

The house, where the artist was born is not far away – next to the village church. We didn’t get to see it. But what we did see – is the picturesque village of Jajur and its surroundings, which certainly can be an inspiration for a great painter.

Gyumri wants “stolen” Frescos Back

 “Millstone” Fresco by Minas Avetissian in the canteen of the Electrotehnical Plant CJSC in Gyumri

“Millstone” Fresco by Minas Avetissian in the canteen of the Electrotehnical Plant CJSC in Gyumri

ArmeniaNow has covered “The Minas Saga” in a great detail. I’ve quoted some sections here for my own future reference.

Still in April, the government allowed the “Minas Avetisyan” cultural foundation to remove Minas’ “Spinning the Thread” and “Millstone” frescoes from the building that used to house a canteen of the Electrotehnical Plant CJSC in Gyumri and have them renovated with the sponsorship of the Armenia International Airports CJSC.

After the renovation the “Millstone” fresco is to be displayed at the presidential complex of Zvartnots Airport near Yerevan, and “Spinning the Thread” will be showcased in one of the halls of the new passenger terminal at the same airport.

However, people in Gyumri demand that the frescoes “stolen” from their city be returned, insisting that the original arrangement had been that after restoration work they would stay in Armenia’s second largest city.

The main reasoning provided by the Ministry of Culture for the transportation of the wall-paintings is that they were kept in poor conditions in Gyumri and needed to be immediately restored and provided with normal conditions to be preserved

Meanwhile, in Gyumri they insist that still in 2009 “the mayor of Gyumri sent different letters to the culture minister with proposals regarding the fate of Minas Avetisyan frescoes and on how to save them”, but they did not elicit any response.

Last year saw the transportation of two other Minas frescoes from Gyumri to Yerevan. Those were “By the Khachkar” and “Meeting”. They were installed in the government building, but it was promised then that once a week a day of “open doors” would be held at the government building for art lovers and the general public to be able to see the great artist’s works. The promise has not been kept, however.

Minas Avetissian biography

Minas Avetisian was born on the 20th of July 1928, in a little Armenian village-Djadjur. Leningrad, with its Academy of Fine Arts and its Hermitage, played a significant role in Avetisian’s becoming an artist. Avetisian always remembers with gratitude his teachers, Johannson, Zaitsev and Khudiakov: they never hindered the natural expression of his own artistic individuality.

Both in his student years and after graduating from the Academy, Avetisian traveled widely around Armenia, eagerly seeking out historical monuments; he studied the Armenian miniature and the works of the greatest Armenian artists, above all, Saryan’s.

Avetisian’s real emergence as an artist was at the “Exhibition of Five” in Yerevan (1962), where he revealed himself as a mature painter with a bright individuality. Numerous specialists and visitors to the exhibition thought highly of his work. In the presence of a large group of visitors and representatives of the press, the French artist Jean Lurcat exclaimed: “This artist rivals France’s best painters”.

Avetisian follows the national traditions in painting, yet he never resorts to slavish imitation or stylization. But he shows great freedom and originality in his use of means of expression found in the work of ancient miniaturists: bright sonorous colors, coordination of pictorial tension throughout the entire surface of the canvas, rhythmic arrangement of lines, the static quality of representation, and the absence of perspective. And this is quite natural: like any artist of great talent, Avetisian has achieved an understanding of reality not so much through the study of the work of other masters, as through his own perception and interpretation of life.

Avetisian is one of those Armenian artists who put the color back into painting. “Put the color back into painting”-such an expression might seem strange, but if you go into the Matenadaran and look through the yellowed pages of the ancient manuscripts there, you will understand what is meant: there on the parchment, in all their splendor, shine the bright, sonorous colors- blue, yellow, green, red…

Color plays an enormous role in the work of Avetisian. Some of his pictures are unequaled in contemporary Armenian painting in the intensity of their colors.

A few of Avetisian’s main canvases are devoted to the past of his people. It was by pure chance that the artist’s parents escaped the 1915 massacre. Not far from Djadjur several thousands of people were killed in a ravine. The generation which saw these terrible events with their own eyes is still alive. Often on winter evenings, sitting by the hearth of his village home the artist heard the accounts of eye-witnesses. Perhaps this is why a dramatic note is perceptible in many of his works. Laconicism, reserve and thoughtfulness are characteristic for the artist too. The dramatic quality in Avetisian’s history paintings is a tacit tribute to the memory of the dead.

To the most significant canvases of this cycle belongs the picture “The Road: A Recollection of My Parents” (1965-1967). Unfortunately, like many of his other works, it perished in the 1972 fire.

In the night of the 1st January, 1972, while the artist was in DjaDjur with his family, his Yerevan studio was burnt down together with a large portion of his best canvases selected for a one-man show. Many of the artist’s works no longer exist”.

After the profound shock inflicted on Avetisian by the burning down of his studio, which for a time brought his creative activity to a halt, the artist actively engaged in work and produced a series of significant canvases, among them “Meditation” (1972), displayed at the republic’s exhibition, and “Baking Lavash” (1972) and other.

The artist died tragically in a car accident in Yerevan in 1975.

Source of slideshow photos and biography,

Source of “Milestone” fresco photo

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5 thoughts on ““Nobody writes to Colonel”

  1. what the hell?
    why does all our GREATS always die in car accidents?

    Paruyr Sevak, died in car accident on his way some where
    of course since he was anti-soviet take over of our homeland, naturally we all believe that there was conspiracy and soviets killed him because he is famous and could influence others

    Sevak died on June 17, 1971 in a car crash while on a drive back to Yerevan. In previous years, he had voiced his criticism of the corruption of the soviet establishment , and for this many Armenians believe he was murdered by the soviet-KGB

    does anyone know how our Hovhanness Shiraz died?
    let me guess, car accident too? pfff !!!!

    Hayastan always has the best of everything
    including our artists/poets/musicians

    next time I come to Hayastan, I will be sure to visit Minas’s tangaran and bring at least 20-50 ppl with me. ara if I have to, I’ll pay for all of it, especially if its lousy 200 dr. each person x 50 = 10k dr. (lousy $25)

    mer Hayer@ petq e gnan mer tangaranner ev tesnen mer arvestagetneri ashxatanqner. tox imanan u sovoren te vorqan taxandavor Hayer kan. menq Hayers shat taxandavor zhoxovurd enq, ba ARyan-Kavkas mard enq eli… menq mer Hayq Nahapetin hetnordn enq Hayer jan, urish ch’ka u verj

  2. Thanks for the slideshow, Artur! Although, of course, the issues here are both sad and difficult to resolve. Certainly, especially for frescoes, it’s much better that they stay in the place for which they are designed, because they have a particular meaning within their original space that gets lost when they are moved. However, keeping them in a space where they deteriorate and don’t get seen is also a sad fate for them and their artist.

    The crux of the problem, of course, is that there is little if any push for tourism to Gyumri. How often do you see a trip to Gyumri offered as part of a tourism package, vs. going to Garni or Khor Virap, etc.? The whole situation would change if the border with Turkey were open, because then Gyumri could become a base for touring the Ani complex as well as the Lesser Caucasus range, etc. It would be on the train line to Kars and Tbilisi and once again in the middle of a geography instead of at a remote dead end.

    Since that scenario seems quite a dream, though, Gyumri really should be developed as a alternative “scene” especially supporting the arts, housing artists and encouraging cool, funky stores and restaurants, and framing its old and underdeveloped infrastructure as a contrast to the over-modernized Yerevan streetscape. That type of urban development scheme has been used successfully in many other countries; alas, it does take a vision and the will to accomplish it.

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