Gem in the Rough: The Appreciation of Armenian Art

Gem in the Rough: The Appreciation of Armenian Art

By Contributor on Aug 7th, 2009


For the last decade or so, the number of art galleries in Southern
California has been steadily growing. A notable addition to the group
is Stephanie’s Fine Art Gallery, a bold and innovative gallery
specializing in Armenian art. Beyond its unique emphasis on Armenian
art, Stephanie’s is particularly distinctive because of the vision of
its founder and owner, Linda Stepanyan.

Stepanyan opened the gallery ten years ago, because she wanted to
bring her appreciation of Armenian art to a wider audience.
Stepanyan’s goal is to not only assist Armenian customers in their
purchases of Armenian art, but perhaps more importantly to bring the
world of Armenian art to the attention of non-Armenians. As Stepanyan
herself says, `when other nations appreciate Armenian art it makes me
proud of what I am doing…. It makes me happy and gives me more

Stepanyan’s keen eye and personal preference has led her to focus the
gallery’s collection on modern and contemporary art created by artists
of Armenian descent, sourced from an extensive network of dealers
located throughout Europe. In terms of the modern period (or what
Stepanyan refers to as the `classical’ period of Armenian art), the
gallery includes work by Armenian artists working in Europe or
Istanbul from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

Artists in this category include such well-known names as Jean Carzou,
Jean Jansem, Hovsep Pushman, and Edgar Chahine. Other artists
represented in the gallery’s collection include Léon Tutundjian,
Arsène Chabanian, Ohannès Alhazian, and Sarkis Diranian.
Contemporary artists represented include those of Armenian descent
living in the United States – primarily Los Angeles, with many hailing
originally from Armenia, the Soviet Union or the Middle East – or
Europe, including such contemporary artists as Koko, Emil Kazaz,
Galust Grigoryan, and Sasho.

This dual focus on contemporary and more modern/`classical’ art by
artists of Armenian descent helps the gallery more easily bridge the
gap between the two periods. For instance, when customers come in
looking for work produced by better-known artists from the modern
period, such as Carzou and Jansem, Stepanyan takes the opportunity to
educate them about the work being produced by contemporary Armenian
artists, as well as perhaps lesser-known artists of the modern period.
Stepanyan argues that there are many contemporary (and modern)
Armenian artists who, though perhaps not well-known, have nonetheless
produced brilliant works that, like gems waiting to be discovered,
deserve to be appreciated and collected. She points to the example of
Vincent van Gogh, who was unknown during his lifetime but, as we are
all undoubtedly aware, now commands record prices affordable to none
but the wealthy art collector or well-endowed museum.

Stephanie’s customer base is comprised of both Armenians and
non-Armenians. Many of the non-Armenian clients are in the movie
industry in Los Angeles and are, ironically, generally well-informed
about art and appreciate the work of modern artists Chahine, Pushman,
and Carzou. Stepanyan was thrilled recently to offer one of her
customers a refrigerator panel painted by Carzou in 1958 that was
originally part of a charity fundraising exhibition in Paris organized
by the Galerie Carpentier. The exhibition, titled `The Nobility of
the Everyday Object,’ comprised ten refrigerators, each painted by
different well-known French artists, including Salvador Dali, Jean
Cocteau, Bernard Buffet, Georges Mathieu, and Léonor Fini. The
exhibition was described by Cocteau as `a victory over the negative
style of emptiness.’ By way of example, Stepanyan suggests that a
panel from this series painted by Carzou would normally sell for
several thousand dollars, while one created by Buffet could cost as
much as $200,000.

The existence of galleries such as Stephanie’s can clearly have a
meaningful impact on the recognition of art created by artists of
Armenian descent. They educate the general public about Armenian art
and culture and provide a much-needed forum for up-and-coming
contemporary artists. In expanding the awareness of Armenian art to a
wider audience, such galleries serve to bolster its value within the
broader art community.

Stepanyan’s observations suggest that such value goes beyond its price
or the accessibility it affords or denies to potential patrons. Not
surprisingly, lesser-known pieces are relatively more affordable,
while that affordability nonetheless seldom makes them more attractive
to purchasers. There is some evidence, however, that non-Armenian
patrons are also more open to new or lesser-known artists, including
those of Greek and Russian decent, whose art and culture have
traditionally received more active local support.

There is perhaps no better way to improve on this trend than by
actively supporting the production – and enjoyment – of Armenian art.
After all, there is nothing like seeing and appreciating the real
thing, by spending time in one of the numerous galleries and venues
that feature the works of artists of Armenian descent, both in and
outside of Southern California.

All Rights Reserved: Critics’ Forum, 2009. Exclusive to the Armenian

Jean Murachanian holds a Ph.D. in Art History from UCLA.

You can reach her or any of the other contributors to Critics’ Forum
at [email protected]. This and all other articles published
in this series are available online at To sign
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Critics’ Forum is a group created to
discuss issues relating to Armenian art and culture in the Diaspora.