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Museum of Conflict: Dispute over display space 13 years overdue for resolution
By Vahan Ishkhanyan
The personal collection of Diaspora-Armenian artist Marcos Grigorian, which is on display in the Museum of Literature and Art, has become a subject of conflict.
The collection is the result of five decades of collection of the 81-year-old artist that he gathered while living in Iran and later transferred it to the United States. The collection has about 3,500 items.
Grigorian’s museum has been in its “temporary” residence for 13 years
In 1992, Grigorian donated his collection to the state at the request of the Armenian Government on condition that premises would be allocated for it. It was temporarily given to the administration of the Museum of Literature and Art and displays were organized in its four exhibition halls. The museum was opened in 1993 and during its opening Vice-President Gagik Harutyunyan expressed gratitude to the artist on behalf of the state. The authorities promised to allocate permanent premises to the museum within two years.
But a couple of years turned into 13 years’ waiting as no premises or status have been given to the museum. Now, the administration of the Museum of Literature and Art has demanded that its territory be vacated, since it had no possibility to put up its own displays (which include about 1 million items). If the four halls occupied by Grigorian are vacated, then the museum will get a possibility to present each field of art in a separate hall.
Grigorian calls his collection the Middle East Museum. However, it is much more embracive.
The Middle East collection includes Iranian faucets of the 12th-19th centuries, doorknockers, keys, locks, nails, Iranian-Turkmen silver ornaments of the 18th-19th centuries, 3 or 4,000-year-old bronze items, etc.
One section of the museum is devoted to photographs connected with Grigorian's biography, works – canvases and earth works that brought him recognition (http://www.marcosgrigorian.com). It also includes carpets made with his patterns and looms on which a carpet-weaver makes a new carpet for the museum once a year.
Due to the inaction of the Ministry of Culture, these two museums have found themselves in a state of permanent conflict. The Museum of Literature and Art demands that its premises be vacated; Grigorian says that his museum will move out only if premises are provided to it.
“Marcos’s museum provided by an order of the Ministry of Culture was not for exhibition but for preservation,” says Director of the Museum of Literature and Art Henrik Bakhchinyan. “The Vice-President and the Minister of Culture promised at that time that a status of a separate museum and premises would be granted in two years’ time and that the museum would move out, as this museum has nothing to do with us by its profile. Later we applied to all five ministers of culture for the museum to be removed, and for the exhibition dedicated to our culture to be presented at full length. But they always replied orally that this exhibition could not be touched as a negative opinion towards us would be formed in the Diaspora then and that they stop their donations. And now there are no premises. As a result, the largest cultural hub has been deprived of the possibility to exhibit its values.”
Now Bakhchinyan, bypassing the Ministry of Culture, has applied to the Republic’s President and Prime Minister.
The conflict has become so aggravated that either side calls into doubt the importance of the other’s museum. Grigorian says that the territory occupied by him was not fit for use and that he had made it fit. Bakhchinyan replies that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the museum of outdated communist propagandist literature was dismantled and it required time to organize a new exhibition (the display of the Museum of Literature and Art became possible due to Diaspora-Armenian philanthropists, the Ministry of Culture had not allocated any funds), and that part of Grigorian’s museum are goods brought from a flea market.
“Marcos is sitting on our throat. How can one hang bells instead of (works by artists) Aram Khachaturyan and Vahan Teryan?”
Grigorian flies into a rage when he hears his collection being compared to items brought from a flea market: “A person cannot be that ignorant to compare it with items from a flea market. There is no collection of such faucets in the world. My concern is that I am not a (billionaire philanthropist Kirk) Kerkorian, but what I brought is not any worse. This collection is priceless.”
Although some items like the ones in his collection could be purchased at a flea market once, for example Russia samovars, still their value is set high. Hakob Movses, who served as Minister of Culture in 1993 and through whose efforts Grigorian’s collection was brought in, says that at that time the museum was evaluated at $1.7 million and now its value has tripled.
Bakhchinyan also made a proposal to disperse Grigorian’s museum among different museums, since it is a mix and has no common contents. If a precise name is given to the museum then it would be called the museum of Marcos Grigorian’s lifetime creation and collection. It turns out that this was precisely the original name planned:
“We not simply asked, we begged for the museum to be brought to Armenia,” says Hakob Movses. “We asked so much, we said that the museum would be named after you. We set a task to ourselves to bring the collection to Armenia. We didn’t think about the premises at that moment. There was no territory at that time. But let them give it now, there are so many places, they are constructing Northern Avenue, or let them allocate a part of the territory given to Cafesjian.”
According to him, both sides are right and it is the government that is to blame.
Grigorian says that if the Ministry of Culture continues to do nothing and the state fails to fulfill its promise, then he will withdraw his donation through court action.
Head of the Cultural Policy, Museums and Libraries Department of the Ministry of Culture Anahit Galstyan only says that the Ministry is searching for premises and 3-4 times a year discusses the issue of the museum with Grigorian. However, she does not give any hope that the problem will be solved in the near future. “It is getting more and more complicated to buy premises as time passes,” she says.
More than a dozen buildings included in the list of monuments preserved by the state were demolished for the construction of Northern and Main avenues. And the Ministry of Culture did not oppose that. Nevertheless, the government could submit a draft according to which territory would be provided to Grigorian’s museum in the area under construction. But no such step was made.
This article is Copyright 2005, Armenianow.com - used with special permission.