TBILISI/YEREVAN – Last summer I took a trip to the Caucasus to find out more about the contemporary art scene there and select works for our pioneering new selling exhibition, At The Crossroads. A highlight of my visit to the National Museum of Georgia were the collection of works by Niko Pirosmani, an artist I long ago learnt to appreciate in Moscow, and who I now saw with fresh eyes in his homeland. The art scene there is growing and a discussion with Mako Chogoshvili ex deputy Minister of Culture at the gallery told me there is an appetite for change and need for curatorship, something I noticed throughout the region.
Travel from Tbilisi to Yerevan was by car. Leaving my hotel at 6am I felt unprepared for the trip ahead as my driver hurriedly showed me his credentials by flicking through his passport, which was jam packed with border crossing stamps. So as I set off alone on my five-hour $100 dollar road trip, I had more than slight doubts about how it would turn out.
In fact it was enormous fun: listening to Tom Jones blasting out on the radio, we passed through landscapes, which were breathtaking. Arriving at Lake Sevan felt like seeing a distant relative I had heard of many times but never seen, such is the power of these geographical landmarks in the imagination.
My hotel in Yerevan was opposite the National Gallery of Armenia, between buildings a huge square with famous fountains that apparently sing. Although I headed first for the Russian art collection at the museum and marveled over a Chagall and Kandinsky, it was the ancient Armenian art that left the most keen impressions, archeological finds from what many locals believe is ‘The Cradle of Civilisation’.
The contemporary art scene here centered around the activities of the Armenian Centre for Experimental Art, set up by Edward Balassanian as early as 1992, in the immediate post-Soviet era and I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon there with my guides for the visit, Sabina Sadova and her lively uncle, Tigran Yavuryan, a talented architect, who took us to the Parajanov Museum.