Lebanese-Armenian Art Critic: How to Commercialize and internationalize our Armenian National Culture.
An interview with Movses Hergelian, a Beirut-based art critic and Doctor of Art History
Hergelian also writes for a number of international art magazines including Fine Art (New York), Luxe Immo (Monaco), and L.I. Art (Paris, NY, London, Moscow) under the pen-name Movses Dzirani. He owns the Noah’s Ark art gallery in Beirut and is a jury member exhibitions organized by Monaco Fine Arts.
How would you describe the cultural policy being conducted in Armenia? In general, does such a policy exist?
Three years ago, Armenia’s Ministry of the Diaspora organized a pan-Armenian summit regarding Armenian cultural maters. I spoke on just this subject then.
I said that I didn’t see any such cultural policy according to my understanding. After the summit, the former prime minister invited a group of 15 experts from the diaspora and Armenia to see him. Also present was Minister of the Diaspora Hranoush Hakobyan and Arevik Samvelyan representing the Ministry of Culture.
At the meeting, I really focused in on the matter of having a cultural policy and pointed out that the policy in place at the time wasn’t sufficient. I hadn’t read the policy beforehand.
Armenia needs to craft a national cultural policy in order to internationalize, incentivize and politicize high quality Armenian culture and to benefit from it because, in my estimation, we are firstly strong through our culture.
The prime minister instructed that Arevik maintain contact with me. Arevik said at the time that the Ministry of Culture had such a program. It was sent to me in Beirut and I wrote a short report on it. I sent one copy to the Public Council and another to the Ministry of Culture. I was again instructed to go into greater detail regarding my proposals. The ministry’s program was well formulated but it lacked definition as to implementation. In my report I focused on the ‘how to’, and noted that we needed people with experience. For example, we have reporters at CNN and employees at Soutbiz and in foreign museums who we need to assemble and bring here to Armenia. Only afterwards can we discuss the issue and decide how to internationalize our culture.
So what’s your formulation regarding a cultural policy?
When speaking of a national cultural policy, I understand the drafting of such laws, searching for such forms, with which it is possible to appraise art internationally and to value Armenian culture.
It doesn’t refer to internal cultural events. That’s not to say that nothing is happening on the international level. The Golden Apricot Film Festival is a brilliant example for us. Another great example is the recent success of Yerevan’s Tumanyan House-Museum being voted as one of the top five best museums, in terms of innovation and creative art, in the world by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) affiliated with UNESCO.
In this context, there are a number of very problematic issues. For example, some list our dance arts within the general Caucasian category, they confuse our rug weaving with the Turkish or Azerbaijani, our miniature painting with the Byzantine school, our architecture with the Georgians. We must first study and clarify in order that we can display our culture internationally and then to commercialize and politicize it.
Are you saying that to date we have no formulated conception of Armenian culture?
Of course, we have an Armenian culture, but it is not defined. To date, non-Armenians do not know if a school of Armenian national painting exists or not. If it does, who represents it – Saryan, Kochar, or Kalents, Hunanyan or Minas? To have a national policy one must first prepare art critics. We do not have art theorists corresponding to the quality and quantity of our culture. On the international arena, you will infrequently meet a director of an arts museum or center that is an established and creating artist. If they exist at all, then they are failed artists; whereas such bodies must be managed by non-creative individuals.
Isn’t that the case in Armenia?
Not always. Many of the directors of art institutions and centers are above average artists of prominence. But if an exhibition is say organized in China, that painter becomes the criterion. When I say this many complain while others assume an inimical approach. But this is to their benefit because a good artist must engage in creating rather than devoting his/her precious time in administrative details. Each successful artist regards their creations as the best, just as each mother regards their child as the best and most beautiful in the world. Thus, they become the criterion.
So how so we internationalize our culture?
Our richness lies in our creative mind. But what happens? The big countries take our creative thoughts back home. The Armenian in the diaspora serves them. Now, my objective is to be able to craft such a policy so that those individuals are closer bound to the homeland. Even if 20% are linked more closely to Armenia that would be a big thing.
Look what we have. The successful Golden Apricot Film Festival spreads a part of our culture overseas. On the other hand, it brings foreign culture to Armenia, blending with ours. We can organize such international festivals for the fine arts, and we are trying to do so. It is being done in Monaco, Singapore, New York and Paris; in almost all the important cities. This deals with the ‘how to’ question. I can prove that we have quantity and quality, but a corresponding market neither exists in Armenia nor overseas. This is why our artists are in such poor financial shape in Armenia.
So what must be the first step to set things a right?
If we really want to commercialize our culture, to politicize it and derive maximum benefits, we must sit down and get to work.
For example, when they organize an anniversary celebration of Chagall or Picasso, they assemble their works, exhibit them in different countries, sell mugs and tee shirts bearing the artist’s picture. In this manner, the mug or shirt is sold at a price many times more than cost. In Armenia, the 100th anniversary of Aram Khachaturian was celebrated but our country hardly benefited from it.
Thus, as the first step, it is vital to assemble various successful and experienced specialists, from the diaspora and Armenia, and to organize a special summit tasked with discussing how to craft a national cultural policy and on what bases. Perhaps it would be more correct to say a strategy.