Met more Armenian hospitality yesterday. On the recommendation of Leah Kohlenberg (an American journalist-turned-artist in Yerevan) we visited Alex Tarminasian at Berlin Hotel in Gyumri.

Describing himself as a “friend of artists”, Alex runs the guest house as a platform/gallery/exhibition space for local artists and also runs ‘art tours’ of Gyumri and artist workshops.

We walked in off the street:
‘We’re here to see Alex.’
‘He’s in a meeting. Who are you and what is it about?’
‘We’re artists, friends of Leah, here doing research. Leah said we should find Alex.’
This met with a nod.
‘He will be half an hour. Sit down and have some coffee, our treat.’

Alex arrives and gives us a tour of the hotel, which has paintings in each room, feeds us soup and apple wine made by a local artist (weirdly like a kind of cider concentrate – better than it sounds), and takes us to meet some of his artist friends.

Karen Barseghyan became an artist because of the earthquake of 1988 which took more than 20,000 lives in Gyumri and Spitak. He was trapped under rubble for three days and almost lost his right arm to gangrene but a doctor from Russia managed to save it with a series of operations.

Aged 9, he was told to start painting as a form of physiotherapy. His early work embraced pop art – all bright colours and big shapes. Recently he has started experimenting with concrete mixed into his paint which produces astonishing canvases which look like buildings.

After the earthquake many people were housed, temporarily, in shipping containers (known as domiks). 21 years later many, including Karen, his wife, two children and parents, are still living in the same makeshift homes.

15/3 is a collective of 3 young artists (Karen Barseghyan, Hrach Vardanyan and Gevorg Sargsyan) named after one of these containers where they held their first meetings.

We also met Albert Vardanyan, who is an amazing sculptor working mostly in bronze. His works range from the very abstract to the very representational. He carries out every stage of the work himself.

We wish we could have stayed longer but it’s time to head for Georgia for our residency at Art Villa Garikula.



Wanting to escape Yerevan’s heat and noise we did some travelling over the weekend, starting with Dilijan and lake Sevan situated at the altitude of 1900m above sea level.

We visited the Haghartsin monastery which was impressive even though it was being renovated. As we were walking back to the main road, we were invited into a trailer for some coffee and watermelon by some workmen working on the road.

After some bargaining back in Dilijan (seems that everyone on a marshrutka pays the same price, regardless of how far they go) we headed out to Sevan. The lake itself is gorgeous, surrounded by fog covered hills and with a monastery on a high peninsula that looks out over the water. The resort down below was suitably touristy with cafes and jet skis and pumping club music which mixed nicely with the service happening in the church.

After Sevan, we made our way to Alaverdi with its massive copper plant and countless abandoned factories for a monastery marathon. We started at Haghpat where there is a wall with a ledge at the bottom, about six inches off the ground that, legend has it, if you make a wish and can walk to the other side without touching the ground your wish will come true.

We then made our way to Sanahin, high above Alaverdi, with spectacular views of mountains, open walled corridors and grass growing on the roof.

Our local guide then decided that two UNESCO listed sites in a day is not enough and that that we had to see another place: Kobayr monastery at the top of a cliff. There was also an amazing cave nearby we all went into though it wasn’t the safest place…

We then head back to Yerevan as there were no marshrutkas to Gyumri that evening.



Decided it was time to be touristy today and took a tour to Garni temple and Geghard monastery. Garni is actually a Hellenic temple dating back to the 1st Century A.D. built on a hill with scenic views of surrounding canyons and mountains.

Geghard is one of the highlights of Armenia – a monastery from the 4th Century A.D. built into caves in a mountain side. The place has a truly magic atmosphere and an active sacrifice site outside.

Later in the day we met Grigor Katchatrian at the Mkhitar Sebastatsi Art School where he is a head teacher and spoke to him about his educational activities and his work as a performance/conceptual artist. During the summer months the school acts as a project/gallery space for local and international artists and curators. This year it was also home to the AICA curators summer school.


Today we tried to find the Museum of Modern Art using our battered copy of Lonely Planet. Sadly it seemed it was closed for renovation. Opening in the 70s it was the first of its kind in the Soviet Union.

Cafesjian Museum Foundation was next where we met Nune Torosyan and Karen and Michael De Marsche who are managing the reconstruction of the Cascade and the new contemporary art museum to be situated inside. Karen gave us an extensive tour of the site and it looks very impressive. The museum will focus on contemporary glass art based on Mr. Cafesjian’s extensive collection. It will also host temporary art exhibitions and jazz concerts.

In the evening we went to NPAK again for a private view followed by a dinner at the Balassanian’s where we had an opportunity to meet and talk to more Armenian and international artists and try Sonia’s delicious home cooking.



We spent the morning in Echmiadzin, the Armenian ‘Vatican’. Between 180 and 340 AD it was Armenia’s capital and is still the centre of Armenian religious activity. Aside from beautiful churches, one can see many relics including the Holy Lance and fragments of the Noah’s Ark which apparently grounded on mount Ararat.

Then we went back to Yerevan and met with David Karoyan, artist and curator, whose solo exhibition is currently on at NPAK. David also showed us as much as he could of NPAK’s massive archive of contemporary Armenian art and introduced us to video artist Diana Hakobian who showed us some of her painting, installation and video work. We spoke to Daniel Maier-Reimer, a German artist who found some time to talk to us while he was installing his work for an exhibition that opens on Friday. Our visit at NPAK finished with an opening of photography exhibition by Paris-based Sharis Garabedian.

Lastly we visited Ara and Artur Petrosyan to see their works and other pieces by members of Art Laboratory. Their work is intensely political and encompasses painting, sound, video, performance and installation based activity.

Most art in one day, ever.



Today we had a real meeting marathon. We met Edward and Sonia Balassanian founders of NPAK (Armenian Centre for Contemporary Experimental Art) and spoke about their work and their role in the Armenian arts scene.

As the main contemporary art gallery in the country, they play a significant role in shaping the artistic landscape and see themselves as catalysts whose job it is to “find new talent, promote them and let them go”.

We then met curator Marianna Hovhannisyan who works at Armenian Open University‘s department of Fine Arts. Their bachelor course provides a contemporary alternative to the very traditional Armenian Arts Academy. The regular teaching programme is accompanied by 5-6 workshops a year for students and graduates run by local and international practising artists. The artistic disciplines taught encompass video art and performance as well as oil painting and ceramics. Marianna showed us both the school and examples of work produced during workshops. The Open University also runs an art school for children and young people between the ages of 4 and 18.

We then met with Nazareth Karoyan, the president of AICA Armenia (International Association of Art Critics) who describes himself as a “cultural engineer”. He gave us a comprehensive overview of the history of contemporary art in Armenia starting from the 60s up until today.