23 October 2014, 12:53
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Themes in Yerevanian Visual Art over the 20th Century

Even before it was declared capital of Armenia, Yerevan has repeatedly served as the object of Armenian artists’ inspirations. Today, it appears that many of the 20th century images of Yerevan are meeting a continuation in the 21st. So, we ask, why do artists continue to refer to Yerevan's images of Yerevan for inspiration? What were they looking for then, what are they looking for now, and what are the valuable themes that penetrate these works? Our writers consulted some of Yerevan's most knowledgeable art critics for answers.

Shushanik Zohrabyan

Art critic, Lecturer at Yerevan State University Department of Art 

Շուշանիկ Զոհրաբյան, Արմեն Եսայանց

We see many images inspired by the city of Yerevan appearing, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century, and especially once Armenia joined the Soviet Union. Around those years, Yerevan began to acquire its own identity, in large part thanks to Alexander Tamanyan (the Soviet-era Armenian architect). In 1920, Yerevan’s creative output was expanding with artists Martiros Saryan, Hakob Kojoyan, Sedrak Arakelyan, sculptors A. Sarksyan and Suren Stepanyan, graphic artist Mikayel Arutchyan, and architects Alexander Tamanyan, Karo Halabyan, Mikayel Maznmanyan, Gevorg Kochar. Images of Yerevan’s city, we find Sedrak Arakelyan’s, Martiros Saryan’s, and also Tachat Khachvankyan’s, Hakob Kojoyan’s, Vahram Cafesjyan’s and in other art. The new and changing Yerevan, presentations of its surrounding landscapes are the primary focus of these works.

Armen Yesayants

Art critic, Cafesjian Center for the Arts Deputy Director and Assistant Curator


In October of 2012, at Cafesjian Center for the Arts, we opened “Yerevan: From the Future” as a feature exhibition. Modern pictures of Yerevan were presented next to 20th century until the fifties, artistic and graphic works. The exhibition demonstrated how in only a few decades, Yerevan went from being a rural village to a cosmopolitan city. In those years, art was focused on panoramic images; different seasons of the year in the city’s landscape, scenes highlighting the rich variety of colors the city had to offer. Moreover, visual art works from this time often contain the capital’s seminal buildings and major attractions, but in other environments. These are images that today often seem strange to modern Yerevanian eyes.

Armen Gasparyan

Art critic, National Gallery of Armenia, Painting Department 

Արմեն Գասպարյան, Արա Հայթայան


Yerevan can be considered a constant theme. We mustn’t forget that especially at the beginning of the 20th century,Yerevan had become a new Armenian center for the community and artists’ attention was, as a result, on its center. There are a number of talented artists whose works focused on this theme and which are now of high artistic value on many levels; one important one being for documentary purposes, as these works served to preserve the varying states Yerevan entered during this period. Thus, generation after generation, artists were imagining their beloved city, but from different angles; important attractions, different seasons, different times of day, and things of that nature…


Aghanjanyan and Saryan’s work inspired by Mount Ararat’s landscape begins in Yerevan and became an integral part of a root symbol in a later studios led to the formation of the ‘inner yard’ concept (the Bakes [shared communal spaces between apartment complexes] you find all over the city architecturally), which was associated with the idea of internal mental and thematic space.

Disoriented by the new and still in search of the real, interesting behavior of today's young writers, each generation leads to loss of identity, and a loss of architectural structure: They are trying to depict the history. It is quite similar to the trends of the 20th century, when the picture or the main attraction shouldn’t be found in Cascade, but in the Persian period.

 Ֆրանց Ռուբո «Էրիվանի բերդի հանձնումը»  (1890-ականներ)

Franz Rubo, "Yerevan Fortress's Surrender" (1890's)

Both the photography and painting in front of the new, modern set encourage those involved in the cinema. But for many years, painting resisted the inclusion and depiction of vehicles, trams, cars, trains. The first copies can only be found in the forties and fifties.

The method of archiving allows the artist to penetrate more deeply into the most diverse environments, changing the picture’s material... Most prevailing depictions so far have been of Republic Square and the Opera theater in Yerevan, which top the list of symbols of national strength and happiness through advertisements, instilling patriotism. From the nineties, Yerevan for some time ceased to be a subject of visual art penetrable by conventional urban landscape... Through these images, we can see the art of confrontation, which appropriates Yerevan as an artistic outlet of political and civil tension.

 Մարտիրոս Սարյան  «Հին Երևան» (1928)

Martiros Saryan, "Old Yerevan" (1928)

This art was created under a different perception of Yerevan. It incorporates the addition of panoramic symbols. The brushstrokes begin to thicken into a clear pattern. It feels human, as the city’s architectural detials widen to the varying human perceptual fields of Yerevan. In this sense, the city faces a true story of the creator in both positive and negative ways. To what extent these contradictory tendencies ripen, to become something edgy and artistic, it is difficult to make generalizations. Though nothing can be said for certain, as far as material handling, treatment, method and style, the art depicting Yerevan over the century has undergone drastic changes in patterns and thus, in meaning. That much is certain.


“Yerevan” magazine, N6, 2014

Այս հոդվածի հայերեն տարբերակի համար սեղմեք այստեղ։


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