The Armenian Diaspora, comprised of immigrants and their descendants, is centered predominately in Los Angeles and the Central Valley regions of California and benefits from a confluence of unique influences on its art making tradition, including a history of social marginalization, individualistic resilience, and a strong cultural emphasis on the arts as a whole. GARBOUSHIAN GALLERY’s California Armenian Pacific Standard Time exhibition attempts to chronicle the post-war history of Armenian American art making through an interconnection of these individuals—some well known, some lesser known—and the exceptional work they have produced.
Just as Armenian American artist Arshile Gorky was highly influential in shaping American Abstract Expressionism in New York a generation earlier, a fiercely independent group of painters was quietly taking hold after World War II in Los Angeles; among them was John Altoon (1925-1969) and Paul Sarkisian (b. 1928). Altoon was a gifted painter and big personality who often struggled with fits of depression and mania. His vaguely figurative abstractions are heralded today for helping to define both a gallery—L.A.’s Ferus Gallery—and the city it occupied. Altoon was influential as both an artist and educator; he taught at Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) and Art Center College of Design, and attended both colleges as well as Otis Art Institute. Altoon’s work is in major museum collections including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Hirshorn Museum and LACMA, among others.
Sarkisian’s noteworthy international art career took root in Los Angeles in the 1950s, amid contemporaries John Altoon, Wallace Berman, Ed Kienholz, Walter Hopps, Phil Hefferton and Irving Blum. Noted first for his abstraction and photorealism, and later for his finish fetish works, Sarkisian found a long time proponent in Walter Hopps, who first showed him at Hopps' historic Syndell Studio and later at his seminal Ferus Gallery. Hopps also included Sarkisian, Richard Diebenkorn, Hassel Smith, Craig Kauffman and others in what is now regarded as the mother of all Los Angeles art exhibitions, Action Painting, otherwise known as the Merry-Go-Round show, which was organized in 1955 as a radical proclamation of contemporary sensibilities.
Sarkisian has exhibited in almost all Los Angeles area museums, including a solo show at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1961, a solo show at the La Jolla Art Center in 1963, a solo show at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1970, and numerous exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Sarkisian went on to establish a significant international career with shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., Documenta 3, Kassel, Germany, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (in which he was in a two person show with artist Chuck Close) and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Today Sarkisian’s work is in the permanent collections of many significant museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, Vienna, and the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. Sarkisian now lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Also central to the story about Los Angeles art is Charles Garabedian (b. 1923). Having started painting relatively late in life (he first began painting at age 32), Garabedian was first lauded for his work in the 1960s and is a highly celebrated artist who consistently receives well-deserved recognition as he continues to paint to this day. He recently closed a major retrospective at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and is included in public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Whitney Museum (New York), Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), LACMA, and MOCA. Garabedian’s iconoclastic figurative paintings are precursors to, influences upon, and objects of affection for the generations of West Coast artists and collectors that closely follow him.
Meanwhile, outside of Los Angeles city limits, a number of other Armenian American artists were making their mark on California’s blossoming cultural landscape. Sam Tchakalian (1929-2004) was a key figure in San Francisco Abstract Expressionism. Over the course of his career, he also explored Minimalism and a synthesis of Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. Tchakalian has had solo exhibitions at the De Young Museum and SF MOMA, and his work is included in collections at MOCA, SF MOMA, the Whitney Museum, and Brooklyn Museum among others. Also, born in Fresno, William Saroyan (1908-1981) was best known as an acclaimed fiction writer and playwright, yet by the late 1960s he would try his hand at visual art too, with an exceptional body of abstract pieces to his name.
Leo Krikorian (1922-2005) was perhaps the most central, unifying figure of the arts at the time. Known as the “Grandfather of the Beats,” (referring to the Beatnik movement of the 1950s, which gave birth to the hippie movement) Krikorian would indeed host important artists, writers, musicians, intellectuals and luminaries of the time (including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Dave Brubeck) in his café The Place in San Francisco’s North Beach–however it was Krikorian’s painting that warrants his inclusion in California Armenian Pacific Standard Time. A student of Josef Albers and Ilya Bolotowsky at Black Mountain College, Krikorian’s masterful geometric abstractions offer a sterling example of West Coast Modernism—they strive eloquently for a universal minimalism while still retaining the loose exchange of colors, flavors and ideas that defines mid-century California.
California Armenian Pacific Standard Time will be on view at GARBOUSHIAN GALLERY from September 15 to November 5, 2011. The opening reception is Wednesday September 14, from 6 to 9 pm.
GARBOUSHIAN GALLERY recommends the exhibition Mysterious Objects, Portraits of Joan Quinn at the Santa Ana College Main Gallery, featuring many contemporaries of the artists in our current California Amenian Pacific Standard Time exhibition, among them: Charles Arnoldi, Don Bachardy, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Tony Berlant, Laddie John Dill, Claire Falkenstein, Joe Goode, George Herms, Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha, Alexis Smith, and Beatrice Wood.
About Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980
Pacific Standard Time is a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California, coming together for six months beginning in October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a major new force in the art world. Each institution will make its own contribution to this grand-scale story of artistic innovation and social change, told through a multitude of simultaneous exhibitions and programs. Exploring and celebrating the significance of the crucial post-World War II years through the tumultuous period of the 1960s and 70s, Pacific Standard Time encompasses developments from L.A. Pop to post-minimalism; from modernist architecture and design to multi-media installations; from the films of the African American L.A. Rebellion to the feminist activities of the Woman’s Building; from ceramics to Chicano performance art; and from Japanese American design to the pioneering work of artists’ collectives.
Initiated through $10 million in grants from the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time involves cultural institutions of every size and character across Southern California, from Greater Los Angeles to San Diego and Santa Barbara to Palm Springs.
Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.