An Insider’s Guide to the Armenia Art Fair
Last May nearly 2,000 visitors attended the inaugural opening of the Armenia Art Fair. The fair was the first of its kind in the young republic and its organizers were determined to bring together a pool of international exhibitors to showcase with local contemporary artists. Last year the fair’s curator, Eva Khachatryan, told Harper’s Bazaar Arabia that “The first international art fair in Armenia will give an impetus for the Armenian art scene to demonstrate the financial potential for this market.” In spite of the great political shift the country experienced just days before, its exhibitors were able to make sales to private clients and its organizers were determined to make the fair an annual event.
The Armenia Art Fair is back this year, and this iteration will run from June 1st to the 3rd at the Yerevan Expo Center. It has also inspired the creation of an Art Week which will take place from May 25th through June 2nd at various locations in Yerevan.
Fortunately, our lead blog contributor, Lizzy Vartanian Collier is also involved with the fair. She supports their English language outreach efforts, and she is a returning exhibitor this year. She generously took some time out of her busy pre-fair schedule to respond to our questions below to give us an insider’s view into the Armenia Art Fair and the exhibition she will present.
What is the Armenia Art Fair? How is it different from other fairs you’ve visited in the Middle East?
Armenia Art Fair is an art fair that takes place once a year in Yerevan, providing a platform and an arena for international modern and contemporary galleries to display and to sell their work, thereby introducing the Armenian public to international artists, and international galleries presenting their work to an Armenian audience. In addition to gallery booths, as in traditional art fairs, the fair also has a strong events program of talks and workshops.
It is different to other fairs that I’ve visited in that it gives a real opportunity for young galleries and curators to participate within a global art market, where they would have difficulties anywhere else due to the costs involved in participating in an international art fair.
For a long time, the issue for Armenian Artists has been the lack of access to a significant art market within or near the young republic, what is the value or opportunity of holding an art fair in Armenia in now?
I think that now is the right time for a fair in Armenia. It may be a coincidence that Armenia’s neighbors – Georgia and Iran – both also had their inaugural art fairs last year, and all three are now including an art week too. People are beginning to see that the art world really is global and that young and emerging art markets – like Armenia – really do deserve to be discovered.
What are some events or panels you’re really looking forward to?
This year there will be the first Armenia Art Week, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the 4Plus open studio. The women’s photography collective works with the aim to develop photography and to empower women in Armenia and beyond.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the Burned Archives exhibition presented by Polish gallery Asymetria. The show will look at why artists destroy their work and includes photographs taken by Yuri Mechitov, who worked closely with Sergei Parajanov and took many images of him.
How did you first become involved with the fair?
Completely by accident. A friend of mine in London was participating in the fair. Apparently, the director told her that she needed someone to help them start a blog, so this gallerist friend let her know that she knew an Armenian girl in London who ran a blog and wrote for a lot of international publications. So, initially, I became involved by running the Armenia Art Fair blog. During this time, I was also curating an exhibition in London with AWAN (Arab Women Artists Now Festival), which the fair’s director was keen to bring to Armenia. I had some reservations at first, but two months later I had my own booth in Yerevan… it was quite surreal.
Who are some exhibitors you’re excited to see?
I’m looking forward to seeing Iranian Emerging Artists’ booth. Until now, the platform has only existed online (via Instagram), and will be exhibiting four young Iranian artists for the first time in a real physical space.
There will also be two other Iranian galleries – Saye and Visata – that I will be interested to see as there was no Iranian presence last year.
What were some lessons you learned last time you went to Armenia for the fair?
Not to stress out too much.
What was it like working for this event while living in London and the operations HQ being based in Armenia?
At times challenging. Especially with the time differences and occasional language barriers, but mostly it has been fine, with a special thanks to the technology of social media.
You are going to be exhibiting two emerging artists, can you tell me a little bit about how you decided to pair them in your exhibition?
I will be presenting works by Luska and Ripsy May, two Armenian artists who both happen to be living in London right now. There is no concept for the booth really. I met Luska and Ripsy on either side of last year’s fair and fell in love with both of their work immediately, and knew that their paintings had to be exhibited together. I thought Armenia Art Fair would be the perfect opportunity, as I believe it is really important to be supporting young Armenian artists.
Luska and Ripsy both also happen to be musicians, so when they met they had a lot in common. We will be exhibiting two large paintings by each artist, as well as some smaller drawings and collages. We’ll also be showing a few of Ripsy’s animations too. Luska’s work is often influenced by graffiti and has this quick energy about it that Ripsy’s paintings also have. I think what really draws viewers into both Ripsy’s and Luska’s work is a desire to want to understand who their characters are, these mysterious women who captivate the viewer while we know next to nothing about them.
Finally, are there any sneak-peaks you can give us about the fair?
Luska – one of my artists – is also a musician and will be performing on June 1st!
Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a writer and curator based in London, specializing in contemporary art from the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been published by Canvas, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Hyperallergic, After Nyne, the Guardian, Ibraaz, Jdeed, EVN Report, Tribe and Suitcase along with many other publications. Her recent exhibition ‘Perpetual Movement’, which took place during Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018, was featured in Vogue Arabia and the Art Newspaper, and later traveled to the debut Armenia Art Fair. Lizzy is also the founder of the Gallery Girl. You can follow her work on www.gallerygirl.co and on Instagram @gallerygirlldn and Twitter @lizzycollier