Caroline Lais-Tufenkian in her office at Tufenkian Fine Arts

Tufenkian Fine Arts Connects Artists and Art Lovers

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GLENDALE — Back in 1998 when Caroline Lais-Tufenkian was working on her thesis, Neery Melkonian, an art historian and critic, encouraged her to curate and put together an exhibit whenever she has a chance. And so, she did. In 1998 Caroline organized an open exhibit featuring a local, Los Angeles-based artist Seta Manoukian. The event proved a success and set a certain future for Caroline.

One exhibit followed another, and when her children grew up, Caroline decided that it was time to fulfill her longtime dream-opening an art gallery.

In 2015 Caroline and Greg Tufenkian established the Tufenkian Fine Arts Gallery in Glendale, on San Fernando Road. That’s where I first visited and felt that this was just the right amount of a contemporary art one can consume in a diverse but still conservative city like Glendale.

Crossroads exhibition in Tufenkian Fine Arts

Soon, in 2017 another location on Louise street became available, one that was perfect for Tufenkian Fine Art. The two-story building with an artistic combination of wood glass and green plants a little hidden between buildings but nevertheless, with more centralized location allows it to be close to the downtown, central library and the soon to be built Armenian American Museum. Will the fact of a new museum decrease the significance of Tufenkian? “I think it’s going to be great! There is going to be a lot of room to collaborate. Galleries and museums work hand in hand all the time.”

Caroline is in her office, which is really another gallery room filled with art pieces where even her desk seems like a part of an exhibition. Greg Tufenkian works in the room next door and we can hear his voice through the empty gallery (it’s Monday and the gallery is closed). “I would never be able to do this without Greg. He is the backbone of this business. He is behind everything, but he is more on the business side of the gallery,” said Lais-Tufenkian with a smile.

Lais-Tufenkian was born in Switzerland but her family moved to Iran one year later, since her mother was from there. But Caroline had an uncle in Glendale whom she visited every summer. During the revolution in Iran, when she was 11 years old, her family moved to the US. She studied art history at California State University where her future was determined as an art historian, consultant and curator.

Caroline Lais-Tufenkian and Tufenkian Fine Arts

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From the beginning Tufenkian Fine Arts made it its goal to represent Armenian and non-Armenian contemporary, classic and mainstream artists and build a bridge connecting these two worlds through the clients and art collectors. “It’s a pleasure to see that Armenians come in and admire other artists’ works or often buy their works. Or non-Armenians come and get introduce to let’s say, Arthur Sarkissyan and purchase his work. I feel that the job is done,” noted Caroline.

Choosing the artists to showcase is very personal for Caroline. Whether the artist is introduced by another one, is found on Instagram or selected based on his or her biography or palette, the artwork must “speak” to Caroline first. “Is it something that I personally would like to have as a collector,” she said.

And she really means it since later in our conversation she reveals that in her home she has almost all the artists’ works that are shown at the gallery.

“I am very supportive of the artists I represent,” Caroline admits, “I believe in their work and I love their work.” Then the process evolves to determine the professional characteristics, educational and professional background and “esthetic sensibility” of the artist. Based on the theme of the exhibition gallery includes the artists from Armenian and non-Armenian backgrounds by “creating a bridge” between two art worlds. This is not Caroline’s initiative only. Tufenkian Fine Arts often has guest curators as well-known art critics and scholars Peter Frank, John O’Brien and others. The list goes on with the anticipation of high-level art which includes works of the Armenian artists as well. “That’s one of my proud moments,” she said.

Tufenkian Fine Art Gallery also publishes monographs and single artist’s catalogs representing artworks from an exhibition and written presentations by art scholars, critics and writers. I turn the pages of the catalog with Hagop Hagopian’s works. “Hagop Hagopian has a very unique look. I think, from the classics he has the most contemporary feel. Also, his work speaks to a really wider public, Armenian and non-Armenian,” Caroline takes the lead as a true curator.

Tufenkian Fine Arts Gallery in Glendale

For Lais-Tufenkian, owning a gallery is a passion.

“When you’re in the gallery world and you don’t have that passion, it shows. It’s not just a business. It’s really a business of passion, love and knowledge, educating people and sharing that beauty,” she explained.

But the business component cannot be overlooked. When asked if in this digital age people still purchase art, she said indeed, they do. It turns out that people do buy art. They did it even during the pandemic. “Last year was probably our best year. I think, a lot of people were home and they realized that they needed a change, something better to look at. So, they came and purchased art!”

Others wanted to buy something of value that could appreciate in time. Some just thought that they don’t travel and still have money to spend and the right place for that is buying art.

The gallery was operating by appointment. But the virtual concept allowed Caroline to discover new and exciting ways to conduct the business. Tufenkian Gallery did on-line exhibitions, art talks, artists highlight and other events. One specific event used all the possibilities of a digital new era which she shares with excitement. She is talking about Arthur Sarkissian’s exhibition which was scheduled in May 2020. His son, who lives in Berlin, suggested doing it virtually instead of cancelling. “So, the artist and his works are in Yerevan. His son is in Berlin. And the gallery is here. What we did is a video of the panorama of the gallery — only the shelves, not the artworks. And we sent that to his son. He got the artwork images from Yerevan and ‘placed’ them on the wall by creating a really nice video and sent it back to us. That’s how we did the virtual exhibition.”

Going forward, Tufenkian Fine Arts is planning to implement newly learned and original methods to achieve even much more in the post-pandemic world.

Lais-Tufenkian is certain that in this digital age the future of the art is becoming even more important. “I don’t think it is going to replace the physical object. It is always going to have a value. When you are in front of an object of art it is a whole different experience,” she adds, while pointing at Farzad Kohan’s textured painting, as she is convinced it wouldn’t have the same look on the screen.

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