Joan Agajanian Quinn (Ken Martin photo)

WATERTOWN — The dual exhibits, “On the Edge: Los Angeles Art 1970s – 1990s from the Joan & Jack Quinn Family Collection” and “Discovering Takouhi: Portraits of Joan Agajanian Quinn,” currently on display at the Armenian Museum of America, merge the two facets of this woman: muse and supporter of the cool LA art scene as well as society patron in the Armenian community. It is hard to imagine anyone else able to draw a direct line connecting Andy Warhol to the Armenian International Women’s Association. Quinn does, however, and is equally at home in both worlds.

Joan Agajanian Quinn at the museum before the official opening (Aram Arkun photo)

The exhibits, which will be on display through November 30, feature remarkable works of art from some of the most notable post-modernist and Pop artists, including Ed Ruscha, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and David Hockney, as well as many notable artists from Armenia, which the Quinns collected over the past six decades. Most would be right at home at a major metropolitan museum.

(“We always called Andy [Warhol] a sponge because no matter what would come up, he would always sponge it up and use it for himself,” she said. “He was very good about making up his own persona.”)

The woman at the center of it all, Quinn, was present for the grand opening on June 16 and took part in a private tour before the official opening reception. It was uncanny to be next to the woman who was represented in myriad forms on every wall. Many of the artists have captured the colorfulness — literally and figuratively — of this delightfully bubbly muse. In person, she appears much as she does in many of the portraits surrounding her, bright and sparkling, complete with fuchsia-tinged hair and bedecked in chunky jewelry.

In the foreground, sculpture by George Herms, “Portrait of Joan Agajanian Quinn” (Aram Arkun photo)

Her entrée into the art world in the 1970s was through meeting Billy Al Bengston at a department store where they both worked. It was a short hop, skip and a jump to meeting Warhol and becoming the West Coast editor of his magazine, Interview, as well as eventual muse to and promoter of the new Pop artists of Los Angeles.

According to curator Rachel McCullah Wainwright, “This put her in a place where she could promote artists,” she said. In addition, her husband, Jack, who was a contractual attorney, helped many of the artists draw up more advantageous contracts.

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The art work at AMA is dazzling, vibrant and quite frankly, ridiculously expensive now. However, when the Quinns bought those works, they were often doing it as a favor to these artists who were living hand-to-mouth.

“I was very much supporting them,” Quinn said. “The artists weren’t known. They were just starting in their studios and there was a situation where Jack and I were just starting too. Jack was a new lawyer and we had friends who were artists. We would buy pieces for $10 or $20 a week.”

“Most of the time it was a very personal collection. Once the collection started, everyone wanted to be in it too,” Quinn said.

Thomas Ammann, Joan Agajanian Quinn, and Andy Warhol at Warwick (1979), Courtesy of Joan Quinn Archives

When asked why these artists, who found inspiration in so many different ways, all had been compelled to recreate her likeness in one medium or another, she protested and replied that the artists were merely showing their points of view and saw her as “a bowl of fruit.” Of course, with Quinn, probably no oranges and apples, but persimmons, pomegranates and passionfruit.

Speaking of the friendships she had with these artists and the certainly more louche lives they were leading, compared to Quinn and her family, which at that point included two young children, she said she really was not aware of drugs or anything untoward happening when she would host them at frequent dinner parties at home. She did joke that many artists would often go to the bathroom in pairs and stay there for longer than one would expect.

She joked, “Nobody ever invited me to the bathroom.”

David Hockney and Joan Agajanian Quinn in Hockney’s Studio (1979), Courtesy of Joan Quinn Archives

Quinn added that she helped spread the word about the artists and made introductions for them. “They didn’t know what publicity was. They didn’t know how to go about it,” she said.

“The collection is a manifestation of friendships,” Wainwright concurred. “The collection is succinct because she was buying these pieces as the artists were making them.”

She added, “A connection has been made between Joan and Gertrude Stein,” not only in the way they served as muses for artists, but also as art promoters.

Jack Quinn, Joan Agajanian Quinn, and Billy Al Bengston at Quinn Home in Beverly Hills, CA (1982), Courtesy of Joan Quinn Archives

Wainwright is an independent curator who also oversaw an exhibition of the Quinns’ artwork at the recent Bakersfield Museum of Art  exhibit in Bakersfield, Calif. “I witness daily the networking, making sure people are in the right room. She still plays a big role,” she said.

“This is the start of West Coast abstraction,” Wainwright added, “putting LA on the map. You see the overlapping of artists leaning into the subcultures of California, custom car culture, beatnik poetry, architecture, motorcycles” among others.

Many of these amazing works are at the Quinns’ home, while the spillover is at the corporate offices of the late Jack Quinn’s law firm in downtown Los Angeles. Jack Quinn died in 2017.

“I love them all. Each has its own personality, its own connection,” Quinn said. “It is a collection that grew, not a collection that was gathered,” Quinn said proudly.

The three curators, from left, Rachel McCullah Wainwright, Natalie Varbedian and Gina Grigorian (Aram Arkun photo)

Quinn was delighted with the work of Wainwright. “The whole goal and the whole way that she presents me is an academic approach. She made it so that people could come in and see what people were doing in the periods of years and what materials they were using. There is an academic piece to this,” Quinn said.

As Quinn was making her way through the exhibits and looking at different walls, she was delighted with the result. “I am so impressed with this space. I am really blown away how beautiful it is. It matches the name: edgy.”

Quinn is proud of her Armenian heritage. She is active with the AIWA Los Angeles chapter and also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Armenian Museum.

“I love my heritage. I get confidence from being Armenian. It’s support, I guess. I love being Armenian,” Quinn said.

She comes from a tight-knit family and embraces throwing down roots, allowing many of the nomadic artists to get nourishment from it. “She brought this idea of family and community to these artists,” Wainwright said.

Agajanian was born in Los Angeles into an affluent family. She met and married Jack Quinn at a young age.

Sometimes the two worlds collide, including with some Armenian-American artists whose work is at the current exhibit, namely John Altoon and Charles Garabedian.

Two works by John Altoon (Aram Arkun photo)

“Altoon was a great friend but he passed away so soon and Garabedian was also a great friend,” she said.

In a nod to the digital age, many of the works of art have QR codes which show Quinn interviewing the artists. Some of the codes send links to YouTube where viewers can see snippets of interviews Quinn conducted with them as part of her “Joan Quinn Profiles” or “Beverly Hills View” programs, which she has hosted for decades. In addition to working at Interview, she was society editor of Los Angeles Herald Examiner, editor at Stuff Magazine and founding West Coast Editor of Condé Nast Traveler.

Quinn dresses boldly and accessorizes liberally. In fact, the day of the tour of the museum, she was wearing a chunky gold bracelet with a dangling globe. Right at that moment, those present noticed that in fact it was one of the bracelets captured in the abstract by Basquiat.

Jean-Michel Basquiat “Joan’s Hands,” 1986, Graphite on paper. Courtesy of the Joan and Jack Quinn Family Collection
A chunky bracelet that Joan Agajanian Quinn was wearing during a walk-through of the exhibit, which was also in some of the paintings on the walls (Aram Arkun photo)

When asked what was next for her, she chuckled and said, “To live for a while!” She added later, “I want to keep doing what I am doing.”

The exhibit is divided by several different schools. One, from the noted Ferus Gallery, is significant for many reasons, but especially because it was the first gallery dedicated to artists who lived and worked in LA. Prior to that, the works exhibited only came from the East Coast or San Francisco.

A companion exhibit to “On the Edge” is “Discovering Takouhi,” curated by Natalie Varbedian and Gina Grigorian. Both hail from LA and both expressed their gratitude for being able to curate the exhibit, which would go a long way toward helping their careers.

Varbedian noted that she had also worked on the Bakersfield exhibit.

Grigorian graduated last year from the University of California, Davis, and just received her BFA degree from the Parsons School of Design in New York.

“I am very grateful. I learned a lot from it,” she said, though she noted she would continue in fashion.

Many of the works in that exhibit were created in honor of  the 2000 Venice Biennale, the first time Armenia participated in the bi-annual international exhibit, and for which Quinn was the honorary chairperson.

The “Takouhi” exhibit, in the Terjanian-Thomas Gallery, while small is dazzling, filled with portraits of Quinn in different textures and media, from watercolor and oil to charcoal, painted fleece and even one with Uchida pens (by Aram Saroyan). It is witty and engaging, capturing Quinn in many ways, including a nude with a tiny version of her in her arms. (Takouhi is Quinn’s Armenian name.)

“Taquhie,” 2013, Watercolor painting on fleece, by Lenore Tolegian Hughes (Aram Arkun photo)

Said Grigorian, “I would like people stepping in her to feel her personality, her vibrancy. She is very extravagant.”

Varbedian added, “She has a relationship with the artists. She promotes these Armenian artists.”

Quinn herself was delighted with the works as well as the setup. “I really love that. It is not a vanity project. I did not pose for those. It shows the styles of those artists.”

Michele Kolligian and Jason Sohigian (Ken Martin photo)

Michele Kolligian, president of the museum’s Board of Trustees, said, “’On the Edge’ and ‘Discovering Takouhi’ bring together the largest contemporary exhibitions in the Armenian Museum of America’s 50-year history. Thanks to a generous grant from the JHM Foundation, the Adele and Haig Der Manuelian Galleries have been transformed into a modern, cutting-edge space for the museum to exhibit the extensive collection into two exhibits, which will be on display from June 16 to November 30, 2022. Our membership is at an all-time high since we launched a campaign to mark the Museum’s 50th anniversary. We are very grateful to Joan Quinn and her family for loaning this collection to the Armenian Museum as we celebrate this special milestone year, and for her vision that with these exhibits the Armenian Museum will now enter a new era for showcasing contemporary art.”

Wall of art at Armenian Museum (Aram Arkun photo)

Jason Sohigian, the executive director of the museum added, “This exhibit is vast with 125 works by more than 75 artists. It is only the second time many of these pieces have been on display for the public, the first being at the Bakersfield Museum of Art last year. In addition to many of the top names from California in the world of contemporary art, the ‘On the Edge’ exhibit features two Armenian artists, John Altoon and Charles Garabedian. The ‘Discovering Takouhi’ exhibit highlights 30 portraits by 28 Armenian artists. We welcome visitors to the view the exhibits and hope everyone will encourage their family and friends to come to the Museum if they are visiting the Boston area. There are two color printed catalogues available for purchase online or in our gift shop, featuring many of the works on display, including personal commentaries by the artists, the Curator, and the Quinn family.”

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Joan Agajanian Quinn stands in the Armenian Museum of America with many of the works dedicated to her (Aram Arkun photo)



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