From left, Amanda Quinn Olivar, Joan Agajanian Quinn, Gregory Wiley Edwards, Joe Fay, Bolton Colburn, and Susan Anderson, Saturday, October 29th, in the Armenian Museum of America, Watertown. (Kenneth Martin photo)

Artists from Quinn Exhibit Part of Talk at Armenian Museum of America

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WATERTOWN — Since June 16, the Armenian Museum of America has hosted the dual exhibition “On the Edge, Los Angeles Art 1970s-1990s from the Joan and Jack Quinn Family Collection” and “Discovering Takouhi: Portraits of Joan Agajanian Quinn.”

On Saturday, October 29, three of the artists whose works are on display, along with Joan Agajanian Quinn herself, Jack Quinn’s widow, and their daughter, Amanda, came together for a public conversation. Mostly known for its impressive ancient Armenian artifacts, the museum rarely hosts modern art exhibitions. The museum staff said it felt like a new start after COVID-19 and the lockdowns.

LA-based artists Laddie John Dill, Gregory Wiley Edwards, and Joe Fay were ready to start when there was a power outage in the neighborhood. Therefore, the moderator, Bolton Colburn, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Logan, Utah, spoke loudly to introduce the panelists. According to him, it was a one-of-a-kind art show as it allowed California art to be highlighted. The rest of the conversation took place in the dark, without microphones. However, many didn’t seem bothered and were captivated by the attending artists.

From left, AMA Executive Director Jason Sohigian, Art Collector and AMA Trustee Joan Agajanian Quinn, Boston fashion icon Alan Bilzerian, and AMA President Michele Kolligian, Saturday, October 29th, at the Armenian Museum of America, Watertown (Kenneth Martin photo)

Joan and Jack Quinn’s collection of modern art hasn’t been exhibited very often because it used to be private. Through the years, this power couple in the LA modern art scene collected numerous works of art and promoted several Southern Californian artists. Across Los Angeles, they were well known and loved by significant artists like Andy Warhol, Astrid Preston, Steven Douglas, and their collection, through their local connections, extended across the pond to David Hockney, one of the most celebrated modern British painters. The Quinns had an influence on the evolution of California’s modern art. During the panel conversation on Saturday, Joan and her late husband were thanked by artists and the audience.

Despite the California 1970s vibe, Joan has always kept close to her Armenian roots and has been a trustee of the Armenian Museum for years. That is why she and Jason Sohigian, executive director of the Armenian Museum, agreed on displaying her collection there: “The Bakersfield Museum, in California, already curated her collection, in 2021. But with Joan, we wanted to bring these works of art to the East Coast, and we were sponsored by the JHM foundation, which was interested in the show and who helped us underwrite the cost of the exhibit and bring it here. It’s our largest exhibition in 50 years and it features more than 75 artists,” Sohigian explained.

The third floor of the Armenian Museum needed renovations in order to host the exhibit and therefore the museum staff moved their offices to the fourth floor, next to the museum’s research library. The show was set up quickly since they were helped by Rachel Wainwright, Bakersfield Museum’s curator: “She came from California to see the gallery before the installation and was really excited about the space we had, so she said yes immediately,” Sohigian said. When the show closed in California, most of the artwork was sent to Watertown. Then, Wainwright returned to Boston with her husband, Harry, to hang the rest of the art.

Visitors and guests before the beginning of the public conversation, Saturday, October 29th, at the Armenian Museum of America

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A New Audience

In the past five months, the number of visitors had increased steadily, and their membership is higher than it has been in the past 16 years. “We do promotion on social media a lot, and the exhibition was reviewed by the press, not only the local one but also the Boston Globe, WBUR, and Jared Bowen, one of the most famous art reporters in Boston. That’s why on Saturday, while we were hoping to have at least 100 people, around 150 actually came, and we had to add chairs,” Sohigian noted.

“These are beautiful paintings, and as an Armenian, I’m proud to see how a woman of Armenian descent like Joan was such an important figure in the Los Angeles modern art society,” Lana Gurabian, a Watertown citizen, expressed.

In the back of the gallery, an entire room was dedicated to the exhibit “Discovering Takouhi,” Quinn’s Armenian name. It was filled with 30 of Quinn’s portraits, drawn by 28 Armenian painters. Quinn’s likenesses were hung all throughout the gallery, representing her in different shapes and textures. She was also featured in the main exhibition “On the Edge,” where, among others, Joe Fay’s colorful portrait of Quinn was on display.

Blake B. was gazing intently at Joan’s abstract and colorful face, painted by Aram Saroyan: “I’m here today because my family is friends with Joan and I’m glad I came because I don’t think we’ve ever had such an eclectic series in Boston before,” he said. As a non-Armenian, it was his first visit to the Armenian Museum. For Richard Freeman, it was only his second time here. This painter came to meet Dill, Edwards, and Fay and was one of the first visitors to sit and wait for them to talk: “I’ve been living in Watertown for many years, but I’ve rarely visited. When I learned about the event, I thought it would be a good opportunity to return,” Freeman said.

Post-Covid Era

Hosting this exhibit gave the museum the chance to start over after COVID-19. Because of lockdowns, they did many virtual programs, but the opening of the exhibition in June and the conversation with the artists this past Saturday were the first in-person events after COVID-19. According to Sohigian, most of the non-Armenian visitors were interested in the Armenian part and art. Last Saturday, before going up to the third floor, some even took the time to look around at the Armenian artifacts. “It has been a great success so far, and now we’re also hoping for more younger people or professionals to come. I would like to host a networking session and bring Armenian student clubs from universities,” Sohigian said. The museum was also contacted by many schools from the area for field trips, as part of classes on WWI and the Armenian Genocide. The first visits after the lockdown will return next week, with approximately 100 students planning to visit this month.

“They’ll come to see the Armenian section, but we’re also proud to show them our modern art section,” Sohigian noted.

This past Saturday was also an achievement for the LA-based artists speaking. They spent their afternoon discussing California art. One of the most widely mentioned topics was Quinn’s support for them. She was delighted to be there, rediscovering the gallery with the new visitors: “The most exciting thing is having the Watertown community come,” Joan admitted.

“Discovering Takouhi: Portraits of Joan Agajanian Quinn” gallery, Saturday, October 29th, in the Armenian Museum of America, Watertown

The power came back at the end of the afternoon: “When they finished talking, the light went on, and that was kind of interesting, at least people will remember it,” Sohigian said. They were able to continue the event with a reception and visitors stayed until 6 p.m. Thanks to its success, the exhibit will be extended past the new year, as Michele Kolligian, president of the museum’s Board of Trustees, announced during the event. Saturday’s discussion was recorded, and the museum is hoping to post the video on its website soon. Moreover, they’re discussing welcoming Armenian artists whose works are displayed for another public conversation.

To learn more about the museum and exhibitions, visit https://www.armenianmuseum.org/

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