From left, Joan Agajanian Quinn, Nina Festekjian and Amanda Quinn Olivar

Joan Agajanian Quinn and Daughter Offer Peak at Artistic Life at AIWA Fundraiser

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WINCHESTER, Mass. — The Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) program, “An Evening with Joan Agajanian Quinn” on October 28, at the home of Raffi and Nina Festekjian, presented an occasion to hear from the noted art collector, as she was interviewed by her daughter, Amanda Quinn Olivar, about her fascinating role in the nascent West Coast art world in the 1960s.

The event also raised funds for the various scholarships that AIWA awards annually.

Vice President of the AIWA Central Board Zela Astarjian got the program started by speaking about the goals of the organization for women globally, including health and wellness, economic improvement and education. She explained that as part of the health and wellness, AIWA is focusing on among other things, domestic violence, and sponsoring the work of the Women’s Support Center in Armenia.

AIWA has handed out 58 scholarships for a total of $80,000 for the 2022-23 academic year, she said.

Among those who have established scholarships was Chris Aharonian, who established a scholarship for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), in the name of her mother, Lucy Kasparian Aharonian. Through AIWA, Aharonian hands out three $1,000 scholarships annually.

One of the newer scholarships was by Dr. Patti Fletcher, who dedicated the Arshalous Tashjian Medzorian scholarship, named in honor of her grandmother, in partnership with AIWA. She explained that her grandmother, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, “ lost agency of her own life and instilled in us the importance of education.” The scholarships will be given to women 30 and over, a group that she said was not typically able to enjoy scholarships.

Barbara Merguerian, left, with Amanda Quinn Olivar

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Family Lore and Art

Joan Agajanian Quinn and her late husband, Jack, were prodigious art collectors, becoming an integral part of the Southern California pop art, with a collection that would be hard to put a price on. She was appointed to the boards of the California Film Commission and the California Arts Council. She is a member of the executive committee of AIWA, the Cedars-Sinai Hospital Arts Advisory Council, is a vice-president of the L.A. Music Center’s Blue Ribbon and is a trustee for the Armenian Museum of America.

A part of Joan Agajanian Quinn’s collection is currently on display at the museum in an exhibit titled “On the Edge: Los Angeles Art 1970s – 1990s from the Joan & Jack Quinn Family Collection.” It has a companion exhibit, “Discovering Takouhi: Portraits of Joan Agajanian Quinn,” featuring exclusively Armenian artists.

The Quinns, in conversation, held the rapt attention of the hundred or so guests, as they hashed over a big chunk of history of modern American art, which also doubled as family stories.

Olivar, the editor-in-chief of curator.guide, a contemporary design and art platform, said at the outset of the talk that her parents had not wanted to display publicly their remarkable art collection before. However, she added, her mother agreed to the exhibit at the Armenian Museum of America and at museums in California earlier, to educate viewers.

Joan Agajanian Quinn and her daughter, Amanda, with host Nina Festekjian

Quinn, often called a muse to Andy Warhol, gave some background about her family, noting that her grandfather had come over the early 1900s from Kars and put down roots in Los Angeles. Both her parents, she noted, were born in Los Angeles and assimilated so totally that neither spoke Armenian at home. Ironically, she said, “you then have children who want to become part of the Armenian community.”

Quinn explained how she came to be interested in the arts through her artistic mother, while her daughter echoed the sentiment and  the two reminisced at length about the various points in Quinn’s life where she bumped into artists. For example, Dora De Larios, the noted Mexican-American sculptor and ceramist, whose works she collects now, was a classmate in elementary school and later a colleague. “She loved art always wanted to work with her hands,” Quinn recalled.

Another artist whose works ended up in her collection was the late Billy Al Bengston, with whom she worked at a department store in Los Angeles. Quinn, Bengston and De Larios all worked at the department store. Later, she and De Larios and their husbands would get closer. “Those were my friends. We would meet together as a couple,” she said, referring to her husband, Jack Quinn, and De Larios and her husband, architect Bernard Judge.

The mother and daughter continued to speak about artists who were friends of the Quinns, whose works the couple would purchase because they loved the pieces, but also sometimes as favors to the down-on-their-luck artists, or even in lieu of payment for legal work done by Jack Quinn.

Quinn again said what her motto is for building her incredibly valuable collection: “None of it was bought for investment. Do not collect to invest. If you are going to collect, be passionate about it.”

Quinn went down memory lane, speaking about her crossing paths with Andy Warhol, and eventually becoming the West Coast editor of his Interview magazine. Through her travels for work, she met and became close  with British artist David Hockney and designer Zandra Rhodes.

From left, Maral Ayanian, Araz Arslanian and Sylvie Zakarian

Joe Fay, whose work appears in the current Armenian Museum exhibit, was also at the program. He spoke briefly and said he had moved to Los Angeles from Montana as a young man because he was a surfer as well as an artist. He had this advice: “You should do what you want to do, not what you have to do.”

So many of those artists in Quinn’s orbit then, including Warhol, Hockney, Jean-Michel Basquiat and photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Helmut Newton, ended up capturing her. (Quinn joked that she had an intense negotiation session with Newton, the famed art and fashion photographer whose work often captured models in the nude or in erotic poses. Hers was very demure by comparison, with just a peak of a shoulder, she said.)

Again and again, it was delightful to hear the names of artists as family friends. As an aside, Olivar said that Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead), who found fame as one of the most famous drag queens of the 1970s and 1980s, and starred in several cult movies by writer and director John Waters, including “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray,” babysat her and her twin sister, Jennifer.

Guests pose with Joan Agajanian Quinn.

Following the program, guests were treated to dinner and a chance to speak to Quinn.

A full list of this year’s scholarship recipients and the schools they are attending can be found on the AIWA website, https://www.aiwainternational.org/scholarships.

The “On the Edge” exhibit at the Armenian Museum, due to popular demand, has been extended.

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