THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
Birth of Yervant Kochar (June 15, 1899)
Either in photographs or personally, every Armenian has seen at least once the statues of David of Sassoun and Vartan Mamigonian in Yerevan. These are among the most recognizable symbols of the city—the David of Sassoun statue has transcended to become a national symbol—and are the work of one of the most remarkable Armenian artists of the twentieth century: Yervant Kochar.
Yervant Kochar (Kocharian) was born in Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia) in 1899. He graduated from the Nersisian Lyceum in 1918 and in the meantime (1915-1918) studied in the O. Schmerling School (Art School of the Caucasus Association for the Promotion of Fine Arts). After a year at the State Free Art Studio of Moscow, he returned to Tiflis in 1919 and participated in his first exhibition, the second fall show of Georgian painters in the same year. He received a diploma of professor of fine arts and technical studies from the Soviet Georgian government in 1921, and in 1922 he left to study abroad. He first sojourned in Constantinople and then in Venice; he had exhibitions in both cities. He settled in Paris by 1923, where his art enjoyed a good reception. His participation in the Salon of the Independents in 1928 was accompanied with scandal: two of his works were vandalized, and the press printed sympathetic echoes. Those works were the first examples of his new direction, “Painting in Space,” also called tri-dimensional painting. He gave his first solo exhibition in the same year. In an international exhibition, “Panorama of Contemporary Art,” also held in Paris (1929), Kochar presented his works, along with avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Georges Braque, Joan Miró, and others. He participated in exhibitions of French painters in Prague, Brno, Bratislava, New York, and Brussels (1935), and London (1936). Polish-French art critic Waldemar-George (1893-1970) defined his painting in the following terms: “The dimensional painting of Kochar is one of the conquests of modern art, as significant as the pure forms of Brâncuşi and the structures of Picasso and Braque . . . The dimensional painting has crushed the boundaries of sculpture and one-dimensional painting. It has reformed the visual laws, opening a third way before painters and sculptors. It is about time to tribute honors to Kochar the creator, which he truly deserves.”
Kochar was a well-known artist in French circles in 1936 when he decided, surprisingly, to repatriate to Soviet Armenia for good. However, his innovative art was not well-received by the regime, particularly in Stalinist times. He was charged with formalism, which was something tantamount to “enemy of the people,” the standard accusation that cost prison and exile to Siberia for many. He even was imprisoned on politically motivated charges between 1941 and 1943, but was eventually freed thanks to the intervention of two of his school friends, Anastas Migoyan and architect Garo Halabian. He married scholar Manig Mkrtchyan (1913-1984) and had two sons. Over the years, Kochar created graphic works, plaster busts, statues, and designs for theatrical plays. The political “thaw” after the denunciation of Stalin’s crimes in 1956 by Soviet strongman Nikita Khruschev helped him to achieve actual recognition. He created the statue of David of Sassoun in 1959, which was placed at the square of the Yerevan railway station, and won the State Prize of Armenia in 1967. He said: “Whatever you have seen at the studio, I do it myself. And this [the statue of David of Sassoun] is for Caesar. However, I pay Caesar with pure gold.”
His first solo exhibition in Yerevan, after thirty years, was held in 1965; other solo exhibitions followed in 1971 and 1978. His works were also exhibited in Moscow (1973) and Baku and Tbilisi (1974). He never traveled outside the Soviet Union, but his collected works were exhibited in Paris (1945 and 1966). He earned recognitions such as Emeritus Artist of Armenia (1956), People’s Artist of Armenia (1965), Soviet Order of Red Banner (1971), and People’s Artist of the Soviet Union in 1976. He created “The Eagle of Zvartnotz” (1955), the obelisk-type monument set at the entrance of the ruins of the church of Zvartnotz, near Holy Etchmiadzin. Some of his most important paintings of his last years were “Extasis” (1960), “The Disaster of War” (1962), and “The Muse of Cybernetics” (1972). His major last work, the statue of Vartan Mamigonian, was inaugurated in 1975 on Khanjian Street, near the actual location of the open-market Vernissage.
Yervant Kochar passed away in Yerevan on January 22, 1979. Five years later, a museum dedicated to his art opened near Yerevan’s Cascade. A street in the city bears his name, as well as the art school of the city of Hraztan.