Aosta, on display angels and demons by Armenian Arshak Sarkissian

From July 30 to Nov. 6, the Saint-Bénin Center in Aosta is hosting 'Angels and Demons,' a solo exhibition by young Armenian artist Arshak Sarkissian.

TheDepartment of Cultural Heritage, Tourism, Sports and Commerce of the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta opens its doors until Nov. 6 to the exhibition Arshak Sarkissian. Angels and Demons at the Saint-Bénin Center in Aosta. The exhibition, curated by Dominique Lora, is dedicated to Armenian artist Arshak Sarkissian, an emerging figure in contemporary art, and features a rich selection of paintings, drawings, engravings and installations. Arshak Sarkissian (1981) lives and works between Jerevan and London. He began his artistic career at a very young age, combining the spirit of the classical world with contemporary elements and creating surreal characters between reality and invention, inspired by the masters of art history and Armenian folk tradition.

Curator Dominique Lora introduces the Aosta exhibition this way, “The artist is an emblematic son of his era as he experienced the end of the Soviet empire and the complex transition that resulted. As a polyphonic researcher who trespasses beyond the design dimension of the work, he experiments with and alternates expressive media such as painting, drawing, graphics, sculpture and installation, playing with signs, symbols and materials that, like Babelic idioms, mingle, overlap and reorganize. His worldview begins and is fulfilled through works steeped in memory, color, ancient and modern forms, imbued with humor and dense with collective drama.”

Sarkissian’s compositions are enlivened by bizarre figures, acrobats, commoners, storytellers, madmen, fishermen, monkeys, strange anthropomorphic animals or even outlandish creatures and freaks, caressed by a fixed and absorbed light. The artist portrays unusual subjects, whose bodies often become emblems, essential means of expression to which an alienating beauty is bestowed. Grotesque characters in classical poses, with faces of composed expression, reveal the drama of a magnetic humanity that attracts. His iconography is inspired by the everyday and a familiar world, treated with a melancholy detachment that gives his subjects a magical, elusive, unreal aura.

“Arshak’s painting,” writes Daria Jorioz, director of Exhibition Activities, in the catalog, “has been nourished by the lessons of restless masters such as Jieronymus Bosch, Francisco de Goya and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, has looked to the dreamlike dimension of Surrealism and in particular to Max Ernst, has been inspired by the entire history of ’art, perhaps even by the disturbing photographs of Diane Arbus and the alienating visions of Matthew Barney, to arrive at a personal and highly effective synthesis, which delivers a vision of the present that is complex but also solidly rooted in the past, from which very different artistic suggestions are grasped and reworked, without any preclusion.”

Also on display at the Saint-Bénin Center in Aosta are drawings and etchings inspired by the subject of Freak Shows and Francisco de Goya’s Caprichos. In this series of works Sarkissian moves away from his signature joyful compositions to experiment with a new structural quality. The mental space of the work becomes an imaginary map in which the artist reorganizes and traces his dreams, geographies, and architectures. The basis of his work are archival photographs of entertainers, the so-called Freaks, made famous to the general public by Tod Browning ’s 1932 film of the same name. Inspired by nineteenth-century black-and-white documentation, Arshak explores the origin and character of the contemporary body, recalling bodily representations and forms of the human anatomy now almost forgotten.

Finally, the exhibition is enriched by the installation Imaginary Souls, a theatrical setting composed of mysterious, disturbing but also magical and liberating masks and costumes that stage an encounter between humanity and nature, beauty and ugliness. The installation evokes a creative fantasy closely reminiscent of past masters such as Arcimboldo, Gustave Moreau and, more recently, cinematic works such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Each character expresses a state of ambiguity between fiction and reality, between love and death, moving elegantly in space while entering into a harmonious dialogue with the architecture of Aosta’s Saint-Bénin Center.

Councillor Jean-Pierre Guichardaz says, “We are delighted to host a young emerging artist such as Arshak Sarkissian, who allows us to dedicate an important space of our 2022 summer cultural programming to contemporary art and to introduce a country such as Armenia, whose 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Italy is being celebrated this year. Art and culture have always been a fundamental stimulus for dialogue, growth and peace between nations.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual (Italian, French) catalog published by Sagep, with texts by Dominique Lora and Daria Jorioz, which can be purchased at the exhibition for 20 euros. The exhibition, produced by Glocal Project Consulting in Rome, has obtained the patronage of theEmbassy of the Republic of Armenia in Italy.

Arshak Sarkissian lives and works between Jerevan and London. He expresses himself mainly through painting, drawing and sculpture. He has held several solo exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world. His first solo exhibition was presented in 1998 at the National Center of Aesthetics after Henry Igityan in Jerevan. Since then, his works have been shown at Albemarle Gallery in London, Gavriel Gallery in Bremen, Mildberry Gallery in Moscow, Vendôme Gallery in New York, AC Gallery in Ljubljana, Opus 39 Gallery in Nicosia, Ljubljana Museum of Modern Art, Tufenkian Gallery in LA, and Charlie Smith Gallery in London. Also in London, he received the prestigious Anthology Prize. Sarkissian recently presented a series of solo projects at the Prague Quadrennial, the Gyumri International Biennial and the Pharos Contemporary Center in Cyprus. The artist was commissioned a work for the passenger terminal ofZvartnots International Airport in Armenia. In 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Prize as the best young Armenian artist. His works are part of the permanent collection of international patrons, including the Francis Bloomberg Collection in New York, the Saatchi Collection in London, and the Nicos Pattichis Collection in Nicosia.

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Pictured: Arshak Sarkissian, The Bones of all Man (2022; ink on paper, 22x30 cm)

Aosta, on display angels and demons by Armenian Arshak Sarkissian
Aosta, on display angels and demons by Armenian Arshak Sarkissian

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