- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 August 8, 2003 

Art Critique: Proposed Cascade design draws praise and criticism

One proposed design would put a large wave of glass atop the cascade.

For decades, the Cascade complex has been a Yerevan landmark, with its 800 or so white stone steps reaching from the city center up the long hill to Victory Park.

But for much of the past two decades, the massive structure has also been an eyesore, as its construction was left incomplete and its very steps seeming to stop in their tracks when money ran out. Left in the path of interrupted development were rusting and broken bits of construction infrastructure that never got a chance to fulfill its place in what would have been a proud centerpiece for the capital.

New life is breathing again, though, at the Cascade. Escalators now run, taking passengers who do not wish to brave the Armenian sun with a hike up those steep steps. All around, construction workers are busy making cosmetic repairs. And recently flowers have been planted where for so many years there was nothing but trash and weeds.

Along the entryway connecting the great statue of Yerevan's designing architect Tamanyan with the foot of the stairs, new water pipes pump irrigation into the grassy borders that end with the whimsical Botero "Cat" sculpture.

It is clear that soon (certainly by Yerevan construction standards), the Cascade will finally reach the prominent stature it has been denied since funds dried up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The crowning jewel of the Cascade will be a $20-30 million art museum, intended to bring the works of the world's greatest artists for permanent display here.

Named for the benefactor of the Cascade reconstruction, the Jerard L. Cafesjian Modern Art Museum will be a multi-million dollar complex. It will include a home for Cafejian's private glass art collection that includes major works by renowned artists Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova, whose monumental sculptures have pushed the limits of the glass medium and takes the studio movement into the realm of fine art.

But for all its promise and good intentions, plans for the museum are being met with criticism by some who say none of three proposed designs are not appropriate for a museum in Yerevan.

On July 29, members of the Creative Union (architects, painters, writers, theatre figures and composers) held a press conference to voice their displeasure with designs that had earlier had been unveiled by the Cafesjian Foundation.

Typical of how such major projects are developed, late last year the Foundation held an international tender for design and construction. Out of 35 entries, three bids (one each from New York, Rotterdam, Vienna) were selected, from which one will be chosen.

The view from the top of how things might look in three years.

In a landscape vastly dominated by Soviet-style design, either choice would bring dramatic change to the rather square pattern that governs most construction, even that intended for artistic purposes.

As a main feature of the museum will be the glass collection, so it seems that its design will rely on sculptured glass frameworks, one of which would top off the Cascade with a giant ocean-like wave of glass.

"The proposed projects are interesting, but not for our city," said the head of the Union of Architects, Mkrtich Minasyan. "They can be used in Tokyo or somewhere else but not here. We lose the face of our city and our architectural traditions."

Minasyan further said that the architects of the original Cascade -- Jim Torosyan, Sargis Giurzadyan and Aslan Mkhitaryan - should be consulted.
To put up the new structure based only on the vision of outsiders, organizers of the meeting said, would "damage the interior of Armenian architecture by ignoring the Armenian architects".

"It is a violation of the authors' rights," says head of the Union of Theatre Figures and Art Director of the Paronyan Theatre, Yervand Ghazanchyan. "How would, for instance, head of the Union of Painters Karen Aghamyan accept the fact if he paints a picture and someone comes and starts painting a cat or I don't know what else, sitting in the corner?"

The city's Chief Architect, Narek Sargsyan attended the press conference, and defended the Cafesjian project, saying that many cities in the United States wished to have the Cafesjian collection and that Armenians should be pleased that he chose to place it here.

When the Foundation unveiled the three plans on July 18 its executive director, John Waters, emphasized that the complex will become a center for many kinds of entertainment and will contribute to tourism development.
Yerevan art critic Henrik Igityan said the museum will put Armenia on the map as a site of internationally-significant art.

"There is no museum with such a collection not only in the region, but also in the CIS countries," Igityan said. "For instance, there are works of Picasso in Saint Petersburg. And to see modern glass collection and works of famous artists it is more convenient for CIS art critics to come to Armenia, than go to the USA."

Not all architects agree that the new design would be offensive.

"This new construction will make an interesting contrast with the heavy stone buildings of Yerevan," said architect Armen Nahapetyan.

"While this construction will be done in a modern style, it still will go with the general style of Yerevan and will contain elements typical for Armenian architecture," the executive director added.

Responding to the question of why an Armenian architect was not selected for the job, Waters said: "We weren't able to find here any architectural association known in the world, but Mr. Cafesjian has a very high opinion regarding Armenian architects and what they have created."

According to the Foundation, a final design will be selected in a few months. The complex is expected to be completed in 2006.

According to Agnes
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