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 July 11 , 2003 

Eye of the Beholder: Revised Babajanyan statue fails to quiet dispute over art

The statue of the beloved musician is not at all like Yerevan's more traditional monuments..

On July 4 Yerevan mayor Yervand Zakharyan raised a white sheet to unveil (officially) the controversial statue honoring composer Arno Babajanyan at the corner of Teryan and Tumanyan streets in Yerevan.

The musician's famous "Nocturne" played as background music and on it rode a mix of applause and jeers.

"This is not a statue, this is a shame for our city," someone shouted.

Whether to be praised or slandered, the Babajanyan statue has become a lightning rod of artistic controversy, dividing onlookers into admirers who appreciate modern free expression and protestors who favor the solemn style of Soviet tradition.

The statue first appeared in Opera Square last September and before it could be officially presented it had created so much uproar that even President Robert Kocharyan weighed in on the debate. (Kocharyan questioned whether the statue was appropriate. Then-mayor Robert Nazaryan, who commissioned the piece, staunchly defended it.)

Public outcry was so great that the statue was dismantled and its creator, sculptor David Bejanyan was asked to make modifications.

Other artists defended Bejanyan's work, while intelligentsia, fans of the popular musician and traditionalists called it a disgrace.

At the heart of the dispute was the manner in which Bejanyan chose to portray Babajanyan, giving the musician a rather whimsical and exaggerated expression, and exceptionally long fingers that critics said made him look like a bird.

Bejanyan reluctantly agreed to alter the statue, saying that he would not compromise the general mood of the piece, but would tone down its caricature appearance.

After seven months the statue returned to its pedestal, where Babajanyan is represented, seated at a grand piano (made of Ukranian basalt). The bronze sculpture cost about $50,000, given by benefactor Ruben Hayrapetyan who said Bejanyan and an architect donated their work.

The artist made subtle changes, but not obvious enough to satisfy critics.

The revised Babajanyan has shorter fingers and his face is more realistic. But in a city filled with serious-faced, static statues of heroes, this one will no doubt continue to divide opinions of onlookers.

At the opening ceremony noted Armenian writers, art critics, painters and politicians made speeches. But all were accompanied by whistles and protests, some organized by the board of the Arno Babajanyan Foundation.

Artist Sos Sargsyan grew angry at the outcry during his speech and chastised the audience to "respect taste and perception of other people and behave as civilized people."

Poet and publicist Artem Harutyunyan philosophized that: "a ghost of Stalin's regime lives in many people's souls and it is a reason why the first installment of the sculpture was shamefully rejected underlining the lack of the taste. The more we have monuments like this one in our city the more our people will be progressive and there will be less cruelties and murders."

Philologist Zhenia Manaseryan said the monument is "not a sculpture but a grotesque something that has no relation with Arno Babajanyan."

But movie director Ruben Gevorgyants countered: "Arno himself, whom I used to know very well, was a collective character of wild emotions and his sculpture shouldn't be any different. It shouldn't be simple and ordinary and it shouldn't be something like a static figure."

Bejanyan, whose work can be found in France, Germany and several CIS countries, took the praise and criticism with equal measure. "When you create something that people talk a lot about and even criticize, it means there is something to be appreciated," the sculptor said.

One participant at the opening said the controversy is not about art, but about Armenian character.

"Our society has always liked to complain and protest irrespective of whether something has been done well or badly," said writer and publicist Aghasi Aivazyan. "I am sure that if instead of the monument Arno Babajanyan himself were standing there, they would again complain."

According to Agnes
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  Photos of the week
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The National Chamber Orchestra made a tour of Karabakh last weekend, including an open-air performance at the College of Applied Sciences in Shushi. THe Orchestra is back from a recent tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg.



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