HAYART: A safe contemporary art hub in Armenia


HAYART: A safe contemporary art hub in Armenia

Armenia does not figure prominently on the map of contemporary art. However, it has an interesting history, a promising present, and hopefully a successful future. HAYART Cultural Center in the heart of Yerevan is a place and institution deeply involved in promoting and developing contemporary art in this country. Our conversation with the HAYART’s Marine Karoyan turned out to be very exciting. She revealed the fascinating history of her institution, the numerous problems it currently faces, and its projects and visions for the future.    

Text: Tigran Zakaryan 


A forerunner in Armenia 

Contemporary art in Armenia does not have a long history, however its beginning was quite eventful and remarkable to the degree that its story can be rendered by the artists involved in it in the language of contemporary art. The HAYART building was built in 1985 as an exhibition ground for modern art (not to be confused with the Modern Art Museum established in 1972). It was innovative to the core, including, for instance, its circular walls, which differed from the “regular” walls of other exhibition halls, intended for hanging paintings.



The building's fame came from an art group named Third Floor. It gathered several young contemporary artists who were allowed to hold an exhibition at the Artists’ Union of Armenia. Their works displayed were made from discarded items collected from the rooftop space of the future Hayart’s two-story building, technically called the “third floor". This was the herald of the epic arrival of contemporary art in Armenia in 1987 amid Gorbachevian glasnost and other reforms, marking a mitigation in the government pressure on art and the society as a whole. 

The technical implementation of the exhibition was quite a bumpy and admittedly a funny one as well. The thing is that the rooftop offered to the young artists was,  in fact, a small wasteland which they had to clean. However, those creative young people turned this laborious task into a piece of art, making sense of out of chaos. They made a list of items of the garbage, seemingly a technical procedure, and decided to read out the list from the rostrum as a manifesto during the conference of the Artists Union in Yerevan in 1987. Apart from that, they set up an art installation out of the garbage collected from the rooftop. “These were revolutionary acts for those times,” recalls Marine, who witnessed and participated in those remarkable events. 



Does modern Armenia need contemporary art? 

It was only in 1997 that the space was reconceptualized as HAYART Cultural Center under the jurisdiction of the Yerevan Municipality. The first years following independence were unfavorable for the institution's activities, as it faced all kinds of financial and technical problems. However, it managed to survive somehow on meager resources, mainly thanks to the people devotion and enthusiasm of the people involved in it. In the mid-2000’s the idea of the center was reconceptualized. Under the new strategy, it turned into a business-like entity, renting its space, and engaging in activities that had nothing to do with the initially announced ones.

This course of action continued even under the new government established in 2018, however, COVID-19 brought radical changes to economic life, including the businesses located under the roof of HAYART. 



In service of reviving contemporary art in Armenia 

“I got the proposal for the position of director in 2021, just after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, and everyone was really disheartened. Initially, I wanted to reject the offer, but then I had a second thought; maybe that could be the service I owed to Armenia, and then I agreed. I have no doubt now that was a correct decision. It is a heavy responsibility, of course, and it certainly would have been easier if the city authorities were more cooperative,” Marine explains her motives for heading HAYART. 

The building of HAYART is very much an integral part of the whole idea behind the center. “It is a great place for modern art;, although created not exactly for that, it turned out perfectly fit for the mission of housing modern art. Unfortunately, some of the previous managers of HAYART weren’t even aware of the exact space this institution was legally entitled to,” Marine says, adding: “This is a place which is open to changes,, it is very much adaptable. " 
Speaking about the plans for the future, the HAYART director notes that the current dynamic development in all spheres of human activities, including, most importantly, art and technology, requires higher adaptability to new circumstances and more competitive and flexible models of art management. These values are shared by the HAYART’s creative and young team. 

“Until recently, I only accidentally had come across the term ‘horizontal management,’ and it was in a book I read. I didn’t have any idea what it looked like in practice. But in the HAYART team, I see this displayed in practice,” Sona Arsenyan, who is in charge of arranging exhibitions, says. 



Think big, think future 

Despite all kinds of pits and bumps HAYART faces, its team looks impressively optimistic. 

“We are interested in not only developing the genres of art performance and art installations in Armenia, but also look at what’s new in the world. For instance, Cyber art, other types that synthesize different genres, branches of art, and styles are in the focus of our attention, and we try to localize them, so that our artists here have their say in those global trends,” Marine says talking about the future plans for her center. No wonder HAYART was actively involved in the DigiTech expo 2023, Cyberfest-15, and other events that bring together modern technologies, media, and art.

Looking back at the four decades of history of the HAYART building and the institution itself, it is somewhat reminiscent of Armenia’s history of those times. It starts with a revolt, then goes through a stage of stagnation, and currently looks into creative solutions and brighter prospects amid great challenges. Yet the hope which makes the world turn around is always there. 

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