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 Marcos (Marco) Grigorian  (1925 - 2007)

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Lived/Active: New York/Minnesota / Iran, Islamic Republic of/Armenia      Known for: modernist painting, sculpture, etching, acting, teaching, gallery owning

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GRIGORIAN, Marcos

(Marcos [better known as Marco] Grigorian, b. Kropotkin, Russia, 5 December 1925; d. Yerevan, 27 August 2007), Iranian-Armenian artist, actor, teacher, gallery owner, and collector who played a pioneering role in the development of Iranian modern art.

LIFE
The youngest of three children, Marco was born to Bagrat Grigorian and Šušanik Mangoian, both born in Kars, Armenia (Grigorian, 1989, p. 127). Before Marco was born, his parents defected to Kropotkin, Russia, and moved to Tabriz when he was five. In the same year Marco’s mother died of appendicitis, and his father moved the family to Tehran. In 1937, his father remarried, and they moved to New Julfa, in Isfahan. Marco was fifteen when his family moved back to Tehran again in 1940. He attended Alborz College and later Kamal-al-Molk Art School in 1948. Upon graduation in 1950, Marco went to Rome, and enrolled at the Academia di Belle Arti. He studied with cubist sculptor Roberto Melli (1885-1958) and held several exhibitions while there.

Marco returned to Iran in 1954 and opened Gallery Esthetique, one of the first modern galleries in Tehran. A cosmopolitan and a multifaceted artist, Grigorian introduced the Iranian audience to the unconventional arts and innovative European sensibilities. He started collecting and promoting a form of folk art commonly known as coffeehouse painting (naqqaši-ye qahvakana: Šah-nama-related paintings and popular religious murals found in coffeehouses).

In 1955 Marco married Flora Adamian in Tehran and returned to Rome. His only child Sabrina was born in Rome in 1956. Marco participated in the Venice Biennale for the first time that year. He then returned to Tehran and was appointed as the Head of the Graphic Department at the Ministry of Culture and Art. While there, he introduced new etching techniques to students and assumed a pivotal role in promoting the concept of drawing as distinct from painting and as a “self contained art”.

In 1958, Marco participated as the Iranian delegate and an International Jury member at the Venice Biennale. In the same year, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Art, Marco organized the First Tehran Biennial, attempting to coin a modern tradition with ethnic flavor.

In 1959, after two years of intensive work, Marco completed a succession of enormous murals centering on the topic of the Holocaust. Karim Emami described the paintings as a sequence of actions: “This is Auschwitz, any Auschwitz, the scene of man’s greatest atrocities against man”. The impressive series of twelve 6×10 feet panels was later published in the book, The Gate of Auschwitz (New York, 2002). During the same period, Marco started applying dirt to the center of his canvases. This became the starting point of his celebrated “Earthworks Series,” one that would focus on using earthen materials to symbolize man’s transient nature on earth.

Marco divorced his wife in 1960 and in the same year started acting in several Iranian films, most noted among them Arameš qabl azufan (Calm before storm, 1960). Having features similar to American actor Richard Widmark and a name close to the famous actor Gregory Peck, Marco chose the stage name of Gregory Mark. An energetic and talented performer, he played villains in many movies, soon specializing in anti-hero roles and conspicuously contrary characters. However, he eventually gave up his acting career to return to art.

In 1962 Marco moved to New York City and started a new phase in his artistic career. He was soon offered a teaching job at Minnetonka Center for the Arts in Wayzata, Minnesota, where he established the Universal Galleries. While there, he exhibited at Walker Art Center and for the first time showed part of his Holocaust murals.

In 1964 Marco returned to New York City’s art scene again and signed a contract with the Jason Gallery. He worked and lived in New York for several years until 1970, when he returned to Tehran and joined the Faculty of Fine Arts at Tehran University. In 1974 Marco formed the Independent Artists Group along with Mas'ud 'Arabšahi (b. 1935), Sirak Malkonian (b. 1931), Morteza Momayyez, and Golam-Hosayn Nami (b. 1936); He held several exhibits in the coming years including a major retrospective at the Iran-America Society.

In 1978 at the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Nelson Rockefeller admired Marco’s earthworks and later acquired four of his works. He met with Marco again in New York, purchased another of his earthworks, and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Marco returned to New York in 1980 and established Arshile Gorky Gallery, named after the Armenian abstract expressionist painter who committed suicide in the U.S.A. in 1948. There he exhibited the works of Iranian and Armenian artists for several years. On 10 June 1986 Marco lost his daughter to a massive heart attack. The tragedy caused a shift in Grigorian’s entire perspective and artistic priorities. He immersed himself in his other passion, that of Armenian folk art and rug weaving. He made several trips to Armenia and in 1993 established the Sabrina Near East Museum of Yerevan, where he housed his own works and exquisite collection. During the last twenty years of his life Marco organized several exhibits and weaving workshops in Armenia. Unfortunately, until Marco’s death no permanent premises or status had been given to his collection.

WORK
Grigorian was a trendsetter whose career began in the 1950s and spanned several countries. By establishing the First Tehran Biennial he was especially instrumental in opening up channels of communication for Iranian artists. He was one of the “international Armenians of the 20th century who brought fresh inventions to ancient pursuits”

Marco’s legacy lies in the variety and the extent of experimentation he demonstrated without constraints, a vision that already started in the first generation of modernist artists and one that he was able to actualize. With the emergence of the new artistic movements and the opening of more exhibition spaces in Tehran, many writers, critics, and artists began a critical examination of both the conceptual works and the visions behind them as related to local art production. At the time, many of Marco’s exhibitions generated a backlash and were particularly criticized. They were rejected with such harsh terms as “artistic plagiarism that have complicated the works of genuine researchers,” as “superficial,” and “the art of sieve and toilet paper, and as “imitations of the kind of art already considered old in the U.S.” On the other hand, however, he earned the appreciation of many for his modern artistic expressions and his innovative concepts, which defy the imitation of Old Masters .

Marco Grigorian was the winner of many national and international awards, including: Premio ENIT, Rome, and Le Olimpiadi Culturale della Gioventù (1952); First prize in Painting and First prize in Graphics at Milan National Exhibition of Academies (1953); First prize and Honorable mention in the First Tehran Biennial (1958); and a Silver medal at the New York International Art Exhibition (1970).  Marco’s work is included in several important public and private collections, among them the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran; Museum of Fine Arts, Tehran; Kerman Museum; Agenzia Nazionale del Turistica (ENIT), Rome; Nelson Rockefeller Collection, New York; Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca N.Y.; National Gallery and Near East Museum, Yerevan, Armenia; Central Bank of Cyprus, Nicosia; and Empress Farah Pahlavi’s Private Collection. 

Submitted by Mehrdad Noorani.

Source:
"Grigorian, Marcos", Encyclopaedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/grigorian


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