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Art Insight #7: Jean Boghossian

President of the Boghossian Foundation

Jean Boghossian

A Passion for Contemporary, a Destiny Drawn to Art

Haig Aivazian <Hastayim Yasiyorum(I am sick, but I am alive)> 2014 Wood and polyester varnish 235×40×100cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg ⓒ Piero Demo

The 2015 Golden Lion Award of the 56th Venice Biennale, often dubbed the Nobel Prize of art, was awarded to the Armenian pavilion. The exhibition was organized to mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, for which it was highly publicized. The pavilion was located on a remote island away from the main collage of Venice, which did not seem to concern the art professionals who were more than willing to take the time to visit the “Armenity” exhibition. Though the engaging narrative history was a major attraction, the solid planning and substantive implementation of the exhibition, owing largely to the support of the Boghossian Foundation headed by Armenian entrepreneur Jean Boghossian, was undeniable.

The Boghossian Foundation was established in 1992 by Robert Boghossian and his two sons, Albert and Jean, a family well established in the jewelry trade. Albert manages all accounting related tasks while Jean is engaged chiefly in presidential duties. The Boghossian Foundation works in art with offices located in Antwerp, Geneva, and Brussels, working as a cultural crossroads for the East and West. So the foundation’s sponsorship of the Armenian pavilion at the Biennale was no coincidence, considering its influential role in the art world. Jean is not only the founder, president, and main collector of the Boghossian Foundation, but also an artist in his own right. We sat down with the multifaceted man of art to discuss his philosophy and vision.

We always thought, “Art is a universal language with which people can communicate void of aggression.” In 2006, as if by destiny, the foundation acquired the Villa Empain, an Art Deco jewel of Brussels architecture. -Jean Boghossian-

The Boghossian Foundation

Q. What goals did you have in establishing the Boghossian Foundation? Can you describe the foundation’s most important achievements or milestones thus far?

The Boghossian Foundation was established with humanitarian purposes in Armenia, the homeland of my family, as it became an independent nation in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union collapsed. But at the time, we were also being faced with a dire economic situation, and to make matters worse, the country was devastated by an earthquake that left behind more than 80,000 casualties. It was those series of circumstances that lit a fire in our family, a desire to become actively involved in humanitarian efforts for our nation. For its first 15 years, the Boghossian Foundation pooled its resources toward improving the living conditions of young people in Armenia and Lebanon in order to encourage a better future for them. Through the foundation, we established orphanages in Armenia, Syria, and Lebanon. We made water available to isolated regions, built art schools and a technical school in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. We began looking into providing financial backing to social, educational, artistic, and environmental projects. When an intense second earthquake, the 1988 Armenian earthquake, hit the city of Gyumri, the second largest in the nation, the Boghossian Foundation initiated a variety of projects to support the relief effort. In 2002, the city of Gyumri recognized the efforts of me and my two sons, appointing all three of us as honorary citizens of the city. Although we were away from our homeland, we wanted to give back to our people the quality of life we had grown to take for granted.

  • Hera Buyuktasciyan <The keepers> 2015 12 casted hands in wax and bronze 19×9cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo

    Q. In 2006, your sons brought changes major to the foundation. It was announced that the foundations would become more future-oriented, embodying a vision for the future, and creating a center of art and dialogue that would serve as the cultural crossroads of the East and West. What was the background to that transformation?

    We always thought, “Art is a universal language with which people can communicate void of aggression.” In 2006, as if by destiny, the foundation acquired the Villa Empain, an Art Deco jewel of Brussels architecture. We wished to remain anonymous concerning that opportune event, particularly because we started the foundation as a family commitment, but it was necessary to gather people who shared our thoughts and passion in a place that was not temporary. As our beachhead for art to spread our vision, the Villa Empain opened its doors to the public in 2010 and has since then hosted exhibitions, conferences, international meetings, and other activities. Since the foundation acquired and fully renovated the Villa, it has grown even more devoted to art, rewarded by the many who visit, drawn by the attraction of the mystical and picturesque architecture.

  • Mekhitar Garabedian <Untitled (Gurgen Mahari, The world is alive, Venice)> 2015 Neon Site specific installation Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Albert Baronian Gallery, Brussels. ⓒ Piero Demo

    Q. As president and director of the Boghossian Foundation, your efforts can be found behind the support of countless art events and exhibitions. Do you have a particularly memorable one?

    “Turbulences II,” which opened in June 2013, was a highly successful exhibition opened in partnership with the Louis Vuitton Foundation. It was a very well received exhibition that many visitors claimed to have returned to again and again. The idea for “Turbulences II” was inspired by the first “Turbulences” exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. I saw that the exhibition was composed of works by a dozen artists, and wanted to add more. So I did. I coordinated with the director and curators at the Louis Vuitton Foundation and selected 38 artists for a follow-up exhibition. It was the most thematically eclectic show to be presented by the foundation, in terms of bringing together the ancient and the contemporary. The choices were largely mine. Contemporary art gives me a sense of spiritual liberation, and I wanted the audience to be similarly inspired through it.
    “The Blue Route” opened in September 2013, and was also a deeply meaningful exhibition that comes to mind. The exhibition followed the footsteps of the Silk Road through the color blue, as it inspired artists, craftsmen, and poets for centuries, both in the East and West alike. We opened with the works of major artists such as Pierre Alechinsky, Yves Klein, and Joan Miró, and it was a definitive exhibition for the Boghossian Foundation in terms of both theme and form.

Mikayel Ohanjanyan <Tasnerku> 2015 Mixed size basalt blocks and discs of corten steel Ø120cm each disc Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Tornabuoni Arte Gallery, Florence ⓒ Piero Demo

Q. The Boghossian Foundation has interests beyond art, often organizing interdisciplinary events such as conferences for art, philosophy, and history. The diverse presentations at the Villa Empain, for instance, gather artists and professors who seek a common goal of better understanding the relationship between the East and the West. What is your motivation in this brood approach?

Art is a universal language, a language of tolerance. The Boghossian Foundation is humanitarian, but also a very humanistic foundation. Our interest lies in speaking the language of art to create a dialogue of Eastern and Western cultures. To that end, our information, documents, files, and works are open for public viewing. That is what we chose. Our attachment to cultural exchange comes from our background, the journey we have been on. Our heart still moves with our homeland Armenia, although we migrated to Belgium many years ago.

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian <Treasures> 2015 Manuscript, collages, digital images and small glass bottles. Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo

Q. That propensity you have described is surely visible in your personal collection.

Neither my personal nor the foundation’s collection is limited to contemporary works of art. Our collection is defined by where we come from, and is a reflection of our way of life. We do have a penchant for the works of Central Asian artists, and in particular Oriental paintings with themes that resonate with our sentiment. We also have a collection of items related to another project that is less art-oriented. That collection includes jewels, combs, cigarette holders, tobacco boxes, perfume bottles, and such paraphernalia. It includes exquisite craftwork from Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Fabergé, the spectrum ranging from the ancient to the present.

Jean Boghossian <Lignes> 2013 Burning on canvas, mixed technique 200×200cm

Q. Even from our conversation so far, your passionate love for art is quite evident. Am I right to guess that this ardor comes from your artist side?

Becoming an artist was not a surprising thing. I gravitated towards it, even as a young boy. Coming from a family of Armenian jewelers, it was necessary for me to learn the hows of drawing, the technical aspects of it, from an early age. Six, actually. I was 35 when I began pursuing art in earnest. It came at an unexpected moment. My son was nine at the time, and for his Christmas gift, I purchased an easel and tubes of watercolor paints, with which I found myself painting. I guess I had unleashed a desire to paint. Soon after, I enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Boitsfort, and the artists and teachers from all walks of life whom I met during my 15 years living in Uccle helped me along the way. The heavy influence of ornament and jewelry design background was obvious, but as my interests gradually broadened toward the institutional, to art fairs, galleries, and exhibitions, I found myself traversing various periods of art history. Although I did go through a phase of shutting myself in the studio and narrowing my attention to the point of abstraction, my works now are done on paper and canvas that all bear, at different degrees, traces of burn degradation. Through that process of willful damage, I once again ask what it means to paint today, exploring through diverse means how I would express myself. The works can feel like burning is an invasive and aggressive method, but I think it is the most poetic means to combine media, in which this case is paint, wood, and canvas.

Jean Boghossian <Green book> 2013 Burned book, mixed technique 48(l)×l.37×13(h)cm

Q. You have carefully kept Villa Empain distinct of your career as an artist. The Art Deco architecture of the Villa is completely void of your works and exhibitions.

I have absolutely no intention to use the Villa Empain as a space for personal publicity. My artistic career must be kept separate from the purposes of the Boghossian Foundation. Instead, they are presented around Brussels in venues such as the Black Box Studio, Galerie Guy Ledune, and Bibliotheca Wittockiana. An untitled work of mine was presented at the YoungEun Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwangju, in 2012. The cultural interest of the Korean people that I encountered at the time was deeply inspiring.

Q. Can you provide some insight into the vision of the Boghossian Foundation? In which direction will you head, in terms of supporting contemporary art?

Expanding our collection of creditable works transcending time and space will be a priority. We have a strong desire to collect. And I am proud, and pleased that the Boghossian Foundation is now in a better position than at its time of establishment to purchase even greater works of art from both the East and the West. Another plan we have at the Foundation revolves around the promotion of young artists. We want to give young artists an opportunity to exhibit at the Villa Empain and gain residency experiences in Belgian or European academies. The Boghossian Foundation Prize is awarded every year to three young artists who each receive a sum of 10,000 dollars, and an invitation to take up a residency at the Villa Empain. The award is given to young Lebanese artists for the purpose of promoting and strengthening links between the East and West through art, and we will be gradually expanding the program. The depth of our commitment and the breadth of support for art will continue to grow. In 2013, I had the pleasure of once again visiting Korea, as I was invited to the Cheongju International Craft Biennale. I came to deeply appreciate and develop a profound respect for the openness of the culture, and the earnest attitude of artists in applying themselves to the process. I look forward to building lasting relationships and solidarity with Korean institutions and foundations, in terms of education, arts, and culture. As if by destiny, my path has led me to art, and my passion for it grows only deeper with time. ■with ARTINPOST

  • Aikaterini Gegisian <A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas> 2015 Collages on paper Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Kalfayan Galleries, Athens/Thessaloniki ⓒ Piero Demo

    Aikaterini Gegisian <A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas> 2015 Collages on paper Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Kalfayan Galleries, Athens/Thessaloniki ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi <Rotolo armeno> 1991 Watercolor on paper 15.5×10.5cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artists ⓒ Piero Demo

    Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi <Rotolo armeno> 1991 Watercolor on paper 15.5×10.5cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artists ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Haig Aivazian <Hastayim Yasiyorum(I am sick, but I am alive)> 2014 Wood and polyester varnish 235×40×100cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg ⓒ Piero Demo

    Haig Aivazian <Hastayim Yasiyorum(I am sick, but I am alive)> 2014 Wood and polyester varnish 235×40×100cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Haig Aivazian <Hastayim Yasiyorum(I am sick, but I am alive)> 2014 Wood and polyester varnish 235×40×100cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg ⓒ Piero Demo

    Haig Aivazian <Hastayim Yasiyorum(I am sick, but I am alive)> 2014 Wood and polyester varnish 235×40×100cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Hera Buyuktasciyan <The keepers> 2015 12 casted hands in wax and bronze 19×9cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo

    Hera Buyuktasciyan <The keepers> 2015 12 casted hands in wax and bronze 19×9cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Mekhitar Garabedian <Untitled (Gurgen Mahari, The world is alive, Venice)> 2015 Neon Site specific installation Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Albert Baronian Gallery, Brussels. ⓒ Piero Demo

    Mekhitar Garabedian <Untitled (Gurgen Mahari, The world is alive, Venice)> 2015 Neon Site specific installation Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Albert Baronian Gallery, Brussels. ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Mikayel Ohanjanyan <Tasnerku> 2015 Mixed size basalt blocks and discs of corten steel Ø120cm each disc Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Tornabuoni Arte Gallery, Florence ⓒ Piero Demo

    Mikayel Ohanjanyan <Tasnerku> 2015 Mixed size basalt blocks and discs of corten steel Ø120cm each disc Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist and Tornabuoni Arte Gallery, Florence ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Nigol Bezjian <Witness.ed> 2015 Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo

    Nigol Bezjian <Witness.ed> 2015 Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Sarkis <Atlas de Mammuthus Intermedius> 2014 Bones from the site of Romain-la-Roche (160,000 years B.C.) Resin, natural glue, gold leaf 38×25×15cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Collection Musees de Montbeliard ⓒ Piero Demo

    Sarkis <Atlas de Mammuthus Intermedius> 2014 Bones from the site of Romain-la-Roche (160,000 years B.C.) Resin, natural glue, gold leaf 38×25×15cm Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Collection Musees de Montbeliard ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Silvina Der-Meguerditchian <Treasures> 2015 Manuscript, collages, digital images and small glass bottles. Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo

    Silvina Der-Meguerditchian <Treasures> 2015 Manuscript, collages, digital images and small glass bottles. Installation view, Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice Courtesy the artist ⓒ Piero Demo
  • Jean Boghossian <Lignes> 2013 Burning on canvas, mixed technique 200×200cm

    Jean Boghossian <Lignes> 2013 Burning on canvas, mixed technique 200×200cm
  • Jean Boghossian <Green book> 2013 Burned book, mixed technique 48(l)×l.37×13(h)cm

    Jean Boghossian <Green book> 2013 Burned book, mixed technique 48(l)×l.37×13(h)cm
  • The Boghossian Foundation

    The Boghossian Foundation
  • The Boghossian Foundation

    The Boghossian Foundation
  • The Boghossian Foundation

    The Boghossian Foundation
  • The Boghossian Foundation

    The Boghossian Foundation

Profile

Jean Boghossian

Jean Boghossian was born in Aleppo, Syria. As a young man, he was a gem wholesaler and jeweler, following in the family business. In 1992, he created the Boghossian Foundation, then studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Boitsfort before moving to Uccle, Brussels. Acquiring the Villa Empain in 2006, he has led the Boghossian Foundation as president and director to the crossroads of art. As an artist, Boghossian has presented exhibitions in Brussels and also internationally, visiting Korea in 2012 for a group exhibition at the YoungEun Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwangju. The foundation sponsored the Armenian pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale and also co-sponsored “Dansaekhwa,” an official collateral event of the Biennale.

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