City turns down art donation for first time in 10 years

An oil painting featuring the Statue of Liberty surrounded by the floating heads of popular Armenian figures recently became the first donated work of art to the city in more than a decade to be turned down.

The painting also includes flowing wheat and Mt. Ararat — a snow-capped mountain in Turkey where, according to biblical lore, Noah’s Ark came to rest. The mountain can be seen from Armenia and Iran.

The work also features a statue of an Armenian princess.

While one commissioner called it “a beautiful theme,” the painting failed to make it past the Arts & Culture Commission or City Council and onto a city-owned office wall — the first time that’s happened since 2000, said Public Art Project Manager Ripsime Marashian.

“It was deeply embedded in one culture, but it was not very inclusive,” said Arts Commissioner Arlette DerHovanessian at a meeting last month. “Otherwise it was a beautiful theme.”

According to a staff report, the 18-by-24 inch painting, appraised at $1,800, also wasn’t of the highest aesthetic quality.

The artist, Anita Garouni, is an Iranian immigrant with Armenian ancestry who has lived in Glendale for 15 years. She told the commission that her painting, titled “Home,” represents the love she feels for the United States and her Armenian culture.

“It’s an expression of deep gratitude for America, my country, who accepts all…and gives safe haven for the immigrants of the world,” Garouni said.

Commissioner Razmik Grigorian said he understood the painting was about both Garouni’s ancestral and adopted home, but he wished it was more about the latter than the former.

Marashian said the city’s decision-making process for accepting donated art includes considering the work’s relation to the city, maintenance requirements and aesthetics.

Since 2000, the city has received 10 donated pieces of art, including Garouni’s. Most have been paintings, Marashian said.

The last accepted art donation was in 2008. The sculpture, which was made public last year, represents the helmet and coat of a Glendale firefighter who suffered burns over more than 70% of his body while battling a fire nearly 15 years ago.

In 2003, the city accepted two donated paintings by artist Zadik Zadikian of a 1940s police car and an old police shield. Zadikian had offered the city a third similar painting, but he wanted $20,000 for it, so the city passed on the offer.

Grigorian said he hoped the rejection of Garouni’s painting didn’t deter other artists from donating to the city.

“Just one little exception should not really discourage other people,” he said.

The city also plans to unveil an arts-focused website in coming months that will hopefully spur additional donations, Marashian said.

“It’s been very slow,” she said. “We love to encourage art. We don’t want anyone to be discouraged.”

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