‘Joan Quinn Captured’ Celebrates a Culture Queen

Catherine Yesayan


Amid the breathtaking setting of Brand Park in Glendale, with towering sycamore trees and the freshly landscaped grounds, the beauty of nature and art collided on Saturday, June 28 when the exhibition “Joan Quinn Captured” opened at the Brand Library & Art Galleries. The show celebrates and highlights, Joan Agajanian Quinn, one of our esteemed Armenian daughters who has been referred to as the “Cultural Queen” and the “Gertrude Stein of our times.”

The exhibition gives us a look into the artistic expressions of such world-renowned artists as Frank Gehry, Shepard Fairey and Ed Moses who used a variety of mediums, and sometimes abstract forms of portraiture, to capture the enigmatic Joan Agajanian Quinn. From the 1970s, the Quinn’s Los Angeles home base has been a gathering place for artists and intellectuals. In this milieu, the artists were drawn to showcase their individual styles and expressions in portraying the essence of Joan Quinn.

The art being shown celebrates Joan’s life and also highlights various styles used in contemporary art. The exhibition presents approximately 50 portraits of her in a varied array of media. The portraits on display are selected from a collection of over 300 and are shown alongside other artworks on loan from galleries, foundations and the Quinn family.

I had the opportunity to ask Joan a few questions during the opening. She made me comfortable by sharing anecdotes of her life. And her hearty laugh affirms that she embraces life and the people around her. She’s truly a delightful spirit.

I commented on her beautiful features and skin and how well she has maintained her youthfulness. She joked and said, “It’s all Armenian genes. No Botox or face lift.” She shared that the community of artists she was surrounded by had its origins in an art class she took at the University of Southern California. She formed close friendships with the art students, which continued into an expanded circle of lasting connections. That’s how this treasure trove of a collection grew to what it is today.

A few works at the exhibition particularly captured my curiosity. As I entered the Gallery the first piece I noticed was a small 8″ abstract sculpture of a stack of colorful red & green jello rolls, like a transparent uneven pyramid. It is one of the recent works of Peter Alexander from 2013. Here is Peter Alexander’s own statement about his work: “I wanted to make something upbeat and eccentric just like Joan. She’s a queen.”

Joan Quinn with a portrain of herself by Richard Bernstein

I was also drawn to a portrait of Joan by Shepard Fairey, who became widely known during the 2008 U.S. presidential election for his Obama “Hope” poster. There is also a marvelous piece by Frank Gehry, one of the most exalted architects of our time and the designer of the illustrious Disney Music Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Gehry made a lamp out of paper of two white fish embracing each other and gifted it for Joan’s birthday – This unique fish lamp is a portrait of JAQ representing her as Pieces (Zodiac sign).

Zareh Meguerditchian, an Armenian born in Aleppo, Syria, illustrated Joan in a surrealistic piece. I met Zareh and asked him to describe his work. “The most important thing for me was to bring out her lively eyes”, he said. (which has put one eye on top of the other) “Then I wanted to show her warmth and the energy that surrounds her by illustrating her jewelry, her hair band, and the shape of her hair.”

Another rare treat at the exhibit is the opportunity to see video footage of Joan Quinn’s interviews with artists. Joan was the producer and the host of “The Joan Quinn Profiles,” a TV show that began in early 1980s and still continues. Over the years she conducted almost 1000 interviews. From them, twenty interviews have been selected to run on two monitors at the exhibition.

Along with bringing the works of these artists together, the exhibit includes panel discussions, talks and film screenings conducted every Thursday until July 31. The exhibition is believed to be the largest portrait collection by contemporary artists in the world. It will run through Friday, August 1, at the the Brand Library Art Galleries, located at 1601 W. Mountain street, Glendale. For more information, call (818) 548-2051 or visit glendaleca.gov and click Brand Library Art Galleries.

Catherine Yesayan is a columnist for Asbarez. Read her stories on her blog at beyondthebluedomes.blogspot.com.

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