The world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has revised the way it identifies famous seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky to reflect his Armenian heritage, following complaints from community members and reporting by Asbarez.
Along with many community members, Taleen Setrakian also chronicled her efforts to address the mis-characterization of not only Aivazovsky’s heritage but also that of Arshile Gorky, who is listed as an “American, born Van Province, Ottoman Turkey,” on the website of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The Met told Setrakian in an email shared with Asbarez that it was “undertaking a review” of how Aivazovsky was identified.
“We are currently undertaking additional revisions to our cataloguing of Ivan Aivazovsky, in order to ensure that his Armenian identity is duly recognized on our website,” the Met’s European Paintings Department said in an email in response to Setrakian’s inquiry regarding Aivazovsky’s misidentification.
“The Met regularly researches and examines objects in its collection in order to determine the most appropriate and accurate way to catalogue and present them. This includes the best way the complex national and cultural identities in this region during the nineteenth century,” the Met explained.
Originally, the Met had identified Aivazovsky as Ukrainian, including in the biographical notes that he was “born into an Armenian family.”
In the revised iteration, the Met has added his Armenian birth name next to his professional name and has amended the “Ukrainian” moniker with “Armenian, born Russian Empire [now Ukraine].”
In his biography, the Met has also emphasized Aivazovsky’s Armenian heritage by writing, “As a member of the city’s longstanding Armenian community, Aivazovsky had a rich cultural and linguistic background. He worked and exhibited widely, including in cities in present-day Armenia, Georgia, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and mainland Ukraine.”
The swift action by the Met is a small step in a larger effort to identify individuals nationality and ethnicity accurately.
The Museum of Modern Art, however, has not indicated that it will revisit its identification of Gorky. It must take the Met’s example and review its policies, especially since in 2010 a sprawling traveling retrospective of Arshile Gorky’s works that was also displayed in the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles, diligently explored his Armenian heritage, the fact that he was a survivor of the Genocide and how that tragedy informed and impacted his art.
It is important for community members to take action to correct mistakes when they observe them. A first step can be to contact the Museum of Modern of Art in New York by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org and emphasize the need for the museum to properly list Gorky’s ethnic identity.