Doug Argue's popular chicken factory painting. Image provided by Weisman Art Museum
After 17 happy years at the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum, where they were an enormously popular attraction, the chickens painted by Doug Argue are headed for Armenia. The painting was on loan from Gerard Cafesjian, a former Minnesota legal-publishing executive, who has built a namesake Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, Armenia, to which he is shipping the chicken picture. The chickens will depart Monday, December 10.
Fans are invited to stop at the Weisman, say goodbye, leave a comment or record a favorite memory of the birds before they fly the coop. Minnesota-born Argue himself decamped for San Francisco some years ago; he now lives in New York and has a studio in New Jersey.
Opened in November, 2009 in Armenia's capital city, the Cafesjian Center for the Arts was designed by the New York firm David Hotson Architects. It marked the completion, by Cafesjian, of a Soviet-era "cascade" whose construction stalled when the USSR disintegrated and Armenia found itself economically and politically adrift. The Cafesjian Museum Foundation apparently invested more than $35 million in the "cascade" project.
According to its spectacular website, the Cafesjian Center for the Arts had more than 1.2 million visitors in 2011. It primarily shows art from Cafesjian's personal collection including sculpture by Barry Flanagan, paintings by Jennifer Bartlett and Archile Gorky, glass by Dale Chihuly and others Americans. The Brooklyn-born Cafesjian's taste ranges widely, however, and is far more international than that list implies.
Cafesjian, an ardent Armenian patriot, has a fascinating life story too, well worth a read as summarized by the Cafesjian Center.
The New York Times described the project as "a mad work of architectural megalomania and architectural recovery . . . one of the strangest and most spectacular museum buildings to open in ages," according to Wikipedia. And who would doubt that based on this photo courtesy of the Armenian Reporter:
During their sojourn at the Weisman, the birds were involved in the Weisman's development of an Artful Writing kit and program designed to "encourage higher level thinking skills." That in turn sparked the Weisman's tour guide program, educational workshops, and teaching philosophy. All that from an infinity of caged chickens. Hope the Armenian's appreciate what they're getting.