In spring of 1993 ACCEA founder, New York artist and poet Sonia Balassanian had the idea of organizing Armenia’s participation at the most prestigious and longest running international modern art exhibition of Venice Biennale. After long negotiations Republic of Armenia was officially invited to take part at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995.
According to the official archives of Venice Biennale www.asac.labiennale.org:
Venice Biennale started in 1895 under the name of “International Art Exhibition of City of Venice”.
In 1930, the term “Biennale” was added to the name of the event.
Since the very beginning every time a group exhibition of selected artists works were presented at what is now known as “The Italian Pavilion” (see map attached).
Since 1928 national pavilions started to take part along with the international exhibition at the Italian Pavilion.
The records indicate that in 1928, 10 countries took part.
Participating countries in 1930 were eleven: Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Spain, USA, Hungary and the USSR.
To record the historical facts accurately it should be noted that the name of Armenia for the first time appeared in 1901 (the 4th Venice exhibition).
Until 1928, when national pavilions started at the international exhibition, the country of the artist was mentioned in parenthesis after the name of the artist. This is how the name of Armenia appeared next to the name of Edgar Chahine, a graphic artist of Armenian origin from France. Edgar Chahine’s woks were exhibited in 1901, 1903, 1907, 1914 and 1926 (respectively at IV, V, VII, XI, and XV exhibitions).
In 1934 Armenia appeared as a distinct part of the Pavilion of the USSR. 5 canvases of Martitos Sarian were shown at the Armenia section of the pavilion. In the same year of the 15 republics of the USSR, Ukraine was also represented together with Armenia.
Records show that until 1995, when newly independent state of the Republic of Armenia started taking part at Venice Biennale as a separate nation, except for the above-mentioned instances, Armenia did not appear in Venice Biennale as a distinct entity.
In 1995, which was also the centenary of the Venice Biennale, the first official pavilion of the Republic of Armenia at Venice Biennale was organized by the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art (“NPAK” in Armenian acronym). The pavilion was hosted by the Center for Study and Documentation of Armenian Culture at Loggia del Temanza, in Dorsoduro District of Venice from June 12 through October 15, 1995. Then Vice President of the Republic of Armenia H.E. Gagik Harutiunian and his entourage, along with over 100 Diaspora supporters and donors were honored guests at the opening of the pavilion.
Since then, without interruption, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia has trusted the organization of the Armenian Pavilion at Venice Biennale to the ACCEA/NPAK.
In 1999, 2001 and 2003 the pavilion was hosted by the Center for Study and Documentation of Armenian Culture at Loggia del Temanza. In 1997 and 2001 the pavilion was hosted by the Mekhitarist Armenian Congregation at St. Lazzaro Armenian Island of Venice. Since 2005 the Armenian Pavilions were hosted by the Mekhitarist Armenian Congregation at Palazzo Zenobio (a Venetian Renaissance palace) where in the past Moorat Raphael Armenian College was located. ACCEA wishes to thank the leadership and management of these two Venetian Armenian institutions for relentlessly hosting the Armenian pavilions since their inception in 1995.
Since 1995, for every Biennale, a Diaspora Council of Supporters of the Armenian Pavilion was formed in the United States, which conducted international fund-raising to finance the expenses of the pavilion. They were all successful, and made sure that the pavilion will not be any financial burden on the national budget of Armenia.
Councils were chaired by the following dedicated Armenians:
1995: Alice Kirikian, George Garo Beylerian, and Nina Hovnanian
1997: Ani Boyajian
1999, 2001 and 2003: Joan Agajanian Quinn
2005: Sonia Balassanian
2007: Armen Garabedian
2009: Sonia Balassanian
The organizers are greatly indebted to these individuals and members of their committees, all of the donors, and last, but not least the supporting staff of the ACCEA/NPAK for making the Armenian Pavilions possible.