WATERTOWN, Mass.—The Armenian Museum of America presents a new exhibition, “Master Rediscovered: The Art of Simon Samsonian.” The exhibition will open with a reception on Sun., Sept. 29, from 2-4 p.m., in the Adele and Haig Der Manuelian Gallery.
Simon Samsonian’s earliest memory was the slaughter of his family during the Armenian Genocide in 1915. As he was too small to recall his family’s name, Greek nuns from Smyrna who took him in named him Samsonian, after the town of Samson where he was found. When he was 10, the city of Smyrna was burned down, and the survivors were relocated to a Near East Orphanage in Greece. In 1927, he was transferred to an Armenian school in Cairo, where he won an art scholarship in 1932 and subsequently became the art teacher at the Kalousdian Armenian School. In 1960, he discovered that an older sister had also survived the genocide and that his family name had originally been Klujian.
Samsonian became a prominent modernist painter in Cairo, and exhibited annually at the prestigious Le Salon du Caire. Samsonian’s earliest works were in the style of the Impressionists and Fauvists, but they later evolved to become more Cubist after his travels to the great art museums of Europe in the 1950’s. Over the years, he was awarded seven gold medals for his art, and in 1961 the Egyptian Minister of Culture opened a solo exhibition of his art in Cairo. In 1968, he immigrated to the United States to join his daughter, and continued to create art in New York. A major catalogue of his works was printed in 1977, but by then Samsonian had lost interest in promoting his art in New York galleries, and lived a quiet life painting and drawing until his death in 2003.
Samsonian’s life contrasted with that of his Armenian contemporary Arshile Gorky, whom he never met. Both were victims of the genocide and abstract artists, but Gorky was irrevocably traumatized by the event and was eventually driven to suicide. Samsonian, raised in a more supportive environment, used his art to celebrate life.
The Simon Samsonian exhibition at the Armenian Museum of America will be the first major exhibition of this forgotten artist in New England, and will be on view until Nov. 8. The event is free and open to the public.