Lives of the Artists Expanded Edition 

by Calvin Tompkins

“It took less than five months for Stephan Bagradian to become famous, once he decided to be an artist as a full time vocation. Of course, being in the same freshman class as Arshile Gorky, William De Kooning and Mark Rothko in the free wheeling city of Constantinople did not hurt this arc either. As early as 1924, the London Observer ran an editorial that sneeringly referred to “...[the] bearded rainbow seeing village idiot of Stambul.” Which was a reference that readers were supposed to understand, without further explanation, which referenced Bagradian’s unusual grooming as well as his prismatic paintings. Thrill seeking tourists visiting Constantinople in the early twenties were advised to visit the Bohemian studio in the Jem Kapu neighborhood that was shared by Bagradian’s collective- much as one might visit a zoo that housed entertaining but slightly dangerous animals.

Unlike his fellow proto abstractionists, Bagradian was producing a fairly diverse body of works at this point. There are even fragments of his later conceptualism and perfomative works in evidence dating from this period. But his real contribution to the life of the overstuffed 1920s came when Bagradian staged his famous “Poesa Concerts”, which involved the defense artillery of the city acting in concert with several steamships, 1000s of carolers, tens of church bells, along with three cooperative muezzins and light projectors. Unfortunately the documentation for these events is limited to a few fuzzy pictures and a damaged recording. The rest of the films, photographs and “radiogrammics” (and indeed the vast bulk of Bagradian’s work) were destroyed in the 1925-26 Greco-Armenian siege of Constantinople and later by the iconoclastic takeover of Armenia by the Catholicos in 1974.”

C. Lives of the Artists Expanded Edition 2009, Cambridge Press