FeaturedLiterary Fiction

National Art Gallery

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Must read 🏆

An expertly written novella, steeped in the culture of Armenia's post-Soviet art scene

Not only does it ponder the social significance of art, National Art Gallery is a work of art in itself, and in Gerald, Shmavon Azatyan has created a wonderfully complex protagonist. Gerald believes fervently in the power of art, and yet his opinions are riddled with logical inconsistencies. ‘Art is holy’, he pronounces, but as his fellow article writer Tigran observes, in laying down his commandments as to what artists should and should not do (an example of this would be his insistence that ‘an artist should be an open receptacle to social events’), he is in effect becoming ‘a spiritual dictator’. He longs for an art worthy of modernity, yet pines for the work of the Soviet school; he demands realism and reviles abstractionism, yet believes art should offer us a vision that goes beyond ‘what we see in reality’.


While Azatyan exposes the flaws in Gerald’s thinking, the precision of his writing suggests he may be somewhat sympathetic to Gerald’s belief in the power of language. It is precisely this power that Gerald mobilises in his cultural criticism. Speaking of his rival aestheticians, he declares that he will ‘blow their work into pieces with language grenades’ to Ida. There is, however, an ironic undercurrent to his fear that he might ‘harm’ Ida – a philologist (!) – ‘by using occasional slang.’


Gerald’s wilful (mis)conception of Ida as constitutionally delicate and ultra-feminine, and his resultant fear for her fragility in the face of his ‘language grenades’, is indicative of their relationship as a whole. Through this ‘Platonic love affair’, Azatyan asks his reader whether the head or the heart should hold sway over our interactions with works of art. Moreover, in describing their relationship as ‘Platonic’, Azatyan hints at the novella’s wider engagement with Platonic philosophy, particularly art’s role in the public life of a nation.


It is perhaps this concern with nation building that lies at the heart of the novella. As Heather Momyer writes in her foreword, that a pervasive sense of longing for ‘culture and nationhood becomes one of the main themes of National Art Gallery’ is inextricable from Armenian history. But it is also this aspect which makes the work so timely, given the current global rise in nationalism. Overall, this relatively short read will speak volumes to those who like their fiction cerebral and steeped in culture, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Reviewed by

I have a BA and MA in English Literature from Durham University, and am currently working on a Creative Writing MA.

About the author

I write fiction and screenplays. I have published works in many countrues. I love literature and find it amazing to be able to produce works that captivate people. In my narratives I explore voice, use of langauge and identity. I also love developing stories based on true events and real people. view profile

Published on September 30, 2021

Published by Purcell Press

30000 words

Genre: Literary Fiction

Reviewed by