In the seven years since Sevan Melikyan opened Wired Gallery in High Falls, he’s become known in these parts as a thoughtful curator and a tireless supporter of local artists. The most important considerations when putting a show together at his gallery, he says, are inclusivity and keeping the quality of work high. “I do not represent a roster of artists with whom I work exclusively, because that would mean I would have to say no to everyone else. I want to have the freedom to consider anyone who is willing to introduce their work to me, so long as they are local; meaning no further than, say, a 25-mile radius from High Falls.”
Born in Istanbul to Armenian parents, Melikyan was raised in Paris, France, where he earned a degree in marketing for nonprofits. He is a congenial man, easy to converse with, who comes across as both cosmopolitan and down-to-earth. His passion for supporting local artists drives him personally and professionally, a mission he came to after his own stint as an exhibiting artist. Having had the experience of showing his own work but feeling like that part of his life reached a natural conclusion — at least for now — Melikyan puts his creative abilities and energy these days into promoting the artists of the mid-Hudson region, with a particular interest in those based in Ulster County.
“Look at the richness of this area, and how it has cultivated so many artists,” he notes. “We have so many great artists who live here, and many who have passed away, who are facing oblivion” because there is no permanent home for their body of work. “And with that, our heritage will go into oblivion. My dream is to see an Ulster County Art Museum take root here to keep the memory of our artists and the contribution they made to local arts alive.”
Wired Gallery is a passion project for Melikyan. He credits his wife, Maria Guralnik, as its “corporate sponsor,” in that her teaching job at SUNY Purchase — she is a professor of arts management — allows him the freedom to keep the gallery afloat and run it the way he wishes. “I couldn’t do this without the support of my wife,” he says. “How else could I sustain an art gallery in High Falls, population 600, that puts quality and local artists far above commercial considerations?”
The first iteration of Wired Gallery opened in 2012 on the upper floor of an old barn in High Falls. The wood paneled walls there were not conducive to showing art, so a hanging system using hardware store materials was devised to suspend the work on wires, which led to the space being christened, “Wired Gallery.” A few months later, the gallery moved to another place nearby, but by 2014 landed in its current location at 11 Mohonk Road.
Wired Gallery is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. But when visitors pull into the parking area midweek, unaware the gallery is closed, they’re sometimes ushered inside, if Melikyan notices their arrival. He and his wife live upstairs from the gallery, an arrangement that makes the space more affordable to run. “It takes a specific personality to be able to live this way,” he says, “but we love people.”
The shows at the gallery have featured a diverse range of local talent. Some of the exhibitions have focused on artists working in particular parts of the region, such as the 2015 show of Cragsmoor-based artists and the 2017-18 three-part “Golden Age of New Paltz” shows. Other exhibits have been retrospectives of an individual’s life work or group shows based on a theme. Recently Melikyan mounted “Art of Everyday Objects,” his first show of functional artisanal works, a concept he plans to repeat.
That show had a guest curator; another recent trend in the gallery that will continue, he says. “A show doesn’t have to have my name on it. And a guest curator might know artists in their circle who I don’t know yet.” One such guest-curated exhibit, last year’s “The Virginia Project,” a word-and-image collaboration between writer Tina Barry and 14 women artists, curated by Barry, went on from Wired Gallery to be shown in a university museum.
The Virginia Project was based on the life of Marc Chagall’s companion, Virginia Haggard, and her five-year-old daughter, who lived for a time in High Falls with the renowned artist. Melikyan helped mount the “Chagall in High Falls” exhibit at the D&H Canal Museum in 2011, and in the interest of keeping local art history alive, maintains a small room at Wired Gallery dedicated to the story of Chagall’s years in the region.
Wired Gallery is fully booked through 2020 and into 2021, but in his continual quest to bring maximum exposure to local artists, Melikyan also mounts exhibits at off-site locations and creates pop-up spaces. “Sometimes you have to go where the people are in addition to asking them to come to you. That’s what led me to reach out to places like Mohonk Mountain House and Emmanuel’s Marketplace [in Stone Ridge]. And I could certainly take on more; if local businesses want to offer more walls, more spaces to show more art, they should contact me.”
One of the off-site projects Melikyan has supervised was the 2017 installation of “Gnome Mountain” on a cliff overlooking High Falls Emporium. A fanciful take on everyday garden gnomes, the exhibit of 32-inch-high “power gnomes,” cast in pigmented resin by Ellenville-based artist Sam Tufnell, will soon be illuminated at night again, once the critter-damage to the wiring has been fixed.
As an artist himself, Melikyan has “been in the shoes” of those whose work he shows, and he’s aware of the vulnerability inherent for an artist putting their work on display. Visitors to an art gallery, drawn to the aesthetic or emotional impact of the art, don’t always realize how much a work’s placement in a particular spot on the gallery walls, or the siting of one piece in proximity to another, affects their overall experience. But Melikyan understands that curating a show is a creative act in itself; requiring the same type of visual prowess and attention to placement of forms that an individual work of art requires.
His unique curating method at Wired Gallery involves taking photographs of all the pieces he has to work with, then using Photoshop to fit the images into a panoramic view of the gallery. This allows him to see how the show will look, he says, to think through how the colors and all of the other elements come together. This takes him anywhere from 20 minutes up to two hours or so. “After that, I know without hesitation where to put things. Very few times have I had to make two holes for one piece. It’s a tool that works for me.”
A self-professed “jack-of-all-trades,” Melikyan runs the gallery as a one-man operation. His varied skill set allows him to take care of the range of tasks necessary that another gallerist might need an assistant for. And that genuine affection he has for his artists and the local art-loving community is at the heart of it all. “I like to see a lot of people come together, and cheer artists, so my opening receptions often turn into big gatherings with sometimes 100 to 200 people attending. I love that! Besides, the gallery is in my home, so it’s like I’m having a big party. It’s amazing to me how this gallery can create sometimes so much excitement.”
His favorite moments, he says, are when the artists drop off their work and then come back for the opening, seeing for the first time how their art has been displayed. “Ninety-nine percent of the time they are grateful, because I treated their work with utmost respect. I’m grateful to be in a position to provide my fellow artists a home for their work, and a chance to get exposure. That’s very fulfilling. I take my satisfaction and rewards from showing their work.”