PROVINCETOWN — In his poem “Chariot,” Stanley Kunitz, a founder of the Fine Arts Work Center, wrote of Varujan Boghosian, “In my friend’s studio, where curiosity runs the shop, and you can almost smell the nostalgic dust settling on the junk of lost mythologies, the artist himself stays out of view. Yet anyone could guess this is the magician’s place….”
In the New York Times, the critic John Russell described Boghosian’s art as “wry, ambiguous, and lasting poetry.”
Boghosian was admired by poets, and the feeling was mutual. Berta Walker, his longtime gallerist, compared his found object assemblages to haiku: “Look at his studio — he has massive things around. With all that, what he’d pick is like two notes of music: with those two notes, you know where it’s going. That’s the haiku five-seven-five of his collages. He puts things together in two notes and makes a world.”
On Sept. 21, 2020, Provincetown lost another great contributor to its art colony legacy. Varujan Yegan Boghosian, 94, died at his home in Hanover, N.H.
He was born on June 26, 1926, in New Britain, Conn., to Mesrop and Baidzar (Sylandjian) Boghosian, Armenian refugees who fled Turkey in 1918 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the genocide of Armenians that followed.
“Bugsy grew up in a factory town,” said his closest friend, artist Edward Giobbi, referring to Boghosian by the nickname many of his old friends used. “He wanted to be an artist all his life.” After the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, “He volunteered for the Navy,” Giobbi said. “I met him after we left the service. We went to the Vesper George School of Art, on the G.I. Bill.”
Boghosian got his M.F.A. at Yale University, where he studied with Josef Albers. He traveled to Italy as a Fulbright scholar for painting in 1953, and, in 1966, he was artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. He returned to the Academy in 1985 as a Guggenheim fellow.
He loved to teach, which he did at Yale and the University of Florida, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, Brown University, and, lastly, Dartmouth College, where he became the endowed George Frederick Jewett professor of art in 1982. In 1995, he retired from Dartmouth and focused solely on his own creative work.
“We went to Provincetown in 1948,” Giobbi said. “He worked as a waiter at Ciro & Sal’s. He didn’t have any of the bad qualities that young artists had. He wasn’t pretentious; he wasn’t bombastic; he just did his thing. He was a fantastically gifted person.”
Giobbi told the Independent that in an anatomy class at Vesper, he saw his friend Bugsy drawing in ink with his back turned to the nude model, looking away: “The teacher came over and said, ‘Mr. Boghosian, you put the gluteus maximus in the wrong place!’ Bugsy just smiled.”
In Provincetown, he was close friends with Salvatore Del Deo and Paul Resika and a founder of the prestigious Long Point Gallery, where he showed his work alongside such major players as Robert Motherwell and Budd Hopkins. Boghosian bought a home here in the 1960s, where he and his family would spend their summers.
“No one hung a show as well as Bugsy,” Giobbi said. “He hung shows with Leo Manso at the Long Point Gallery. It was just like the way he would make one of his beautiful pieces — he always eliminated unnecessary work. He was tough.” Walker agreed. “As Paul [Resika] said, he had a perfect eye. He knew where to put it. It just worked. Paul wouldn’t rest easy until Bugsy assured him that a show looked good.”
Boghosian’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, among others. He has had more than 75 solo shows — in Provincetown, where he is represented by the Berta Walker Gallery, in New York, and in museums throughout the world.
Boghosian was married to Marilyn Cummins from 1953 until her death in 2007. His younger sister, Hasmig Boghosian Sillano, died in 2002. He is survived by his only child, Heidi Elizabeth Boghosian, a New York City attorney and writer.
Tributes may be sent to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where a fund is being set up for a fellowship in Varujan Boghosian’s name. A memorial service will be held in the spring, date to be announced.
Twenty of his pieces are now on view at the Berta Walker Gallery, for a show on the theme of freedom for Provincetown 400 that opened just before he died. “I knew he was really ill,” Walker said. “We’d been trying to get him to come, but he was too weak. The work is in a room I call Bugsy’s room. Because that was his space.”
Walker said his spirit is still very present: “The perfect portrait of him is of a clown carrying a huge heart forward. And that was him. Wisdom through humor.”