Michael R. Zakian, longtime director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University and assistant professor of art history at Seaver College, passed away on January 14, 2020. He was 62 years old.
âFor over 25 years, Pepperdine has been fortunate to have Michael Zakian at the helm of the Weisman Museum of Art,â said Rebecca Carson, Executive Director of the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts at Pepperdine. âHis writing and storytelling has helped bring the work of Rodin, Chihuly, Andy Warhol, Agnes Pelton and countless other artists to life for patrons of all ages and backgrounds. Michael’s work has brought inspiration, joy and wonder to the thousands of people who visit Weisman each year. He will be sorely missed. “
In a 2015 Pepperdine Magazine article on her 20th birthday in college, Zakian explained, âAt Pepperdine my main focus is education. I don’t just show beautiful things to admire for their own inherent beauty. I always insist that this art was made to convey certain ideas or to make a particular pointâ¦ We use our eyes all the time, but often we really don’t see what is in front of us.
Sharing art was Zakian’s passion, and his commitment to bringing art to the public and enjoying it was in perfect harmony with the vision of the museum’s homonymous benefactor. He said that while some people saw art as “a little off-putting and stimulating,” he wanted the Weisman Museum to “break down those barriers.”
Zakian took over the management of the Weisman Museum in 1995, just three years after its founding, and for 25 years his name has been closely linked to that of the institution. One of her most notable efforts was her early career decision to showcase the work of modernist painter Agnes Pelton, whose reputation was rekindled through Zakian’s exhibition.
Other notable exhibitions over the years included “Rodin’s Obsession: The Gates of Hell” (2001), featuring dozens of bronze sculptures derived from Rodin’s famous never-before-made Paris entrance; âRoy Lichtenstein: In Processâ (2011), an exhibition that chronicles the creation of the works of the pop artist, from simple sketches to final products; and âChihuly Los Angelesâ (2005), featuring in situ glassworks by artist Dale Chihuly. To this day, Chihuly remains the most popular trade show in Weisman history with more than 31,000 visitors over four months.
Born April 7, 1957 in New York City, Zakian developed a keen sense of art as a child and, with encouragement from his parents, spent his free time drawing. Throughout his teenage years, Zakian was heavily influenced by pieces on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). After graduating from high school, Zakian attended Columbia University, where the major in premedical biology decided to follow his passion for art, earning a bachelor’s degree in art history in an effort to manage someday a museum and teach art history classes at a university. .
Zakian continued his artistic educationtrained at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where his interest in art history led him to work as a teaching assistant while completing a master’s degree focusing on American Abstract Expressionism and, later, a doctorate in the same subject. With three art degrees on his resume, he moved to Southern California in 1984 and began working at the Palm Springs Art Museum, first as an assistant curator and soon after as an associate curator. .
Zakian moved from Palm Springs to Malibu in 1995 to begin his post as director of the Weisman Museum in Pepperdine – an opportunity he cherished, allowing him to return once again to an institute of higher learning where he could connect with students on art on a daily basis. His service at Pepperdine included teaching as well as conservation, and his courses ranged from Baroque and Rococo art and architecture to contemporary art.
With his love for art extending far beyond Malibu, throughout his career Zakian also taught classes at Rutgers, University of Redlands, and California State University at San Bernardino. A practicing artist himself, he has worked closely with several artists to publish books on their work, including “Agnes Pelton: Poet of Nature”, “Sam Francis: Elements and Archetypes” and “Wayne Thiebaud: Works from 1955 to 2003 â.
Prior to her passing, Zakian organized an extraordinary exhibition of 40 bronze sculptures by Rodin that explores the complex biblical, mythical, allegorical and secular associations surrounding the image of woman. Zakian’s latest exhibition, “Rodin and Women: Muses, Sirens, Lovers”, will be on display at the Weisman Museum from January 18 to March 29.
Zakian is survived by his wife, Lia Skidmore.
In lieu of flowers, members of the Pepperdine community are encouraged to contribute to the Michael Zakian Exhibition Fund.
This story was submitted by Pepperdine University.