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Pepperdine Mourns the Loss of Weisman Museum Director Michael Zakian

May 4, 2020  | 2 min read

Michael R. Zakian, longtime director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University and adjunct professor of art history at Seaver College, passed away on January 14, 2020. He was 62.

“For more than 25 years, Pepperdine was fortunate to have Michael Zakian lead the Weisman Museum of Art,” says Rebecca Carson, managing director of the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts at Pepperdine. “His writing and storytelling helped make the work of Rodin, Chihuly, Andy Warhol, Agnes Pelton, and countless other artists come alive for patrons of all ages and backgrounds. Michael’s work brought the thousands of people who visit the Weisman each year inspiration, joy, and wonder. He will be sorely missed.”

Zakian took the helm as the director of the Weisman Museum in 1995, just three years after it was founded, and for the past 25 years his name has been intertwined with that of the institution. 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-to-be-realized Parisian entryway; Roy Lichtenstein: In Process (2011), a show that chronicled the creation of the pop artist’s works from simple sketches to final products; and Chihuly Los Angeles (2005), featuring site-specific glassworks by artist Dale Chihuly. To this day, Chihuly remains the most popular show in the Weisman’s history with more than 31,000 visitors over four months.

Born on April 7, 1957, in New York, Zakian developed a keen eye for art during his childhood and, with encouragement from his parents, spent his free time drawing. Throughout his teenage years, Zakian became heavily influenced by pieces displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art. After graduating from high school, Zakian attended Columbia University, where the pre-med biology major decided instead to follow his passion for art, earning a bachelor’s degree in art history in pursuit of one day managing a museum and teaching art history courses at a university.

Zakian continued his art education 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 with a focus on American abstract expressionism and, later, a doctorate in the same subject. Equipped 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 position as the director of the Weisman Museum at Pepperdine—an opportunity he cherished—allowing him to once again return to an institute of higher education where he could connect with college students about art on a daily basis. His service to Pepperdine included teaching as well as curating, and his courses ranged from baroque and rococo art and architecture to contemporary art.

Members of the Pepperdine community are encouraged to contribute to the Michael Zakian Exhibition Fund to ensure that the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art continues to add beautiful, thought-provoking, and inspiring works of art to the cultural life of the Pepperdine community.