“Armenian art is not something isolated. It is woven into a global network. It needs to be understood for what makes it specifically Armenian, while also being art of global significance.”
The speaker was Dr. Helen C. Evans, addressing an enthusiastic crowd of close to a hundred on Thursday, June 7, at the Diocesan Center in New York. The occasion was a special presentation sponsored by the Eastern Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center.
Her presentation was billed as a “sneak peek” at an upcoming exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Titled “Armenia!” and slated to run from September 22, 2018 through January 13, 2019, the exhibit is the fulfillment of a career-long dream by Dr. Evans, the acclaimed scholar of Armenian art who works as the distinguished Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art at the Met.
Introducing Dr. Evans was the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan: the newly-elected Primate of the Eastern Diocese and longtime director of the Zohrab Center.
He reminded the audience that the scholar had previously co-curated the Morgan Library and Museum’s 1994 exhibition, “Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts.”
The Primate also noted that Dr. Evans has taught at Columbia University, as the Nikit and Eleanora Ordjanian Visiting Professor of Armenian Studies, and has published numerous articles on Armenian subjects. Major displays of Armenian art in the medieval galleries at the Metropolitan Museum are also the work of Dr. Evans. Among these is the half-ton, 12th-century khatchkar from Armenia’s Lori province, which she arranged to bring to the museum along with Met art conservator Jack Soultanian.
Identifier of a Significant People
The Met’s “Armenia!” exhibit will include 140 opulent gilded reliquaries, richly illuminated manuscripts, rare textiles, liturgical furnishings made of precious materials, khatchkars, church models, and printed books. All of the items reveal a distinctive Armenian idiom—whether they originate in the historic Armenian homeland or in its far-flung diaspora settings like the Kingdom of Cilicia on the Mediterranean, or New Julfa in Safavid Persia.
(Click here to view a gallery of items to be on display.)
“The way we are presenting the art shows how Armenians, with their conversion to Christianity, created a visual identity that was incredibly compelling and went through a variety of styles in the millennium we are covering,” said Dr. Evans at the Zohrab Center gathering. “At the same time, there is always an element that ties Armenian works together.”
Using color slides to accompany her remarks, Evans called the exhibition “an opportunity to show Armenian art as an identifier of a significant people, and an important element of the world’s art.”
The time period covered by the “Armenia!” exhibit begins at Armenia’s conversion to Christianity – the early 4th century A.D.—and concludes with the end of the Middle Ages, when Armenian books become readily available in the Middle East.
“We wanted to tell a narrative,” Dr. Evans explained.
The show will lay emphaisis on particular four artists working in the Armenian homeland, the Kingdom of Cilicia, and New Julfa. They are Toros Roslin, Sargis Pidzak, Toros Taronatsi, and Hakob of Julfa. Each will be represented by several works, “so people will think of them as we think of Michelangelo in Italy.”
“By the end of viewing the exhibit, I want non-Armenians to be very impressed by Armenian art; and I want Armenians to be proud of their ancestral achievements,” Dr. Evan said with her usual enthusiasm and passion. “This has been an idea in progress for me ever since I did my Ph.D. dissertation on the manuscripts of Cilicia at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.”
Following a brief question and answer period, Dr. Evans welcomed engaged in animated discussion with attendees during a reception.
More than half of the works in the “Armenia!” exhibit will be on loan from Armenia, including from Holy Etchmiadzin, the Matenadaran, and the History Museum. Treasures have been sent from the See of Cilicia, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Armenian Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice. Selected works from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Portugal, as well as the Eastern Diocese itself, ALMA in Boston, and the Manoogian Museum in Southfield, MI, have also been lent.
The exhibition is being made possible by the Hagop Kevorkian Fund, with support provided by the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Giorgi Family Foundation, the Karagheusian Foundation, the Nazar and Artemis Nazarian Family, the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, the Strauch Kulhanjian Family and the Paros Foundation, Aso O. Tavitian, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Educational programs accompanying the exhibition will include an international symposium, lectures, concerts, a website, a blog and group tours of the exhibition. A richly illustrated catalog will be published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.
By Florence Avakian
Above: An embroidered altar cloth (New Julfa, 1741) from the collection of Holy Etchmiadzin (photo by H. Khatcherian), which will be on display as part of the upcoming “Armenia!” exhibit (Sep.22, 2018-Jan. 13, 2019) at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. To view a gallery of other items on display at the exhibit, click here.