Evans, Helen C.
EVANS, Helen C.
AWARDS, HONORS: Aristeon Award, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.
(Editor, with William D. Wixom) The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor) Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), 2004.
(Author of text) Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai,Egypt: A Photographic Essay, photography by Bruce White, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: As a longtime curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Helen C. Evans has presided over three major exhibitions spanning the history of the Byzantine Empire, each one preserved in a book-length catalog. The first, "The Age of Spirituality," covered the third through eighth centuries, which takes the Empire from its origins in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, to the emergence of a distinctive Byzantine art under Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. Evans organized this exhibit in 1977 but had to wait nearly twenty years before putting together the second part, whose catalog was titled The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261. "This exquisitely produced volume," in the words of Library Journal contributor Martin Chasin, chronicles the flowering of iconography and the other arts that gave Byzantium and the Greek Orthodox Church their unmistakable look before western Crusaders occupied Byzantium. Essays covered such areas as the rhythms of Byzantine society, the impact of the Crusades, and the complex interactions between the capital and the surrounding provinces of the Empire. As Evans told Ika Koznarska Casanova in an interview for the Ukrainian Weekly, "The traditional approach to Byzantine art history was that the good works were in Constantinople and everything else was provincial. And what we hope the exhibition will do is to portray the greatness of Constantinople but also show that it wasn't the only place where there was good work."
In 2004, Evans mounted the final exhibit in the series, which is preserved in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557). It covers the years from the restoration of a native Byzantine dynasty through the fall of Constantinople and the first century of Ottoman rule over the renamed capital, Istanbul. Again, the catalog presents works from the far-flung Empire, an achievement that required enormous efforts by Evans and her associate director, Mahruk Tarapor. As Carol Vigel reported in the New York Times, "Less than 10 percent of the art and objects . . . had ever left their home countries, the curators said. While negotiating these loans Ms. Evans and Ms. Tarapor visited 35 countries. They spent days waiting to be summoned by archbishops of the Orthodox Church, went mountain climbing with monks at midnight and pressed their case with political figures."
The exhibit and the accompanying catalog display the enormous contributions of artists and works once dismissed as provincial or inferior. Essays included in Byzantium draw on icons, frescoes, manuscripts, and textiles to tell the story of the decline and fall of the once mighty empire, but also its continuing influence. In particular, the authors highlight the profound connections between Byzantine art and the masters of the Italian Renaissance. Reviewing Byzantium, for Choice, L. Doumato stated, "There is no question that this book will be the standard reference on the period for years to come."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books & Culture, September-October, 2004, Emily Jorjorian Lowe, review of Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), p. 29.
Choice, October, 2004, L. Doumato, review of Byzantium, p. 280.
Christian Century, December 14, 2004, review of Byzantium, p. 23.
History: Review of New Books, fall, 2004, Jeffrey C. Anderson, review of Byzantium, p. 33.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Martin Chasin, review of The Glory of Byzantium, p. 80; October 1, 2004, Ann D. Carlson, review of Byzantium, p. 76.
New York Times, March 22, 2004, Carol Vogel, "Byzantine Art at the Met Comes from Some Thirty Nations," p. E1.
Ukrainian Weekly Online,http://www.ukrweekly.com/ (June 1 and June 8, 1997), Ika Koznarska Casanova, "The Glory of Byzantium" (interview with Evans).*