Can an Exclamation Point Make an Exhibition More Exciting? The Met Will Soon Find Out With ‘Armenia!’

No, we're not shouting—that's the title!

The announcement for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's upcoming show. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The announcement for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's upcoming show. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It’s no secret that fall is a brisk reawakening for the art world after the annual late-summer hibernation. This year, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is adding an extra dose of exuberance to the ritual—with the help of a little peppy punctuation. The museum has titled its upcoming exhibition “Armenia!”

The show, which opens in September, will explore Armenian arts and culture during the Medieval period, from its fourth-century conversion to Christianity to its lead role in forging international trade routes in the 17th century.

But why the exclamation point? And how is the title’s tonality to be understood? Is it a guttural battle cry? A shriek of surprise? A call across a crowded subway platform to an old friend glimpsed boarding a train? A eureka-like shout of stunned recognition that Armenia is the country whose art you long to appreciate the most of all?

Or, alternatively, is it a ploy to infuse a show about medieval art with more immediacy, perhaps making it more tempting to hard-to-reach millennials?

None of the above, according to the Met. A spokesperson for the museum told artnet News that the idea came directly from curator Helen Evans, who “urged the use of the exclamation point because it suggests the vibrancy of Armenian art and culture during its medieval centuries and today.”

Altar frontal (detail). New Julfa, 1741. Photo by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We then asked if the punctuation merits any additional emphasis or energy when pronouncing the show. “No, we say it like a regular word,” we were told.

As novel as it may seem, this is not the first time the Met has employed the exclamation point to inject a show title with extra verve. In 2000, the museum rolled out two exhibitions featuring the punctuation mark: “Now! Modern Photographs from the Permanent Collection” and “Fireworks! Four Centuries of Pyrotechnics in Prints and Drawings.” And in 1985–86, in what must be the most direct antecedent, the museum hosted “India!” (Sorry if that startled you.)

The entrance to the 1985 “India!” exhibition. Image via the Met

Other museums have followed suit. In 2005, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum mounted a sweeping survey of Russia and called it—what else?—”Russia!” At the time, the decision drew the approval of art critic Roberta Smith, who wrote in a New York Times column that the “immense survey of Russian culture… would certainly be dull without the Vreelandesque exclamation point.”

The catalogue for the Guggenheim’s “Russia!” exhibition. Image via the Guggenheim

Of course, times change fast. It’s now been 13 years since the “Russia!” show and 33 years since “India!” In the era of social media, there are additional considerations when titling a show. As the Met discovered, there is at least one realm where the “Armenia!” exclamation point must necessarily be shed: in the hashtag promoting the show. The museum indirectly acknowledged this at the end of its press preview announcement with a single line at the end: “#Armenia.”

Now that’s a show that might appeal to millennials!

“Armenia!” opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on September 22, 2018. 


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