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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World



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Restoring the Minoans: Elizabeth Price and Sir Arthur Evans

October 5, 2017 – January 7, 2018

Image for the introduction to Restoring the MinoansThe British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941) fundamentally shaped our understanding of the Minoan world. He excavated the “Palace of Minos” on the island of Crete and believed he had found the remnants of Daedalus’s mythological Minotaur-containing labyrinth. Celebrated for recognizing the distinctiveness of the Minoans, his contribution to archaeology cannot be underestimated, yet his bold restoration of the site at Knossos confronts viewers with images of an ancient world that appear distinctively modern. Art nouveau-styled women and reinforced concrete structures invite questions about the archaeologist’s boundaries between interpretation and speculation.

When the Turner Prize-winning artist Elizabeth Price (British, b. 1966) was commissioned to create a new artwork based on the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, she was drawn to the modern watercolors and photographs in the Sir Arthur Evans Archive. Her eighteen-minute video installation takes creative license with the museum’s archive in response to Evans’s blurred boundaries between artifact, restoration, and invention. A Restoration (2016) reinterprets Evan’s images from his archaeological excavation by layering them with loud, rhythmic electronic music and a synthetically voiced narrator to drive a new story that is as much about the present as it is about the past.

Presenting artifacts from Minoan Crete, archival materials from the Sir Arthur Evans Archive, together with the work of Elizabeth Price, this exhibition explores the relationship between restoration and art. How do archaeologists and artists recover long-silent civilizations and make them meaningful for us today? How do contemporary conditions influence the way we understand the past? Rather than trying to unravel the truths and errors behind Evans’s restorations, this exhibition presents the dynamics between recovery and creation using a work of contemporary video art as a lens on the ancient past.

Émile Gilliéron, fils
Blue Monkey and Papyrus
Watercolor on paper
H. 45 cm; W. 66 cm
After a fresco from the House of the Frescoes, Knossos
Sir Arthur Evans Archive, Evans Fresco Drawing A/8
Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford