Thursday, June 16, 2005

Tut, Tut ... Just Another Entertainment Event?

It's all things Tut in L.A. this week. I happened to be in the bowels of LACMA yesterday and the energy was high. Security was tighter than usual and media types were everywhere. Look forward to long lines, expensive merchandise and fluff pieces appearing in news outlets across the country.

tut on wilshire

My major problem with the exhibition is the way that our museum has been hijacked to serve corporate interests:

"I hate to say this, but it's very similar to how we would go market another entertainment event, like a major awards show or sporting event," says Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the sports and entertainment presenter that developed Staples Center, among other venues, and is financing the exhibition."

tut crown
Royal diadem found on the head of Tutankhamun when the British archaeologist Howard Carter opened his coffin.

The objects in the exhibition are magical. They bring us to another time. And they help illumine the artistic legacy of Africa and what is now the Arabic world. But there is something of the grave robber in all of this. Howard Carter removed the crown (shown above) from Tutankhamun's head and, as documented in the recent National Geographic cover article on Tut, Carter desecrated Tutankhamun's well preserved corpse which had become tightly fastened to his coffin by laying the mummy in the scorching Egyptian sun to melt the hold between Tutankhamun's body and its 3200 year-old resting place.

Tutankhamun's legacy should inspire reverence for humanity, not for gold or the dollar.

Members have to pay a hefty surcharge to get tickets and non-members are asked to shell out up to $30. Is this about scholarship? Or history? Or art? Or is it more along the lines of Peter Keller's diamonds and dinosaurs and mummies:

"I've often said that if I could start a museum from scratch, it would be diamonds, dinosaurs and mummies — those are the three home runs in the museum world," says Peter Keller, president of the Bowers Museum.

Look where the mad pursuit for home runs got Barry Bonds. Should we put an asterisk next to Tut's future attendance records?

I hope that the exhibition leaves LACMA in a sound state when Tut is over and the crowds clear. But I wonder, what does the financial deal with AEG look like? I worry that this will set a precedent of art exhibitions being run by entertainment presenters. Is this the start of a trend?

My reverence for LACMA runs deep. When I was 11 and just starting to paint, I would carry a sketchbook around the museum and make visual notes on the paintings. Later while at UCLA, LACMA was my artistic refuge. Currently, I have a painting illustrated on their website. It is my hope that the massive media attention on Tut will not pull the museum too far off course.


I'll return to LACMA during Tut but look for me in the Japanese Pavilion.

National Geographic:

LACMA: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs: June 16, 2005–November 15, 2005

Quotes from Diane Haithman in the LA Times: the return of king tut


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