King Tut The Sequel

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King Tut The Sequel

The other day I was surprised with a handsome package that arrived in the mail bearing the name of an old and somewhat famous acquaintance, someone from whom I haven't heard for over a quarter of a century. Inside there was an expensive looking, handmade leather folder; the kind you might find in an upscale gift shop. I was probably one of a hundred or so lucky guests invited to come for a reunion. And it was obvious that no expenses were spared in the announcement of my friend's upcoming visit to town. I know you're dying to hear his name. Okay, it's Tutankhamun--or King Tut to you, and I think it's time to get serious.

The Egyptian government needs hundreds of millions of dollars in order to build a new museum near the Pyramids for their archeological finds. A private, for-profit company has stepped in and proposed an international tour of the Tutankhamun artifacts, in hopes of repeating the huge success of the first King Tut show, which gave birth to the very phenomena of the museum blockbuster. "King Tut Two", as sequels go, will have the same characters and story line as its predecessor, but to keep our interest, additional previously-not-seen artifacts have been added to the tour. Smelling the prospect of a huge crowd and handsome profits, American museums jumped at the opportunity to host the show, in spite of the lack of scholarly credentials of the people behind the whole endeavor. I'm not sure what I find the most disturbing: the fact that the admission price will be a whopping $30 per ticket, or the very idea that any museum would consider revisiting a subject that has been so well-trodden. I still believe that museums exist to preserve, study and present the accumulated wealth of artifacts, and knowledge about the world and our place in it. We consider museums to be centers of education continuously expanding their territories, and covering new grounds.

When the Metropolitan Museum declined to host King Tut the Second, museum director Philippe de Montebello said that it would be against the museum's policy to charge a separate price for the exhibition on top of the general museum admission. Hats off to the Met. Being a private museum, they could charge whatever the market could bear, but they held their ground against these exorbitant price demands. Unfortunately this was not the case with LACMA, our public museum. Its president and director, Andrea Rich, couldn't resist the temptation. Never mind the fact that we already support the museum with our tax dollars. Now they want us to pay through the nose for an exhibition put together not by museum scholars, but by private parties who stand to line their pockets with a handsome profit.

Though the Egyptian government will share in this profit, it's not acceptable for an American public museum not only to lower its academic standards, but also to make it difficult, if not impossible, for many families to attend the show. In a democratic society, attending a museum should be an affordable habit, not a luxury. During my recent trip to London, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only was the admittance to most museums free, but that they also stay open seven days a week. And to that, I say, "God bless the Queen." We still have something to learn from our cousins overseas with whom, according to Oscar Wilde, we are connected by the ocean and separated by the language.

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
June, 16 - November 15, 2005
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, Ca 90036
Telephone: 213-623-4200