Tuesday, July 29, 2008

King Tut exhibit spurs purist-vs.-populist debate

Miami Herald (Michael Granberry)

When "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" comes to Dallas in October, its Texas expectations will be as large as the legacy of the boy king himself.

Bonnie Pitman, the new director of the Dallas Museum of Art, boldly predicts that more than 1 million visitors will make their way to the Arts District to catch a glimpse of the 130 rare Egyptian artifacts.

But is it an art exhibit or a rock show? And who stands to benefit monetarily, the DMA or the organizers?

Pitman is anything but bullish about the show's financial prospects.

"Our goal," she says, "is to break even. I don't see this as a huge moneymaker."

Even so, Pitman considers the objects so extraordinary that she and other civic leaders thought the museum owed its constituency the pleasure of seeing them. The curious can flock from Dallas, Austin, Houston and points beyond to see a collection so ancient that some pieces may predate even Moses. She is, however, mindful of controversy.

Since its debut in Los Angeles in 2005, the exhibition has weathered barbs from critics and museum professionals. The more skeptical see it as purely commercial and not an enterprise that ought to be showcased in venues such as the DMA, which prides itself on a scholarly, encyclopedic collection. If anything, it has stirred a purist-vs.-populist debate that rages anywhere the boy king travels.

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