Without a doubt the current exhibition is designed to bring in the numbers and generate revenue through bloated ticket sales and, perhaps more importantly, merchandising. Still, there are those who wonder if this is what art gallery or museum exhibitions should be about. Tyler Green, an art journalist who writes for the Modern Art Notes blog, is a particularly vocal critic of the 'for-profit' approach to exhibition design. The precarious relationship between the various host museums who have presented the Tut exhibition and the private groups responsible for organizing the show has been an issue of particular concern to Green who makes this evident in the following blog entry:
Green's reservations are understandable. When private companies (in the case of the Toronto exhibition AEG Live and Arts and Exhibitions International) stand to profit through partnerships with public institutions it is necessary to determine if the public interest is being upheld. Travelling exhibitions at public galleries and museums serve to introduce visitors to works they might otherwise not have occasion to see (especially if those works are from distant collections). Yet they also serve to educate. Curatorship is therefore an essential aspect of the exhibition and the scholarship that informs (and develops through) the design of the show must be made accessible to the public. Moreover, if the exhibition follows upon earlier shows treating similar material it should build upon the body of knowledge established by prior curatorial work.
Thirty years after hosting the first major Tut blockbuster (which included the funerary mask)* the AGO is once again inviting the public to engage with the art of the Pharaohs. But is this new exhibition expanding our knowledge of ancient Egyptian art or superficially treating a subject that has been treated many times over? As we look at the current exhibition we might ask if it is challenging our perceptions. Is it relevant to have an exhibition on this subject at this particular moment in history?** Does the exhibition help us to explore why we find ancient Egyptian art so fascinating (and, for that matter, why it ranks among one of the few subjects that will guarantee blockbuster ticket sales)? Does it build upon existing scholarship? How does the exhibition benefit us? As we reflect upon these questions we at least have occasion to reflect upon the role of public galleries and museums in our society and, hopefully, their importance.
*The first blockbuster which was presented to North American viewers between 1976 - 1979.
** The timing of the first blockbuster coincided with a moment in history when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Egypt were were of particular concern. This point is obeserved in the following ABC News blog entry: