Why corporate "social responsibility" frightens me

King Tutankhamun at the Field Museum

Yesterday, I visited the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum. It was an interesting experience in blockbuster exhibitions. It was produced, which I mean in the broadway musical sense, by Arts and Exhibits International, a company made up of former heads for Clear Channel Communications.

It demonstrated to me how so much has changed about museums in the past 10 years. The exhibit felt less about the "gold" and more about how these funerary objects fit within royal life during Tutankhamun's era. It contextualizes the experience within his dynastic family, Egyptian ideas about the afterlife, everyday objects and uses of them by royal households, the tomb itself, and, most interestingly, the new knowledge made from the CAT scans of the body. One thing I had not be aware of was the what would now be considered racist depictions of the Nubians. Images of Egyptions trampling Nubians (and Syrians) abound in the exhibit. There is one walking stick of a captured Nubian, that was completely reminiscent of the black lawn jockey's.

The exhibit itself was well designed by Arts and Exhibits international, with signage all around the top of the cases written in larger type, mood music in the background, combinations of intimate and group spaces, and a nice flow. It took 1.5 hours to tour the exhibit, but at no time did I feel bored, overwhelmed, or restless. It may help that it was narrated by Omar Sharif, whom I adore.

But it also is an indication of the infotainment quality of today's blockbuster exhibits, where I felt I was at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. There is something different about the expectations of the museum which is in transition, but unresolved.


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