About blockbuster art/archeology shows



There’s something profoundly wrong with blockbuster art/archeology shows, and you just have to go to one of them to know why. In fact, if you have a reasonable amount of common sense you don’t even have to go, but then you have to live with people telling you that you can’t judge the show since you haven’t seen it - a curious argument in itself, but that’s an entirely different matter.

I remember, a while ago, I happened to be in Frankfurt while the blockbuster Rembrandt show was around. The friends I stayed with suggested to go, and I thought it would be at least interesting since back then I didn’t know all that much about Rembrandt other than that (a reproduction of) the painting “The Man with the Golden Helmet” (a dreadfully dark and uninteresting painting, which, I think, has now even been shown not to be a Rembrandt at all) used to hang in my aunt’s living room. Interesting it was, but it wasn’t really the paintings. Everything was set up like a mix between a rock concert, an open house at a large bank, and a reception for a terrorist turned world leader1. Needless to say, after such a setup seeing the actual paintings was quite disappointing. In fact, if they had managed to bring back Rembrandt himself I still would have been disappointed.

All I remember now was we got a “time slot” some time in the evening, and then inside the huge white tent structure the paintings (all equally dark and dreadful) hung suspended as if floating. I don’t think I could see all that much, and it didn’t take long for me to say “Let’s get out of here.”2

So I was excited to find How they turned King Tut to tat today. Archeology, of course, is a bit different from art, but in the context of such shows the difference is, I think, quite negligible.

1 Back in the early 1990s, as a student I lived in Bonn; and through connections I managed to get into a show with Yassir Arafat as the main attraction. I don’t think they called it a show - I think it was billed as him giving a speech - but a veritable freak show it was, what with security and his antics. Just to put this into historical context: he was visiting Bonn - historically, the German SPD party has deep ties with both Israelis and Palestinians - after the Oslo peace agreement.

2 A few years later, I felt like I had to make up for thinking that Rembrandt paintings weren’t all that exciting by visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. If you’re ever in Amsterdam make sure to see the museum - but not for the Rembrandt stuff, which I still don’t like (just so you won’t send me angry emails telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about: Yes, I do appreciate Rembrandt’s role and technique and all - but after all, it’s still a matter of taste), but instead for some of the other paintings they have.