Don't Call Me Da Vinci.

While doing research for next week's class I came across this fantastically thrilling video. I'm thinking of showing it to my students.

Even though it might be unfounded, this is really what art history is about: an idea, even a wild one, and plenty of humble detective work. Seeing this made me recall a National Geographic video I saw a few months ago at Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs. This is the worst exhibition I have ever seen. In fact I was politely outraged and offended by the entire event.

I know that this show has been touring the world for decades, bringing museums millions of visitors and much needed funding and probably introducing many people to both art and Egyptian culture. 
The objects on display were fine, many of them very interesting. However, there was a general tone set forth and this is what colored my opinion. From the moment we arrived we were treated to dramatic displays of showmanship. Harrison Ford narrated while we stood in a room featuring black lights and pseudo-Egyptian architecture. This was meant to build our anticipation while we were waiting to enter.  I should have run the other way immediately. Instead I pushed through, searching for the exit. The exhibition had the feel of a circus sideshow with objects on display in curio boxes for the scrutiny of tawdry onlookers who had been riled up by the pre-game into a hungry frenzy. If only the show could treat both the art and their consumers with respect by offering them something honest and challenging. I did see a pretty great sculpture of Akhenaten, but I desperately wanted to break free from the oppressive setting so I didn't get a closer look.

The crowning disgrace was a video (made by National Geographic) featuring the Indiana Jones-ish Head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass. He claims that "after extensive DNA testing"* he is absolutely, without a single doubt, certain that King Tut was the son of the visionary outsider Akhenaten. The video was projected in the last room of the show (right before the obscene gift shop and Egyptian cutouts you can put your head in for a silly snapshot) with what appeared to be a reproduction of the skeletal, mummified remains of Tut. Everyone in the packed room was enraptured. I was now openly disgusted. A woman next to me said, "It's true, I saw it all over the Discovery Channel." I wanted to scream. Why am I so angry when all of Egypt and maybe the world is on board?

*as you can see in the video, extensive amounts to one day

I first heard this incredible piece of information last semester when a student alerted me to the fact, as he read it in his textbook. Stokstad, how could you casually insert such news? It infuriates me that people do not question and challenge the things they see or read. Though, my expectations may be high and my temper too fiery. But really, this clip is just insulting and almost cruel. Why treat an audience like yielding lambs? It's all a little too convenient. Did the results really come in at dawn? What about inbreeding, which was very common then? How do they know for sure that these bodies are who they think they are? Hawass and his scientists claim that it has "worked out beautifully." Why is this story played like some cheap reality television show? Highly suspect.

In any case, this is not how art history or archaeology should be conducted. Even as a young art historian I know that it takes more than one day to prove something and even then you can never be completely sure. Especially when you're talking about something from 4,000 years ago. Despite the exhibition providing an good amount of educational history and information as a whole this show and its co-horts, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, are the anti-thesis of educational. I may be spoiled by having many, many incredible Egyptian collections right here in the Northeast, but this kind of representation is an irresponsible way of educating. I am still shocked that these respected and valuable resources would sign on so whole-heartedly. It's very sad.

I'm not sure exactly what inspired this invective. Perhaps it is a combination of the critical thinking I was supposed to be constantly wielding during grad school, a strong affinity for Egyptian art, or the makings of a true art history crime story. It's not so impossible that there are some sketchy politics and dangerous capitalization at work here. My instincts tell me that something is not right. After a quick search I found this article from 2011 that discusses some of Hawass' history and behavior. Even though Hawass has done great things in his field, there are also a large number of questionable things. After Mubarak left office in Egypt last year protests resulted in Hawass also losing his position. Ok, so I'm not the only one in the world who felt uncomfortable with this guy.

In happier news...
Stay tuned for Tuesday's lesson, "Don't Call Me Da Vinci and Other Renaissance Men."*

Even though Michelangelo is misspelled, how can I resist?! Anyway spelling is the least of my concerns.

Can you tell which works they are citing here?

*title conceived of by A. Teich

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