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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 36
All hail King Tut
Arts & Entertainment
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All hail King Tut

Egyptian treasures highlight Seattle's overflowing fall arts scene

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

The Emerald City hosts a cornucopia of outstanding museum and art exhibits. It may be a milestone of the fall arts season for Seattle to have seemingly endless choices in the visual arts world - everything from the fabled gold of Egypt's King Tut to the (literally) glowing glass instillations at Dale Chihuly's new Garden and Glass exhibition at Seattle Center to the lemons-into-lemonade exhibit of post-Civil War quilting at the Bellevue Arts Museum

TUT DRAWING RECORD CROWDS
The current North American tour of treasures from King Tut's tomb has surprised no one by shattering attendance records at the Pacific Science Center. Now on the last leg of its multi-year journey, the 150 objects in Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs arrived in Seattle to great fanfare in May. For the most part, the exhibit (open through January 6) exceeds expectations.

The previous Tut exhibit, in the late 1970s, featured about 75 high-quality, world-famous objects from the long forgotten tomb of the obscure "Boy King," who died after less than 10 years on the throne. Early 20th-century Egyptologist Howard Carter believed fervently that Tut's tomb was unfound, unplundered, and held unimaginable riches. And he was right - his discovery of the pharaoh's basically intact tomb in 1922 captured the imagination of the world, and the year-by-year revelations of its riches captivated the art world.

About half of the current exhibit celebrates Egypt's long history, with Tut's treasures comprising the other half. While the fondly remembered 1970s blockbuster, the first real smash-hit exhibition Seattle had ever experienced, featured only major items, the current show offers a strange mixture of the mundane (even the 10 gold fingernail protectors from the mummy can seem mundane) and the unbelievable. Gone is the world-famous gold mask from the mummy cases. Another golden mask, from a lesser-known pharaoh, is on display in the exhibit's first half, but that is simply not the Tut mask - which, inexplicably, is still being used for the exhibit's poster and other promotional materials. Strange.

One of the most touching items is a simple cedar wooden chest with a rare (we are told) dome top. This unpainted, unadorned chest holds the embalmed fetuses of Tut's two stillborn children. He and his child-wife had no heirs when the Boy King died mysteriously at about age 19.

Electronic displays behind the actual objects are a revelation. The three sets of golden shrines protecting Tut's mummy are "removed" in the electronic recreation, to stunning effect. The step-by-step preparation of the four canopic jars (used to store the internal organs in the mummification process) is likewise revelatory.

Another highlight is the placement of the exhibit items against oversized photo murals of the tomb in disarray - plundered early on by grave-robbers who took the gold and left the everyday objects, including alabaster lamps of incredible delicacy, childhood board games, and beaded sandals. To see one of the lamps stacked with other items in the photomural, and see the actual lamp in front of it, is simply breathtaking.

A few quibbles: This special, timed-ticket exhibit is expensive, and it is also user-unfriendly (no chairs or benches are offered for a contemplative moment, and there are no restrooms inside the exhibit area). A "no return" policy is posted, and while it is not always strictly enforced, by exiting to use the PSC's restrooms one risks not being allowed back in. Still, five stars. Highest recommendation.

GLASS ART BRIGHTENS SEATTLE CENTER
The new Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery at Seattle Center, replacing the needed-to-go Fun Forest, is another "must see" addition to Seattle's visual arts scene. Technically, it is not a museum - rather, it is a commercial celebration of the Northwest's most famous glass designer. It opened to widespread predictions of artistic and financial disaster, but turned out to be an overwhelming success, shattering box office expectations almost daily.

The exhibit, ranging from recreations of European installations to a semi-"closet cleaning" gallery to brand-new creations - exceeds all expectations and displaces any fears of crass commercialism. A highlight is the on-premises restaurant, crammed full of items from Chihuly's private collection. Even the individual tables contain glassed-over displays. You name it, Chihuly collects it. Great food, greater service. Five stars. Highest recommendation.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN QUILTS IN BELLEVUE
While the Seattle Center hosts two "glittering" (gold and glass) exhibits, the intimate Bellevue Arts Museum puts the focus on folk art with Bold Expressions: African American Quilts from the Collection of Corrine Riley, a glorious celebration of the quilting craft (closes October 7). Of the three exhibits featured in this overview, it is this scribe's personal favorite.

African American women in the rural South created these incredible quilts simply for practical reasons - to keep their families warm in winter. To make them, scraps of cloth were saved - some as tiny as matchbooks. Thousands and thousands of tiny scraps created one of the most stunning items on display. Tongue-in-cheek designs ("Kittens in a Basket," "Texas Star") show the resourcefulness of these women and their innate artistic expression. The show is unforgettable and well worth the trip to Bellevue, despite the bridge tolls. Five stars.

AUSTRALIAN ART BIZ BOOMING
As SGN - and this scribe - reported early this summer, the Seattle Art Museum's major show of Ancestral Modern Australian Aboriginal Art and the Jeffrey Moose Gallery's showcasing of similar art for sale gave Seattleites a rare opportunity. The tongue-in-cheek "See it at SAM, Buy it at Jeff's" ad campaign became reality as the gallery and the museum shared guest speakers, hosted important art experts, and collaborated in other ways. Although the SAM exhibit is now closed, the gallery show has been extended through October.

While the exhibit's centerpiece - a monumental $45,000 painting by a group of major artists - has not yet sold, the entry-level items were "snapped up in a matter of hours or days," says Moose. The Gallery is on the second floor of the Rainier Square building and in its new space on 5th Avenue.

Way to go, Mr. Moose! Call (206) 467-6951 for hours, and as usual, tell 'em SGN sent ya.

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