The Dallas Museum Of Art has landed one of the most controversial exhibits of the decade, and the city couldn’t be happier. “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” a lavish showcase of 130-plus antiquities, first opened stateside in 2005, attracting some four million people during its two-year, four-city run. Produced by AEG, one of the largest sports and concert promoters in the world, “Tut” has enlivened a purist-versus-populist debate over whether scholarly institutions should host such a commercial enterprise. Now that the boy king’s bling is back for an encore, the DMA finds itself in the middle of the ideological fray.
This questionable union of art and commerce has actually been simmering since the seventies, when the original pharaoh exhibit, “Treasures of Tutankhamun,” became the museum world’s first blockbuster. In one corner are the traditionalists who think “Tut” is a blatant moneymaker better suited to an entertainment venue. As a New York Times editorial has observed, it’s a slippery slope when a museum outsources its job—curating content—to a for-profit company. (One influential art blogger has declared the show “ethically dubious and not reflective of our public trust in museums.”) And an extravaganza like “Tut” comes at no small cost to its host. Despite tickets that average $30, the extra staffing and security expenses mean that the DMA is just looking to break even, says newly appointed director Bonnie Pitman.
But Pitman and other Dallas officials consider “Tut” to be a worthwhile investment for both the DMA and the city. At least a million visitors (Mayor Tom Leppert hopes twice that) are expected to come see the Egyptian treasures, which could mean a boost of $150 million or more for the local economy. (Area hotels are prepared for Tut mania: You can sip a Tutini at the W or book a night in the Fairmont Hotel’s King Tut Signature Suite.) This is, after all, the exhibit’s only stop in the Southwest. And speaking of money, proceeds from the tour are going to Egypt to help conserve its famed relics and build new museums. How’s that for serving the common good?
All fuss aside, “Tut” has some cool, older-than-Moses pieces to ogle, many plucked from the young ruler’s tomb—like his dazzling diadem, embellished with cobra and vulture deities, and the golden dagger that lay atop his mummified body. There’s a trove of personal items too, such as his child-size throne (he was only nine or so when he came to power), an elaborately decorated mirror, and even a fancy dog collar (pharaohs: they’re just like us!). You won’t see Tut himself or the solid gold death mask that was such a hit on the seventies tour, but neither will you hear the theatrical mood music that’s been piped into the show at other stops, as the DMA vetoed it. Says Pitman, “It’s not in our aesthetic to do something like that.” From October 3 to May 17; 214-922-1200 or 877-888-8587, dm-art.org
Ever Since Donald Judd erected his one hundred aluminum boxes in Marfa, artists of varying ilk have come to install their own works in this remote West Texas outpost, its wide-open spaces thought to be as transformative as the Ganges. The latest to drop in is a batch of fifteen creatives aiming to turn the town on its ear with “The Marfa Sessions,” a series of sound-based pieces, or “sonic portraits,” recorded in the area. Assembled by three independent curators working with the Ballroom Marfa gallery, these aural projects respectfully upend the supremacy of visual art in this desert paradise.
Some pieces—like Kaffe Matthews’s musical bed (lying in it is encouraged)—will be installed at the Ballroom, but others will be embedded in local hangouts, like the Marfa Book Company, or positioned on the city’s outskirts. Christina Kubisch spent time near an old warehouse by the train tracks to capture the din of a passing locomotive; her final product, one of five site-specific commissions for the show, will be played at a nondescript house downtown. Nina Katchadourian recorded jingles with local musicians that will air on Marfa Public Radio. There’s even a nod to Judd: Steve Roden and Stephen Vitiello taped night noises on the Chinati Foundation grounds. Apparently the old artillery sheds, home to those mysterious cubes, have a nice acoustic quality too. Through February 1; 432-729-3600, ballroommarfa.org
In 1981 performance artist and Illinois native Laurie Anderson had an accidental brush with mainstream fame when her song “O Superman”— a quirky, heavily synthesized, half-spoken rumination on technology-aided communication—became a surprise hit on the UK charts. It faded into the ether as quickly as it had appeared, and Anderson eventually dropped it from her repertoire (though David Bowie slipped it into his 1997 Earthling Tour). But then came 9/11, and suddenly the lyrics—“Here come the planes. They’re American planes. Made in America … And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”—took on an eerie new meaning. Anderson revived “O Superman” a week later, recording it live in New York City.
Perhaps that was when she began to mull over her most recent project, Homeland, a one-hundred-minute “concert poem,” as she calls it, about the “taboo subjects” stewing in many minds these days: the Iraq war, the corrosion of freedoms, the emptiness of consumer culture. If these seem like unwieldy sentiments to set to music, wait till you hear Anderson’s vignettes. Standing behind a keyboard on a votive-strewn stage, she presents her uncensored commentary with the backing of two singers and a chamber-rock ensemble (bass guitarist, cellist, violist, drummer). The delivery is emphatic, whether Anderson is teeing off on a certain administration (“Even though a country can invade another country and flatten it … if the experts say it’s not a problem … then invading those countries is simply not a problem,” she says in “Only an Expert”) or ruefully meditating on empty relationships (“I pretend that you love me, and you pretend that you care,”