I like to joke that if America were closer to Egypt than Europe is, my American art colleague Melissa Wolfe, would have been the in-house curator responsible for “To Live Forever.” As it turned out, I could not have enjoyed my involvement with this exhibition more. Looking at this material, reading the excellent catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, I remembered being a kid again, awaking on Saturday morning’s and reading my Golden Book Encyclopedia about the ancient Egyptians, mummies, their tombs, and their after-life beliefs. And that’s exactly what we brought to Columbus! The exhibition of over a hundred objects of ancient Egyptian art, drawn from the revered collection of the Brooklyn Museum, had all the hallmarks of being an important exhibition for us, but I don’t think anyone here could have envisioned how popular it would be. Attendance has been strong and steady ever since the Friday February 13 opening–a lucky day for us after all. The stars were definitely aligned for success.
Finding an exhibition topic that appeals to people of all ages and other demographics is often difficult. French Impressionism seems like a good bet, but as we have found out, ancient Egypt is of near universal interest. Not only was it a stroke of good fortune that we were able to participate in “To Live Forever’s” national tour, but the exhibition could not have been scheduled at a better time. We were able to take advantage of the Columbus Arts Festival, which is being held in our own neighborhood for the second year as well as a one-week overlap with COSI’s own exhibition “Lost Egypt.” What a better way to build excitement in the community than through synergism and cooperation of this sort.
It’s been really gratifying to see so many school groups, college age students, senior citizens and especially families come to the exhibition, and clearly, they all seem to be having a great experience, which is the core of our Mission Statement “Great Experiences with Great Art for Everyone.” As with all our exhibitions, everyone here tries to make our visitors feel welcome, to make the art accessible, to help explain things while allowing our visitors to have a say too with a variety of interactive moments, where they can share their thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing. “To Live Forever” offered us an important way to reach out not only to our core audience of Members and art lovers in the community but to people who perhaps had rarely or never visited us.
But back to my own experience, as a curator, I have learned a great deal about the ancient Egyptians and enjoyed sharing it in a number of gallery and community talks and through a program that Nannette Maciejunes, our Executive Director, decided to call “Mummy Myth Busters,” although as she pointed out, since we didn’t blow anything up, we really couldn’t call it “Busters.” It turned out to be fun and informative. On two different Thursday evenings, Nannette, Jeff Sims, our Educator for Adult Programs, and I talked about ancient Egypt–and mummies–as they were and are portrayed in popular culture and showed clips of old and new “mummy movies.” Boris Karloff was truly creepy. And did you know, for example, that several hundred years ago, mummies were ground up and used as snuff, drunk as tea, or put on wounds to staunch the bleeding? Or that in the 1890s tons of cat mummies were sold to a company in Liverpool, England to be ground up and used as plant fertilizer? Appropriately, I called those “Freaky Mummy Facts.”
So, I wonder what Demetrios, Brooklyn’s two-thousand year old mummy upstairs in our galleries, would think of all these people staring at him and whispering “Wow!, is there really a body in there?” Actually, just as the title of the exhibition is “To Live Forever,” I guess Mr. Demetrios is in his own way “living forever” and getting a lot of attention in the process. It’s been a great treat to host him here in Columbus, Ohio.
Dominique H. Vasseur, Curator of European Art