Monday, May 23, 2011

Finding Ancient Egypt's Sense of Humor

New York Times (Souren Melikian)

Perhaps the future of top museums across the Western world that are strapped for cash lies in cameo exhibitions. This much is suggested by the remarkable show “Haremhab, the General Who Became King” put together by Dorothea Arnold, chairwoman of the department of Egyptian art at the Metropolitan Museum here, and running through July 4. Not only are small exhibitions cheaper, they can sometimes be more effective by inducing much closer attention.

In zooming in on the time of Haremhab, the military chief who wielded immense power before ruling as a pharaoh from around 1316 to 1302 B.C., Ms. Arnold’s exhibition brings out an aspect of Egyptian art that has virtually gone unnoticed. The long-held myth of a culture solely concerned with timeless icons of gods and kings in postures dictated by canon is finally dispelled, even if that is not the purpose of the show. Viewers discover that images of humans lost in their private thoughts and beset by anxiety already appeared in Egypt by the mid-third millennium B.C.

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