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A patron of the arts -- at age 4

November 18, 2005|Sergio Munoz

MY GRANDSON Max is not the only 4-year-old in Los Angeles County who likes to make paintings for his grandparents' bedroom walls. But he may be the only one who likes to make paintings in the style of Van Gogh, Picasso, Tamayo, Pollock and Rothko, his favorite artists.

Like his grandfather, Max loves the arts, and when we're not playing soccer or basketball, we like to look at art books and to visit museums. Last weekend we went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see the King Tut exhibit, which closes Sunday. Although the place was a little too crowded and dark for Max's tastes (and mine), I came away with a new appreciation not just for Egyptian art but also for blockbuster exhibits.

Part of my enjoyment, I confess, was seeing Max's. He especially liked the sculpted animals, the little chairs that the king used and the colorful CT scans of the mummy, which he watched four times. In the children's pavilion next to the exhibit, he chalked a mural depicting Egyptian characters and symbols. He re-created gods and goddesses by assembling their body parts (more complicated than you think, given gods like Anubis); he colored a replica of the small sarcophagus that is a highlight of the exhibit; and he clicked his way through a computer slide show.

But Max, as I said, is already a patron of the arts. As we were leaving the LACMA West building, I was impressed with the flow of people into LACMA's central court. The only other time I remembered seeing such a crush of visitors was when I visited L'Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, more than three decades ago. It was heartwarming to see crowds of art-loving families spilling over the entire museum to see, perhaps for the first time, its collection.

I am very much aware of critics' disdain for blockbuster exhibits such as "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs." In the words of one critic, blockbusters tend to be "long on glitz and short on intellectual adventure." They also tend to be expensive -- this one is $25 for nonmembers, $30 on weekends -- and they may detract from a museum's nonprofit mission.

Yet more than 900,000 people will have seen the King Tut exhibit before it ends its run at LACMA. More than half of those visitors had not been to a museum in two or more years, and at least 16% of them went on to see another show at the museum. So King Tut may have led people to see LACMA's show about Mayan kings or its exhibit chronicling the friendship of Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne.

Granted, I am not an art critic, and neither is Max. Yet we both appreciated LACMA's King Tut exhibit -- and the rest of the museum. The international reputation of an art institution is earned through the presentation of programs and collections that reflect scholarship, creativity and the ability to appeal to a wide array of audiences, from scholars to the mainstream public.

If nothing else, LACMA's current exhibits demonstrate world-class ambition. And who knows -- maybe someday Max's paintings will hang on its walls.

Sergio Munoz

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