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$66 for mummies? That's scary

March 25, 2007|Karin Klein

THEY SAY YOU can't put a price on art, but you have to give the Bowers Museum credit for trying. With its new ticket prices, the quirky but little-known Santa Ana attraction has made itself the most expensive museum on the West Coast. This may be a dubious distinction -- but at least it's a distinction.

On weekends, the Bowers charges $19 for adults, $14 for kids 6 and older. That puts it up there with the Manhattan giants: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. At the Met, the admission fee is voluntary; MoMA has freebie nights, something the Bowers offers only to Santa Ana residents.

But there's nothing gigantic about the Bowers except its price and perhaps its ambition. Sure, it's picturesque, with its mission-style bell tower and courtyard. And its restaurant is good, if your stomach can endure the long waits for a table. (The museum's prices don't seem to keep weekend crowds away.)

For this year, anyway, the big thing at the Bowers is the mummy exhibit, and mummies can sell tickets like nothing else. I'm as much a sucker as anyone for cult-of-the-dead rituals tied to Boris Karloff movies. But for $19, I expect those mummies to sing and tap dance.

The Bowers has been transforming itself over the last few years from an O.C.-centric exhibition hall to a "cultural art" museum. It more than doubled its size with a new wing and introduced small but focused exhibits with popular impact. Thus the mummies -- and a room of Ansel Adams' work.

As a result, the museum has a slightly random feeling. The mummy exhibit combines eye-opening artifacts with thoughtful information. But what's with the short hallway showing a few forms of human ornamentation, with no unifying theme or lesson? A small (apparently older) room with a smattering of Native American artifacts from California tells us almost nothing about how the first Californians lived. A museum cannot live by mummies alone.

And what happens after the linen-wrapped stars go back to the British Museum at the end of this year? That's when terra-cotta soldiers are expected to arrive from China. They ought to draw a few paying customers. I might even be among them.

Yes, $66 is a relatively costly way for a family of four to spend a couple of hours. But have you checked out the price of bowling lately?


Karin Klein

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