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J. Carter Brown  







Egyptian Art; Howard Carter; Tutankhamun; National Gallery of Art  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
16 Apr 1999

  • United States
    District of Columbia
  • National Gallery of Art
  • 38.89147   -77.02001
    Recording TimeCode
  • :04 - 14:55
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Split track

Show: Geographic Century - Howard Carter
Log of DAT #: J. Carter Brown
Date: 4/16/99

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chatting with Don
a lot of coughing

JCB: I¿m J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of National Gallery of Art and chairman of the fine arts commission and chairman of a fine arts television network called ¿Ovation.¿

¿talk a little bit about the exhibition¿

JCB: The Tut show as it got to be known was prob a high water mark in terms of excitement that any show has ever created was in 1976 at the Nat. Gallery, before the East building was opened it was in our West building and it had such an impact that visitors towards the end were setting up pop tents the night before to be first in line.

What led¿

JCB: I happened to be in Egypt at the time that we were just re-establish. diplomatic relations Kissinger¿s shuttle diplomacy and I went to the minister of culture and said we needed a great E. exhibition and shortly after I left they called a cabinet meeting and a decision was taken to do it and then it took a long time to gestate and when it came it had an enormous impact.

Describe show, one or two major pieces.

JCB: The Tut show was very small it was only about 50 pieces but what pieces because the artistic quality of that particular moment in Egyptian art was abs. At the top of everything ever produced and in general Egyptian Art is fabulous. The show was organized by according to Howard Carter¿s rhythm of discovery so as you went in you were faced with a series of blocked walls in the original photographs they were taken at the time and then you would turn and see what he and Lord Canarvan actually saw the photos were black and white so many of the actual objects were gold they made a magical combination, the most important piece was the famous gold mask layer after layer and it was one of great pieces of sculpture that survives from any culture but the fact that it is solid gold gives it this extra umpphhh that blows people away I loved ¿Selkit everyone fell in love with Selkit this great sexy goddess in gold, who was one of four that was guarding the tomb and then there were objects of great interest like a game board that Tut he was afterall a kid, and the fun of playing these games which are like modern monopoly or checkers hurdled one back into time, imaginatively.

The gold mask is an Idealized portrait of King Tut¿.has a lifelike quality which one does not associate with the stylized Egyptian art¿(argument about where to put mask)¿since there was no chronology to the art because they were all made about the same time¿the discovery made the story.

What portion of collection in E. was shown at Nat Gallery?

JCB: The 50 odd pieces that we borrowed were only a tiny % of what came out of the tomb. And its so amazing to think that the tomb was robbed twice¿But ¿they couldn¿t get into the tomb itself¿but when you go into the Cairo museum its a separate section and the number of objects is absolutely overwhelming and this is what makes this archeological find unique really in 20th century archeology.

compares to other collections and disc. Of antiquities

JCB: One hates to make invidious comparison but just so happens that E art lasted several thousand years and most of it looks very similar and Tut¿s father his wife¿s parents started a revolution , they left Thebes and went to Amarna(?) and liberated the artists to go and do sketches from nature and do a new kind of realism and so those same artists and craftsmen were the ones employed to do Tut¿s funerary objects and although they were made by a very conservative priesthood to go back to the old style they had the training that they had been offered by this rev period. So my view, is that artistically it is absolutely at the peak of E Art ¿even¿ Priam ¿still stands out as being virtually unique.

Describe personal reaction

JCB: First went to E as a student and did the Cairo museum very thoroughly the revelation to me then bc Tut stuff was pretty much well known to any art historian was how great the really early stuff was and I thought that the Tut stuff was meretricious¿ but they weren¿t stupid in Cairo they knew that Tut was going to have the magic and when it came I had no regrets.

JCB: In the Cairo Museum¿which at that point was fairly primitive in the way that it was shown Tut material was all segregated and had a cumulative aspect which would just blow you away. Another thing is going to the valley of the kings which is so desolate and so moving I got trapped there at night doing a movie about Tut because our barge left and we were there at night with the howling coyotes and I tell you it scares the Bejezus out of you. My father was at the valley of the kings at the moment that some of these things were coming out, he was traveling to Egypt with his mother after he graduated from Harvard and the publicity was extraordinary and it was hard to get to ¿and their diaries describe in detail the excitement and the cheers as these objects would slowly emerge from this excavation.

JCB: I had heard my father tell about it and then when he died we went through his diaries and my grandmother¿s diaries and were amazed the detail and specificity that described that event¿.I think anyone who goes to Egypt and sees the light and the drama of that landscape gets totally captivated¿

impact of discovery on culture?

JCB: My father always told me that it was hard to describe the international hysteria that was generated by the publicity of this discovery, it was front page news day after day and the Egyptian style once again began to influence fashion, interior design, of course there¿d been a previous period when Napoleon¿s experts had been documenting E. art and that had an Egyptianize-ing rage on the dec. arts throughout Europe. Tut was topic A in the 1920s ¿part of the romance is the idea of the curse of King Tut and when we were doing the Tut show¿ Exxon which was our corporate sponsor staged an elaborate press conference in Radio City and brought over Lord Canarvan¿s son and he was describing the night that his father died and the dog howled and all the lights went out in Cairo, and at the moment all the lights went out in the room and I thought this is just too hokey in fact it was the famous power grid failure in New England. The spike and birthrate nine months later we were on the 50th floor and all had to walk down.


JCB: What gives the curse the lie is that of course Howard Carter lived to a nice age. But people couldn¿t believe that a mosquito bite could have done in Lord Canarvan and in fact ___, his son described the events in Cairo at the time in this built up, and who knows maybe it¿s there I think the Egyptians felt that no one should ever go into that tomb

JCB: Well it was quite a joke in the Nat gallery that if anything went wrong it was the curse of Tut¿in a way just the popularity of the show was the curse of Tut, we went bananas trying to worry about crowd control. I invented this ticketing system which I think is the first one for any museum to try and handle this, and not until the Van Gogh show just recently at the National Gallery has there been the same kind of madness about an art exhibition.

JCB: Hope you¿ll do the drama about 15th season¿


JCB: He was the son of an artist and was an artist and I think he really responded to the artistic quality and was very careful, I think a lesser person would have gone rampaging through that stuff.

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