Exhibitions: A Museum Gold Rush

Newsweek, October 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Exhibitions: A Museum Gold Rush


Byline: Jonathan Mummolo

It has driven nations to war, civilizations to the pinnacles of prosperity and desperate explorers to their demise. And when it comes to driving wide-eyed crowds to museum halls, the allure of gold is no less potent.

Next month, New York's American Museum of Natural History's aptly named exhibit "Gold" will offer a comprehensive review of how different cultures have used the lustrous, malleable element and will feature artifacts that stretch from ancient times to modernity. Their common thread? Rank and privilege. "Societies that used gold as ornamentation, money ... were societies that had social stratification," says Charles Spencer, chairman of the museum's anthropology division. "Even in our own culture, that's how gold operates ... I think that may be the draw."

A draw indeed. At the Field Museum in Chicago, a largely golden collection of King Tut artifacts has sold nearly 800,000 tickets since May. The display is expected to draw 1 million viewers before it closes Jan. 1--triple the typical number for a seven-month exhibit there.

At the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., a display of African gold has also seen hefty attendance, organizers say. …

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