Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt

Hmmmm....  Well, as 'Sis always says, sex sells - see below.

"Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt" through Jan. 2 at The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia; 215-448-1200; Adult tickets $26.50 Monday-Thursday, $29.50 Friday-Sunday. Kids 11 and under $19.50 daily.

Cleopatra gets the royal treatment in Philadephia exhibit
By Ray Mark Rinaldi
The Denver Post
Posted: 07/24/2010 12:22:59 AM MDT
Updated: 07/24/2010 12:24:19 AM MDT

The Berlin Cleopatra, controversial sculpture - is it -
or is it not - her?
PHILADELPHIA — In Cleopatra's world, King Tut is so yesteryear.

Sure, Tut was an ancient wonder, a boyish monarch who ruled the center of civilization and assembled one of the showiest burial plots on the planet.

But Cleopatra was a modern woman, relatively speaking, with a more contemporary lure. Strong, smart and assertive, she broke the mold for a queen of her day. Yes, it all ended tragically, but until then she lived the kind of life — the clothes, the power, the famous boy toys — that plays perfectly to today's celebrity-awed world.

That siren image is at the center of "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt," which premiered at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia last month and continues there through Jan. 2. The exhibit is a dramatic, multimedia journey back in time, weaving together the lore of this larger-than-life historical figure with tales of the daring, present-day archaeologists who search endlessly for the artifacts of her time.

Anyone who toured Tut's riches on their recent travels across the United States (the exhibit "Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" is currently at the Denver Art Museum) will recognize this theatrical style of resurrecting the Egyptian empire. It is produced by the same team, led by National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

And if Tut's mix of films, graphics and real treasures, set to evocative music, lighting and narration, thrilled you, a journey to this family-friendly city for the new Cleopatra fest is likely to do the same.

The shows have distinct personalities, partly because Cleopatra lived 69-30 B.C., a dozen or so centuries after Tut, and historians know more about her. The last pharaoh of Egypt, she lived in a time that mirrored the great days of the Roman Empire, and she mingled with leaders from around the globe.

There's also the fact that there was no great find of Cleopatra's tomb to mirror the focus of the Tut exhibit. While "Tutankhamun's" centerpiece is the actual objects buried with him, Cleopatra relies on relics from the time period that reference her. The exhibition's great headless stature of an Egyptian queen of the day — and it is a beautiful, graceful piece of art rather than simple artifact — may or may not be Cleo.

Milton Berle camps it up as Cleo in 1962 televisonn special.
Seductive swinger

But the real difference is the way the exhibition in Philadelphia exploits gender. It celebrates the queen's "charm and brilliance" and touts her ability to "captivate" Julius Caesar and, later, Mark Antony. She is a woman who "captured the hearts" of the rich and powerful.

The fact that she was a cunning queen who ruled assuredly is surely in there, but the main takeaway is that Cleo was a seductive swinger who used her spunk and wiles to make her way. Part of that is because of the exhibition's inclusion of Hollywood movies — don't miss the clip of Elizabeth Taylor and other stars halfway through; the suicide scenes rock — and also to the sexy voice of "Cleo," accented and alluring, that plays on the audio narration that comes with the entrance fee.

There's more to it, of course. Visitors learn plenty about the final days of the doomed Ptolemaic dynasty. The artifacts, of bronze and diorite, reveal a time of surprising craftsmanship and sleek style. It's all impressive, from the giant stone deities to the elegant jewelry to the everyday ladles and pitchers to the frightful armaments that kept Alexandria mighty and prosperous for centuries.

The surrounding personalities charm, as well. There's first and foremost Dr. Zahi Hawass, the charismatic modern-day explorer who has become the face of Egypt's quest for its own past, searching for Cleopatra's tomb on land. His co-star is French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, who leads the search for Ptolemaic treasures in the coastal sea where the great cities of their day have been submerged by tidal shifts. Both men excel at bringing out the drama of their work.

It's tough to share billing with the most famous woman in history, but these guys, because of their great exploits, make it happen, grounding a fantastical trip to a queen's land in present-day realities.
This person does not recommend visiting the exhibit at all:
Review of ‘Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt’ at the Franklin Institute
by Andrew Bull on July 25, 2010
in Art, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Art & Museums

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