Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

I’ve just been to the new de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to see the soon-closing exhibit Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. The exhibit closes here 5 February, moving to The Met in New York (21 March-9 July) and finally the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth (27 August-10 December 2006). Rather than a strict focus on Hatshepsut, the artifacts included in the exhibit date to the early Eighteenth Dynasty in general, down into the sole reign of Thutmose III, with a majority of non-royal items. There were some huge statues, at least twice life-size, included, but the vast majority of items were small, and therefore difficult to enjoy or even to see due to the crush of the crowd (never go to the museum on the weekend!). The catalog is quite fine, and nearly a steal at under $30 for the softcover (only $35 for the hardcover), which you can, for now, purchase online here (in the past, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco website links to such have been temporary, so I don’t expect this link to be valid for too much longer). In any case, if you have a chance to see the exhibit in SF, New York, or Fort Worth, it’s well worth the effort if you can avoid the crush. There are items in the catalog that I didn’t see at all in the museum due to the number of people in the way. I’ll probably make a morning visit during the week, which I had intended to do last week, but it was too busy a week. Note to all potential patrons of any museum: when you want to know the least crowded time to go, ask a docent sometime, and then go only at their recommended times. Again: never go to a major museum on the weekend if you actually intend on having a remotely pleasant visit. I should’ve known better. Still, I did have a very nice rainy day’s walk through Golden Gate Park, which is almost always nice.

Since the de Young just reopened in November (the original museum was severely damaged in the 1989 earthquake, closed in 2000, torn down, and this new museum constructed), part of the interest for me today was in seeing the new museum, as I was rather fond of the old building, never having thought it so ugly as some say it was. Well, it’s different, of course, and will take some getting used to, like any new building. I don’t think the new tower is ever going to grow on me, as it resembles too strongly an air traffic control tower. The exterior of the museum is sheathed in beaten copper, which, now that it’s taking on a patina, is actually quite nice (by all accounts it was quite ugly when new and shiny). The landscaping is still in progress, and as it was raining today with just a little too much wind as I was leaving, a stroll through the sculpture garden was not on my list, but it looks like a nice thing for more pleasant weather. Unfortunately, across the way from the de Young, the California Academy of Sciences is now closed and being reconstructed, with a re-opening date of “late 2008,” so there’s going to be construction going on for a while right there.

Anyhow, if you have a chance, see the Hatshepsut exhibit. It’s well worth your time, just for the indescribable serenity of line and form that Egyptian art possesses and the calm that this distinctively beautiful tradition of art instills.

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