Cleopatra at the Milwaukee Public Museum
“Age can not wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”
– William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor wore enough of the right stuff to glam-up her 1963 role as Cleopatra in a Fox film that buried itself in budgetary woes, and prior to that burial, Claudette Colbert and Vivian Leigh sallied forth in veils and jewels. Much has been writ about Cleopatra VII, but to date, her remains remain hidden. Unearthing clues to the genuine Queen may be easier if you attend the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt,” Oct. 14 – April 29, 2012. (ticket info: 414-223-4766; www.mpm.edu)
For starters, Cleopatra VII, despite her kohl-rimmed eyes, was no Taylor. Additionally, she was Macedonian, not Egyptian. Her approach was to cut a deal by using the art of conversation. The tale unfolds, when, as a teenager, she had herself bound into a bed roll and delivered to Julius Caesar. Was her aquiline nose, as carved into various statues of her era, too lengthy to be noble? Did she expire from the string of an asp? Note: The noses on the statues are often gone missing, as noses on statues are wont to do.
It’s a cool rainy morning, and a tomb-like chill greets me as I step into the exhibition and wend my way across a glassy bridge, under which, various artifacts rest in a bed of sand.
Around the corner and I’m in Canopus: City of Sin, City of God, rich with relics fashioned from bronze, limestone, lead and gold. Looming ahead are two enormous Colossi, imposing figures which no doubt put terror into the very souls of those who approached them in the long ago. The journey snakes and bends and curves past numerous statues without noses, interspersed with elegantly slender pots, and all manner of historical items. Along the route, are imaginative graphics (a topography map resembles a design from the funky 50s) and video presentations that detract rather than attract. In one of the divided tomb rooms is a simple slat bench okay for sitting upon. I pause to study the floors (the museum’s original parquet) and walls awash with ripples of light. The air is filled with tunes plucked on harps accompanied by a choir of ghostly singers (oddly New Age with a touch of Phillip Glass), but by the time the winding path halts (thankfully, they saved the Hollywood hoopla of movie moments for the end), I’m yearning for dead silence and don’t care if Cleopatra VII was or was not beautiful. This is a big show, a beautiful show that demands more than fifteen minutes of fame. Prepare to spend at least a few hours in this tomb of wonders.
Egypt’s leading archeologist, Zahi Hawass, an explorer-in-residence with the National Geographic Society (a co-sponsor of the museum’s exhibition), is hot on the trail of Cleopatra’s tomb, and it’s a fact he wears an Indiana Jones-style topper. In May 2010, it was announced he had perhaps found the tomb of Cleopatra (and Antony). Perhaps, but this event is far more than Cleo and Antony, but Mr. Hawass at least gets a shot at plugging his product.
As all blockbuster tales are destined to end, this one does, in a wild gift shop, a shop which accompanies the traveling artifacts. I’m saving that experience for a later piece, though a shop employee did say she sold an Indiana Jones hat to a “bohemian” shopper.
Thank the Gods, TCD’s crack photo intern Jennell Jenney was along for the trip. It was a glorious experience, by far, the best yet at our Milwaukee Public Museum.
“Cleopatra: The Search For The Last Queen of Egypt”
Oct. 14-April 29, 2012
Milwaukee Public Museum
Tickets: 414-223-4766 or www.mpm.edu