Field Museum plans major exhibit of Greek antiquities

Source: ChicagoBusiness.com

The Field Museum's exhibit will include a replica of the golden mask of Agamemnon

The Field Museum’s exhibit will include a replica of the golden mask of Agamemnon

The Field Museum is planning a major exhibition with the government of Greece and 17 museums from that country to showcase some of the world’s oldest antiquities, including a replica of the golden mask of Agamemnon and a bust of Alexander the Great.

“It will be a blockbuster. It will have materials that have never left Greece before. It’s a real coup,” Field Museum President and CEO Richard Lariviere said during a presentation today about the museum’s strategic plan before members of the City Club of Chicago.

The 2015 showcase of Greek antiquities (being done with the National Hellenic Museum) and other upcoming exhibits are part of a larger effort to attract visitors, especially Chicagoans, Mr. Lariviere said. Of the 1.3 million visitors to the museum last year, he said 1 million came from out of state.

Mr. Lariviere, who was hired for the top job at the Field in 2012, spent much of last year dealing with the effects of the recession and a goal to cut $5 million in costs from the museum, or about 8 percent of its $65 million operating budget. The museum also has taken heat for borrowing irresponsibility and for selling Western artifacts in 2004 as a result of financial stress. Mr. Lariviere glossed over the museum’s finances today, except to say it was financially healthy and that its bond rating had been boosted.

After the event, he said it was on track to eliminate $5 million from its operating budget, which was reported last year.

In a Q&A period of the discussion, Mr. Lariviere was asked, “Did you do the right thing when you sold the Indian paintings?” The reference was to those works sold in 2004.

“I wasn’t there,” Mr. Lariviere said.

He spent much of his time today talking about the behind-the-scenes work in research that goes on at the museum, which is ranked among the world’s top scientific institutions, next to the Smithsonian in Washington, the American Museum in New York and the London Museum of Natural history.

“The real value, the lasting impact (of the museum) lies in its collections and its efforts to translate science into action,” he said.

He pointed to the Field’s vast collection of peregrine falcon eggs determining that DDT was the cause of the bird’s near demise, which ultimately prompted the federal government to ban the use of DDT. “It was the salvation of the bald eagle and the falcon and who knows how many other birds that were saved as a result,” he said.

And when a panda was born recently at the Smithsonian Zoo, its DNA was compared to the DNA of pandas, snow leopards and other endangered species that were shot by explorer Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, and stored at the Field.

The costs of such research and the storage of those species are great and require the museum to rethink how it does business.

To address that, the Field is going to open up behind-the-scenes tours for the public into its treasures. Of the museum’s 1.3 million square feet, only 300,000 is open to the public now.

Mr. Lariviere says the Field will open new labs that will allow the public to see scientists in action, similar to ones now open that show DNA sequencing and fossil extraction.

Other additions to the museum include bringing out rare objects in the museum’s collection and a soundscape exhibit that will take visitors on an audio tour back in time. The museum also will continue showcasing exhibits like the recent display of a meteorite that was found in Russia.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the mask of Agamemnon is a replica.

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