Museum of art at BYU opens with exhibit of 'lost civilization'

The new Museum of Art at Brigham Young University will be opened to the public Oct. 18, featuring a major exhibit of remnants left behind by the Etruscan civilization more than 2,000 years ago.

Members of the media and other guests attended a preview Oct. 11, and the building was dedicated Oct. 13.A report on the dedication will be included in next week's Church News.

The Etruscan exhibit, artifacts of a people who lived in ancient Italy from about 1000 B.C. to 300 B.C. and who had a great impact on the development of the Roman Empire, will be the only exhibit in the museum through April 30, 1994. Many of the museum's exhibits will be free of charge, but tickets must be purchased for the Etruscan show which will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday except holidays.

The show, called "The Etruscans: Legacy of a Lost Civilization," comes to BYU from the Gregorian Museum of the Vatican Museums in Italy via its other three stops in the United States - Morristown, N.J.; Dallas, Texas; and Memphis, Tenn. The current tour marks the only time the artifacts have been out of the Vatican museum since Pope Gregory XVI built the museum to house them in 1836.

The 100,000-square-foot museum at BYU provides an impressive home for the Etruscan collection, said James A. Mason, the museum's director.

"[The museumT is certainly state of the art," he said. BYU had an edge in negotiations to earn a place on the Etruscan tour, he added. "We had the kind of facility that could handle it."

The new museum building located on the northeast part of the BYU campus is spacious and clean, providing galleries on two of its three levels for the current exhibit. Just as important is the new museum's efficient security setup and a controlled environment that will protect the displays from damage, according to Brother Mason.

"When the curators from the Vatican came, they were full of praise," he said.

Brother Mason said that a lot of planning went into the development of the museum. He said that he and his colleagues "went to school" at other art museums around the country, gathering information on the best features for inclusion in the BYU building.

The result was not only elaborate display areas, but also functional work stations and abundant storage areas.

"We built from the inside out so it would function well as a museum," Brother Mason said. "We got pretty much what we wanted, and we got it with money that we raised, not money from the Church or from [BYUT. The museum looks plush because of careful planning."

The money came through donations from 1,400 people "who were as enthused as I was about the museum, enthused enough to give money to pay for it."

The museum was made spacious for a reason. "There is nothing worse than going to a museum and being packed in," Brother Mason said. "And our ceilings are high enough to accommodate large paintings."

The exhibits in the museum will change from time to time as its staff makes progress toward displaying its 14,000 pieces as well as additional visiting shows. Brother Mason said the next exhibit will include "150 Years of American Art," consisting of the museum's own pieces, along with a display of colonial musical instruments on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

"That will be a boon for musicologists and others," Brother Mason said. "These kinds of things will attract a lot of scholars.

The Etruscan show brought together archaeologists, artists, historians and others, he pointed out.

The Etruscan civilization emerged in Etruria, north of Rome and flourished until it was smothered by the Roman Empire. At its height, the Etruscan civilization's influence spread throughout ancient Italy. It was the Etruscans, in fact, who turned Rome from an obscure village into a flourishing city, thus the exhibit's slogan: "Rome wasn't built in a day; it wasn't built by the Romans either."

Many things considered Roman, including the toga, the keystone arch and water conduits, actually came from the Etruscans, according to museum officials.

While Etruscan records are virtually non-existent, historians and archaeologists have been able to piece together the Etruscan story from the records of the Greeks and Romans, and especially from the murals and artifacts discovered in Etruscan necropoli, or cities of the dead. Actual Etruscan cities totally disappeared over time.

The 178 items in the exhibit come from the tombs, showing that the Etruscans were deeply religious, surrounding themselves with their treasures after death in hope of a glorious afterlife.

The BYU tour begins at the replica of an Etruscan temple gate under the domed octagonal skylight in the museum's main gallery. Each patron is given a cassette player and headphones for a personal audio tour that is scheduled to last about 45 minutes. However, that portion of the tour may take much longer because the narration doesn't include every exhibit and patrons are free to turn off the tape to take a longer look.

Early in the tour there is a video overview of Etruscan history and civilization. From there, the tour wends through divisions in several galleries with separate exhibits on different aspects of Etruscan life.

The actual artifacts are augmented by theatrical elements such as replicas of houses, buildings and gates as well as costumed figures of the Etruscan people.

Among the highlights are burial urns of clay that once held bones and ashes of those who died in that period. Beyond their primary function, they are patterned after the homes of the people, providing a detailed look at Etruscan residences.

Sculptured terra cotta heads give a detailed idea of what the Etruscan people looked like.

One gallery contains objects used by the Etruscans. There is a pair of candelabra made of bronze and a raised bronze design of the horned and bearded Greek river god Acheloos, which was probably used as a wall hanging. Also on display is a small, black ceramic inkwell engraved with letters that make up a writing exercise.

Although the Etruscans were a sensual people who enjoyed the pleasures of life, they were also noble warriors, according to the audio narration. Some of their armor is on display, including a breastplate pierced with holes, probably by a weapon that caused the warrior's death.

A collection of items used by Etruscan women includes elaborately detailed earrings, clay oil containers in shapes of an eagle and a rabbit, and a bronze mirror.

In a banquet display there is a bronze caldron decorated with griffin heads, pitchers, ladles and a strainer used to strain the impurities out of wine.

A replica of a tomb, guarded by actual Etruscan stone lions, contains the decorated sarcophagus, or coffin, of an Etruscan official. It is accompanied by small clay figures representing mourners.

At the conclusion of the formal tour there is an interactive display where visitors can weave cloth the way the Etruscans did, build a keystone arch made of foam blocks, write using Etruscan letters and wear Etruscan-type clothing.

Visitors can also shop in an Etruscan bazaar (set up in the gallery that will ultimately house BYU's Asian art collection), and can sample Etruscan foods in the museum cafe on a balcony overlooking the main gallery.

What visitors will not see are the support and service areas. An exhibit design room and a conservation lab are located on the middle level where artworks will be restored and repaired. First-level storage areas provide easy access to most of the museums pieces. Environmental controls guard the artwork from potentially damaging circumstances such as high humidity or too much light.

Also on the second level are rooms where students and scholars can do research.

Artistic displays spill outdoors into a sculpture garden between the museum and the Harris Fine Arts Center. Visitors can walk along winding pathways in the garden, enjoying a reflecting pool and 20 sculptures ranging from classical to abstract.

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