If you missed King Tut on his recent Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh world-tour pitstop in Los Angeles (and London, Boston, and Sydney aren’t on your 2020 itinerary), you’ll have to travel back to his hometown of Giza, Egypt, to marvel at his riches. Beginning in 2021, the tomb artifacts will rest in peace for eternity in the shadow of the pyramids in the vast Grand Egyptian Museum, never to travel overseas again. The collection will have been on the road since the 1960s; not a bad run for the young royal.
However, if you still have a desire to gaze upon the Pharaoh’s treasures and don’t want to stress that 18-hour flight, then look no further than the Museum of Ancient Wonders (MOAW) at its temporary home in Cathedral City. The brainchild and life’s work of Alberto Acosta, MOAW is a fully curated, rich collection of officially sanctioned reproductions that are rarely seen outside of their respective museums.
“I’ve spent 30 years researching, commissioning, and acquiring these antiquities, and the last 20 looking for their home. When I came to the Coachella Valley, I knew this was it,” Acosta says.
Acosta has worn a variety of hats—painter, composer, artist, theater production and talent wrangler, museum curator, world traveler, historian, collector of artifacts—and when you listen to him speak, the descriptor that begins to consolidate all his previous roles is that of storyteller. We caught up with him at MOAW.
With all your varied world experiences, why now a museum director?
Creating stunning educational exhibitions and touring them like a theatrical roadshow was my passion. Now, I’m on a different mission. A mission to find [these treasures] a permanent home in the Coachella Valley, a mission to keep their stories alive. They belong in a museum built around their stories, their mysteries. We’d also have a Touring Exhibition Space to showcase exhibits from the Smithsonian, the National Geographic, and many more museums from around the world.
Why the Coachella Valley?
The collection is designed to enhance universal curriculum development for the local school districts while providing a potent new [tourism] attraction. Of all the regions in the US, I chose the Coachella Valley because it will add museum diversity to the worlds of midcentury and contemporary art. It’s an excursion, a portal, a brief adventure into the ancient world that brings context to the rigors of modern existence. It is the first of its kind in the region. The Valley needs a museum of this scope to illuminate our past, enlighten the present, and brighten our path to the future.
The world of artifact reproductions is intriguing; can you explain the basics OF the practice?
I suspend my disbelief when I look at a reproduction much like you do when you go to a movie. I forget that it is not an original antiquity. The object is mesmerizing and provokes an emotional response as one searches for its meaning and purpose. For [most] people, beautifully curated, reproduced artifacts are the only way to experience the important archaeological discoveries of all time. A laboratory fossil cast is scientifically reproduced and digitally remastered through a direct imprint from the ancient stone. It is the only way that museums that house originals can share their important discoveries with other institutions, or even showcase them in their own halls due to deterioration safeguards. They are also limited in number, [nearly] as rare as the originals.
You’ve often said that every artifact is a story—beginning, middle, and dramatic ending—can you give an example?
Let’s take the famous bust of Nefertiti. The beginning: She is one of three women in the long dynastic history of ancient Egypt to rule as Pharaoh. Her beauty is legendary and her stunning likeness was left behind 3,300 years ago in the ruins of a religious city known as El Amarna. She introduces us to her husband, Akhenaten, the heretical pharaoh who threw Egypt into chaos by attempting to establish monotheism in a world where polytheism ruled. He in turn introduces us to Tutankhamun, the middle.
Their ideas were so ahead of their time that they were wiped off the history books. Their legacy was not revealed until the discovery of the tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter and his benefactor Lord Carnarvon. Their story is one of the most fascinating in history and their archaeological discovery still one of the richest of all time. The dramatic ending? Perhaps the adventure continues to today as the exhibit is toured one last time around the world. Or perhaps there’s still more to the story as sanctioned reproductions are exhibited in museums on every continent. We’re fortunate enough to have one right here in the Coachella Valley.
You have a catchphrase when you’re asked if you’re an archaeologist.
Yes, “I do my digging through books.” I’m not in the fields excavating; I like to consult and trade theories with my fellow experts. I began collecting before the internet so my ATT long-distance phone bill was astronomical. Nowadays, the internet is humankind’s collective consciousness and the most convenient resource for making acquisitions. However, while the internet offers quick access to the most amazing people and their discoveries, there is no substitute to a very robust Rolodex.
Can you expound on your reasons for wanting to democratize access to these exhibitions?
These ancient treasures are of universal appeal to everyone, a thread to the past that we hold in the present. Most people don’t realize that only a small percentage of the world’s population ever gets to gaze on originals, be it fossils, paintings, or artifacts. I’m convinced that every person, young and old, should have the opportunity to see in person a great discovery, a rare artifact, a master painting to connect themselves with the history of mankind. So, if local kids or visitors to the desert cannot get to these museums, we’ll bring the museum to them.
Could you franchise the idea?
That would be fascinating. The mission is to reach as many people as possible, to get them to get out of the house, off their computers, to unplug and spend some time reflecting. Museums are offerings wherein a parent brings a child; as that child grows they bring their children, and they bond in shared experiences for generations. Once I’m firmly ensconced in the afterlife, other curators will come along and decide what artifacts or antiquities are needed to enhance the core to keep them vital, and with the Touring Exhibition Space, new and exciting educational experiences will continue to serve the public’s interest and bring back loyal visitors and travelers from around the world looking for something to engage their imaginations.
What’s the next step?
We need the current generation to help make this museum available to the next generation. It’s a huge undertaking, and we can’t do it alone. I have planted the seed. My hope is that Valley residents will recognize the value of this effort, support it through memberships, bring their friends and families to visit, and that prominent philanthropists from the old world and business organizations from the new will help sustain the museum while it gains firm footing in the educational, cultural, and economic fabric of the Valley. I foresee a glorious and beloved future for these collections here in the Coachella Valley.
Valley of the Kings?
Yes, a new Valley of the Kings.