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Bowers: Goodbye Chinese warriors, hello Rembrandt

October 16, 2008 |  6:00 am

Terra Cotta Warriors at Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum bids adieu today to Qin, the ancient Chinese emperor whose famed posthumous toy collection consisted of rank upon rank of life-size clay soldiers and other figures meant to serve him in the afterlife. "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor" included about 20 of the clay figures and set a new attendance record at the Santa Ana museum.

So what to do for an encore? Well, the museum has released its schedule of coming exhibitions and the big surprise, for an institution known mainly for displaying artifacts from Asia, Africa, ancient civilizations and native cultures of the Americas is ... a dead, white European male.  A really big one too. Come next summer, the Bowers will do Rembrandt.

Not blockbuster Rembrandt -- that would be paintings. This will be modest Rembrandt, a show of 35 etchings the artist made from 1629 to 1654 that has been on tour since 2006 in midsize venues. But if predictions of deep recession or quasi-Depression should come true, it could be all-too-timely Rembrandt, because the sole subject is paupery.

Rembrandt Peter Keller, the Bowers' president, says the museum makes no claims of prescience for having booked "Sordid and Sacred: The Beggars in Rembrandt's Etchings" well before Wall Street had its seizure (the show's organizer is the L.A.-based Landau Traveling Exhibitions, which culled the images from a private L.A. collector, John Villarino). If displaying an Old Master in a bastion of tribal art and archaeology strikes some as a departure, Keller says, it's consistent with the Bowers' mission, which once specified presenting arts and cultures of the Pacific Rim, Africa and the Americas, but which now simply calls for providing access to "the world's finest arts and cultures."

"We're really expanding our wings," Keller says, and the Bowers' venture into what's traditionally the domain of art museums will continue after the Rembrandt etchings have their July 12-Aug. 23 run.

Opening Sept. 13 will be simultaneous art shows from Latin America: one with paintings and sculpture by the contemporary Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, the other "Latin American Masters," an exhibition of 20th century paintings from the collection of FEMSA, a Mexican beverage corporation.

One of next year's touring exhibitions at the Bowers does fit into its more familiar mold: "Art of the Samurai: Selections from the Tokyo National Museum" (April 18-June 14), will offer armor, weapons, Noh theater costumes and other artifacts and art works dating mainly from the Edo period of 1603-1868.

After charging up to $27 for "Terra Cotta Warriors," Keller foresees no more special admission charges through 2009. "The way the economy is, we'll be sticking to our general admission price," currently $12.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Terra Cotta Warriors at Bowers Museum, Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times; Rembrandt, "Beggar Receiving Alms at a Door" (1648), Landau Traveling Exhibitions.