Wall-to-Wall Blockbusters

It's hard to remember going to a museum, BTB, or, Before the Blockbuster, back when a show was a genteel highlight of the museum's own collections. Those days officially ended in the mid-1970s when the treasures of an ancient Egyptian teen king went on display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art - and drew the kind of crowds previously only seen at World Series games, when the Yankees were favored to win. From 1976 to 1979, more than 8 million visitors in seven cities across America lined up to see "The Treasures of King Tutankhamen," and museum shows were forever changed.

Today, museums of all sizes look for a hook that will snag audiences often big enough to balance a budget for an entire year. Sometimes the exhibits justify the hype, sometimes they don't. One thing is certain: No museum director that expects to stay afloat in these cost-conscious days can do without them.

Turn to Pages B4 and B5 for reports on three shows - Monet in Boston, Picasso in L.A., and Van Gogh in Washington - among the cream of this season's crop.

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