The US King Tut Exhibit Tour
By Jimmy Dunn
It will come as no news to most ancient Egypt enthusiasts that the treasures of the New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty pharaoh, Tutankhamun, perhaps better known to the world as King Tut, are coming to the US in June of 2005. This King Tut Exhibition is no small event, and one not to be missed, because the last time these artifacts left the basement of the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo for the US was some 26 years ago. There will be more than 130 objects on display, including Tutankhamun's royal diadem. This gold crown was discovered encircling the head of the king's mummified body that he likely wore while living.
The exhibit is being organized by National Geographic, AEG Exhibitions and Arts and Exhibitions International, with cooperation from the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt. The Northern Trust Corporation has entered into an agreement with Los Angeles based AEG to become the National Sponsor of the event.
The layout, flow and scholarly conception of the show is being organized by curator David Silverman, the Eckley B. Coxe Jr. professor of Egyptology and curator-in-charge, Egyptian Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum, who also helped curate the 1970's tour. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is writing the exhibition companion book, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," and a children's book, "Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Boy King," both to be published by National Geographic in June 2005.
AEG is one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world, and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Corporation, which has never participated in an art exhibit in the past, but is now betting some $40 million that the company can run this blockbuster.
That $40 million will go to the Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, and will help pay for antiquity site restoration in Egypt, as well as help finance the building of the new Grand Museum in Cairo. However, this type of "for profit" exhibit is also creating waves among museum curators. Several museums, including New York's famed Metropolitan Museum of Art refused the exhibition.
It's not worth the cost, the hassle, the difficulty of setting up the whole infrastructure, says Philippe deMontabello, director of the Met. The Metropolitan has a pay-as-you-wish policy.
Nevertheless, ticket sales, promoted through radio, print, billboard, television, direct mail, retail tie-ins and electronic marketing, suggest another wave of Tut-mania, despite the world's most famous art museum snubbing the world's most famous mummy. "It is a merging of art and entertainment," said David Stamper, an executive vice president in the Los Angeles office of Chicago-based GolinHarris International, a public relations firm working on the rollout. "When you see these items, they are so incredible and so beautiful, that really all you have to do is to shine a spotlight on them.
The Tut Exhibit actually begins on June 16th, 2005 and runs through November 15th, 2005 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of the same venues of it's last visit to the US. That first tour of King Tut's artifacts, which was only half the size of this the new one, is widely considered to be the first museum mega-event. It generated eight million visitors nationwide. Since then, such museum road shows have become commonplace and an opportunity for the various venues to generate new members and revenue.
Michael McDowell, senior director of cultural tourism for Los Angeles, said that the LA museum expects about one million people to attend the show, topping the Van Gogh exhibit in 1998-99 that brought 821,000 during a 17-week run. Tickets are currently on sale. Afterwards, the exhibit will move on to three other cities where it will be on display at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale (beginning in December 2005), the Field Museum in Chicago (beginning in May, 2006) and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (beginning in February 2007).
The exhibit will include about fifty objects belonging to the boy king that were discovered when Howard Carter unearthed Tutankhamun's Valley of the Kings tomb in 1922. In addition, there will be scans of Tutankhamun's mummy captured through the use of a portable CT scanner and donated by Siemens Medical Solutions. These scans have allowed researchers to see through the mummy's wrappings for the first time and have never been on display in the past. Other documentary media, including videos, will also be on display.
The exhibition also will include more than 70 objects from tombs of other 18th Dynasty royals as well as several non-royal individuals. These stone, faience and wooden pieces from burials before Tut's reign will give visitors a sense of what the lost burials of other royalty and commoners may have been like. They include objects from the tomb of Amenhotep II, the tomb of Tuthmosis IV and the rich, intact tomb of Yuya and Tuyu. All of the treasures in the exhibit are between 3,300 and 3,500 years old.
Tickets for the event can be purchased through any number of sources online, such as Ticket Masters, but there are many opportunities for special deals so shop carefully. For example, a number of LA hotels are offering a summer savings spectacular featuring deals and discount packages in connection with the Tut Exhibit. They include the Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills, the Luxe Hotel Sunset Boulevard, the Doubletree Hotel Westwood, as well as various Holiday Inns and Sheratons.
Interestingly, the excitement of this exhibit seems to be spawning a number of others. For example, various science centers such as the McWane Center in Birmingham, Alabama will be featuring a Tut exhibit featuring 120 high quality replicas of the original treasures.