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Entering the Tomb: King Tut at the DMA


by Jerome Weeks 2 Oct 2008

The KERA radio story: The expanded online story: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs begins its new tour of three American cities here in Dallas — with a seven-month run at the Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibition features 130 objects from ancient Egypt, including a few that have never left Egypt before, […]

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  • The KERA radio story:
  • The expanded online story:

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs begins its new tour of three American cities here in Dallas — with a seven-month run at the Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibition features 130 objects from ancient Egypt, including a few that have never left Egypt before, such as the ‘nested fetus coffins’ (for what seem to have been Tut’s stillborn kids.) This week, at a media preview, museum officials and corporate sponsors worked to pitch the exhibition as an absolute ‘must- see.’

So they spoke at length about revenue and tourism.

John Eagle, president of the museum’s board, compared the Tut exhibition to the Super Bowl that North Texas will host in three years. It means that much money and attention.

Phillip Jones is president of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau:

JONES: “One of the things I’m also most excited about is that we anticipate that we will host more than 1 million visitors and the economic impact of those visitors will be in excess of $150 million.”

Zahi Hawass is the famous archaeologist, author and the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. He is one of the officials directly responsible for the exhibition. He defended ticket prices that are as high as $32.50 on weekends. Egypt received little from the previous tours of Tut and Ramses, he said. And now his country has launched a massive museum-building program, including the $700 million Grand Museum. It’s an attempt to preserve Egypt’s thousands of ancient monuments, many of which are threatened by tourism, decay and theft.

HAWASS: “Egyptian monuments belongs to everybody. We are just the guardian of the monuments. That’s why I’m happy to say that from every city, Egypt makes about $10 million. And this money goes for the conservation of Egyptian monuments. If we do not restore this monuments, it will be gone. We lose our past.”

Perhaps the officials speaking at the media preview were picking up on a major attraction in the show itself: the gold.

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has two parts. The first half is a mini-history of Egypt’s 18th dynasty, around 1300 B.C., near the height of the country’s imperial power. Visitors learn about Tut’s immediate predecessors and family, especially Akhenaten. He was possibly Tut’s father (possibly his older brother), and he overthrew the kingdom’s many gods for a single sun god, Aten. It was a move that infuriated the dominant priestly caste.

Terry Garcia is executive vice president of the National Geographic Society, one of the exhibition’s organizers.

GARCIA: “We wanted to give people a sense of what was happening in Egypt during this period in history. There was political and religious upheaval, and King Tut, this young boy, comes to the throne in the midst of all this.”

But then, the exhibition changes. We see newsreel footage and giant black-and-white photos of Howard Carter’s famous archaeological dig in 1922 — the one that electrified the world with the opening of Tut’s tomb. Although Tut himself was a relatively minor figure in Egyptian history, his burial site remains the only intact pharaonic tomb ever to be uncovered. At this point, visitors at the DMA enter rooms sunk in blue-black darkness, meant to recreate some of the atmosphere inside the burial chambers. It’s a dramatic representation involving videos and theatrical lighting.

GARCIA: “When Carter first peered into Tut’s tomb, the quote was ‘the glint of gold everywhere.’ And as you turn the corner in this exhibit, the room suddenly opens and you see that glint of gold. You see the many objects that were in Tut’s tomb laid out before you.”

At the Dallas Museum of Art, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has already sold 125,000 tickets. Given its track record in the last five cities it’s visited, the exhibition is likely to reach its audience goals.

Whatever the case, it’s plain that while he’s in Dallas, the boy king will be expected to earn his keep.

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