Second comings are always a big deal. Ask anyone — the ancient Egyptians, Apostolic Christians or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is demonstrating its enthusiasm for reincarnation with “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.”
The King Tut exhibition in 1978 proved that ancient relics could be blockbusters, too. Even those who weren’t among the 8 million people who visited the Egyptian king on his six-city tour back then could hardly turn on the radio without hearing Steve Martin’s million-selling single.
If the original Tut proved to be the “Jaws” of museum exhibitions, this one stands to be “Titanic.” Dwarfing the original 55-piece offering from the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo, this resurrection contains 130 objects, National Geographic images and film in addition to extensive interactive and educational elements.
LACMA will be the exhibit’s only West Coast stop on a national tour that includes the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art and the Field Museum of Art in Chicago.
In Los Angeles, no one seems deterred by ticket prices of $25 and up, with more than 250,000 sold before the exhibit opened Thursday. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, however, declined to host the exhibition, citing the pricey tickets.
Fees are set by Anschutz Entertainment and museum consulting service Arts and Exhibitions Intl. An unidentified portion of the box office also goes toward preservation efforts at several ancient Egyptian sites — significant, since some relics returned from their last road trip worse for wear and Egyptian government previously vowed never to let them tour again.
Much as “Jaws” rejiggered studio expectations for hit films, major international museums now look to large corporate “exhibition providers” like Clear Channel Exhibitions to bring together funding and individuals that create blockbuster exhibitions like Tut. Bringing the king to LACMA costs about $5 million — a cost largely underwritten by backers such as Anschutz.
LACMA curator Nancy Thomas and Stanford’s Kathlyn Cooney worked with the U. of Pennsylvania’s David Silverman to place Tut and his gilded afterlife accoutrements into context.
To this end, the exhibit also contains more than 70 objects from other 18th Dynasty tombs, including royal and commoner burials. Standouts include Tut’s royal diadem — the golden crown the king wore throughout his life into death — and a gold-and-gem-inlaid canopic jar that stored the preserved remains of the king’s vital organs.