Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tut Takes Manhattan

The exhibition Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has finally come to New York City, where it will be on display at the Discovery Times Square Exposition for the next nine months. It's the last stop on the tour, which began back in 2005, so this is your final chance--and I suggest you take advantage of it.

I recall reading in early reviews and commentaries of the exhibition that there was disappointment that the famous gold funerary mask was not included. Well, okay. But there are more than 130 objects on display in Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Some are overwhelming, such as the large gilt coffin of Tutankhamun's great grandmother, Tjuyu. Her own funerary mask is in the exhibition and it is stunningly beautiful. The small shrine, made of wood covered with gold sheets, has fascinating scenes of Tutankhamun and his queen Ankhesenamun, including one in which she hands arrows to the seated king who shoots at ducks. That he is seated has been used as evidence that his foot problems were debilitating. But on a magnificent gold fan that is also in the exhibition, he is shown is his speeding chariot hunting ostriches.

In addition to the artifacts with such decoration, there are individual pieces that are impressive in their own way, such as a diadem worn by Tut, one of the canopic portraits of the king, and magnificent pectoral ornaments. Taking it all together, the absence of Tut's funerary mask didn't bother me at all. The inclusion of one of Tut's viscera coffinettes will help those who need to be reminded of the famous mask.

I wish in places that there was more information about the pieces. Text and image panels could help visitors "decode" the symbolism and texts. The coffinette is a good example. It is presented as an object--extraordinarily beautiful, yes--but there's no reference why it is an important piece of evidence for understanding the late 18th Dynasty succession.

There are some additions to the show that were not included before now. In May, one of the six chariots from Tut's tomb will be put on display, the first time it has ever been seen outside of Egypt. A room at the end of the exhibition is devoted to the recent examination of Tut and DNA analysis, featuring some panels and video clips as well as an exact replica of Tutankhamun's mummy. That's a nice bit of work by natural history artist Gary Staab working in conjunction with Materialise, a Belgian 3D modeling company. Of course, I had a close look at the feet. Undoubtedly Tutankhamun had foot problems. In recent analyses, it has been reported that he had a club foot. I see what the researchers are describing, but I think in using the term, the researchers bring up a mental picture of something severe and debilitating. It doesn't seem that way to me. It will be good to have the full osteological report and analysis published so that people with expertise can have a look and evaluate the interpretation.

In remarks to the press, Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, expressed his personal dislike of the fact that Tutankhamun ended up near Times Square rather than at the Met. (He asked one of the organizers to explain what had happened--seven months of negotiations to no avail). I understand Hawass's point of view. Think Times Square and you think Madame Tussauds, Ripley's, etc. On the other hand, better there than not at all. So, no complaints about the venue from me.

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