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The Gist

“Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs”

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I can’t wait for that touring King Tut exhibit I keep hearing about to come to New York.
Yes, but the closest that “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” will get to us is Philadelphia—it’s there through September 30.

Why’s that?
Well, Egypt’s antiquities director, Zahi Hawass, pitched it to a number of New York museums, and they all turned it down.

I’ve seen that guy—he’s always on the Discovery Channel, wearing an Indiana Jones hat.
Yeah, he’s a big showboat. The show was conceived partly as a fund-raiser for Hawass’s department, which is really hurting for cash. So there’s a big surcharge.

That sounds almost crass.
The New York museums agreed with you, which is why it’s not coming here. A pair of tickets to the show at the Franklin Institute in Philly, with TicketMaster fees and such, can reach $80.


I get the sense it’s kind of a hypefest.
Perhaps. It’s atypical in that most blockbuster exhibits make at least gestures toward an intellectual conceit. Here, the wall labels are pretty basic, and the idea is mostly Look at all this awesome gold stuff. The museum’s shop even sells knockoffs of Hawass’s hat.

Is it not worth the trip, then?
No, it is—you just have to be willing to do a little reading on your own beforehand. If you do, you can take a lot away from the show. And of course it’ll interest kids. Remember the boom of mummy-themed books and toys surrounding the last Tutankhamun exhibit, in 1977 and ’78?


Sure. The Met’s gift shop is still selling some of that stuff. Wait—are the artifacts coming from Egypt mostly the same ones from last time?
Some of them are, but there are many other pieces as well. The first third of the exhibit is devoted to the several generations of the royal family before Tutankhamun ascended the throne, including an elderly couple named Yuya and Tuyu, who may have been Tut’s great-grandparents. None of that stuff was in the previous exhibition. The golden casket that held Tuyu’s mummy, and her death mask, have some of the greatest faces you’ll see in Egyptian art. They have that stylized form that makes everyone in Egyptian tomb paintings look alike, but they also have individuality—if she somehow were your great-grandma, you’d probably recognize her odd smile, even 3,000 years on.

How about the Tut paraphernalia itself?
The death mask that everyone remembers isn’t here. But you’ll want to look closely at the gold dagger that came off the king’s mummy—the minuscule gold beading on the handle is spectacular.


Okay. I’ll call the Acela 800 number.
If you do, book your museum tickets early. It’s hard to get a weekend slot, and entry is controlled—you have to arrive during your designated half-hour. But it’s the only way you’ll see these things, unless you’re able to book a trip to Cairo. Besides, this part of Philly is unexpectedly nice. And a café around the corner is, for the duration, serving a special King Tut Cheesecake.


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