King Tut blockbuster is New York bound -- but not to the Met
Is New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art suffering from Tut envy?
Since opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on June 16, 2005, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," the second coming of bling from the boy king's tomb, has played to some 5.5 million people in the United States and 1.1 million in London.
The Met was given first dibs on the show of 130 artifacts from Tut and other more powerful rulers from his lineage. But its leaders declined, back in 2004, to waive the museum's policy of not requiring an admission fee (the Met instead has a suggested fee, $15 at the time, and now $20).
Now Tut is about to give his regards to Broadway, with an April 23-Jan. 2, 2011, run at Discovery Times Square Exposition, a hall that opened last year as a home for blockbuster shows of the sort that museums covet.
The Met, meanwhile, issued a press release Friday announcing a much smaller and less shiny Tut show of its own. "Tutankhamun's Funeral," which opens Tuesday, consists of 60 objects, including embalming materials and storage jars that were discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1908.
A good deal of that find wound up at the Met the following year, and an Egyptologist from the museum determined that they had been used to prepare the mummy of the then-obscure King Tut. That information helped lead Howard Carter to the tomb itself, 14 years and 120 yards removed from the original funerary find. The dazzle factor of what was in that minor tomb -- the only known tomb of a pharaoh to have escaped looting -- made the otherwise undistinguished Tut the most famous Egyptian ruler of them all.
While the Met's announcement says that "this installation complements" the Tut blockbuster that'll be on display 48 blocks to the south, representatives of the museum and the touring exhibition said Friday that only the timing connects them. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Brooklyn Museum has a current ancient Egyptian exhibition on display, "To Live Forever: Art and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt," that's drawn from its own collection.
The touring show at Discovery TSX, the shorthand name for the for-profit hall in a building that once housed the printing presses of the New York Times, will add one new wrinkle to what's been seen on previous stops: a gallery detailing the recent determination that Tut was not assassinated, as had been speculated, but had been a rather feeble sort who died at 19 from illness and a broken leg.
At the moment, the Tut exhibition is in San Francisco, where its nine-month run at the de Young Museum ends March 28. The exhibition spokeswoman said the New York City show will be the last in the United States for Tut's artifacts, which eventually will wind up at the Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled to open in 2013 near the pyramids of Giza.
A de Young spokeswoman said no attendance figures will be available until the run ends. So far, Tut's first U.S. tour since the 1970s has had its most avid reception at LACMA, where 937,613 people saw it in just over five months. While total attendance has topped that in longer runs at Chicago's Field Museum (1,044,743), the O2 in London (1,096,473) and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (1,370,000), LACMA has had the biggest daily draw, almost 6,000.
The Times' art critic, Christopher Knight, decried LACMA's hosting of the Tut show as an improper yielding of a nonprofit museum's space and curatorial prerogatives to a commercial enterprise. But LACMA officials said the museum reaped $2.5 million in its share of the take.
Meanwhile, AEG, the L.A.-based entertainment company that's producing the tour, and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, which curated it and earned $8.6 million from the L.A. run alone, have spun off a satellite exhibition. Called "Tutankhamun: the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs," it has been on the road since November 2008, when it debuted at the Atlanta Civic Center. It went on to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where it ends April 10, and is due to open July 1 at the Denver Art Museum, where it runs through Jan. 2, 2011. The golden sandals found on Tut's mummy are the featured item in that show.
-- Mike Boehm
Photos: King Tut's liver was housed in this coffinette, part of the "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibition seen at LACMA in 2005, currently in San Francisco, and headed to New York; the mummy of King Tut is removed for testing from its sarcophagus in Egypt in a 2007 photo. Credits: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times (coffinette). Ben Curtis/Associated Press (Tut mummy)