By: CHRIS GRAEME
Chris Graeme argues that the treasures of Tutankhamun don’t need Disneyland razzmatazz
IT’S ALWAYS dangerous when commercial organisations plan and put on an exhibition of antiquities and art. The risk of dumbing down and glamming up archaeologically and historically important artefacts is all too tempting so that the result resembles something akin to a Jurassic Park-style Hollywood show.
The current Tutankhamun exhibition at London’s O2 arena, the former Millennium Dome, is a case in point.
Priceless and stunningly unique and beautiful artefacts discovered by chance in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1922 by Howard Carter simply stand by themselves as fabulous and don’t need slick, interactive American-style presentation. But that’s exactly what has
happened at Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, which runs in the British capital until the end of August.
The first problem is the way the show, for that is what it is, has been organised. When the British Museum last hosted the treasures from the boy king’s tomb in 1972, it was tastefully done and in such a way that the objects spoke for themselves.
Instead, the exhibition has been given an artificial atmosphere not least because of its location in the former Millennium Dome, opposite Starbucks and other monuments to our commercial throwaway society, but also because of the shameless commercial exploitation of the treasures, admittedly aimed at children, from colouring books to a King Tut mask tissue dispenser dispensing tissues through one of his nostrils!
The second problem is the marketing, which leads visitors to believe that they’re going to see the fabled full-size funerary mask, mummy and sarcophagus of this little known and singularly unimportant Egyptian King.
On posters and press materials, a miniature canopic jar coffinette, which resembles the mask in every detail, is blown up to massive proportions falsely leading the visitor to believe that the treasures seen in the Cairo Museum is what he or she are about to see.
Having said all that, once you’ve got past the interminable queue, the usherettes that can barely speak understandable English, the cracked voice presentation of an elderly Omar Sharif and the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra-style presentation and music, the 90 or so objects on display representing the smaller pieces from the tomb, are worth the wait.
This particular exhibition is, in fact, not only original pieces from the Valley of the Kings but is also a collection of treasures including statues, jewellery, games, dressing table items and ceremonial regalia from the wider context of Tutankhamun’s family and the time in which he lived.
It is organised into 12 galleries, each one leading you up to the final galleries which display some of the actual treasures from the tomb itself.
If you can get passed the crowds and irritating electronic whir and sounds of a sea of audio tape commentaries, these objects are truly mind-blowing, partly because of the level of craftsmanship but mostly because they look like they were made yesterday.
You’ve got until August to see 130 of the most historically important objects in the world, so if you can blank out the Universal Studios feel to the exhibition, it’s well worth the visit.
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