King Tut Rocks

Article excerpt

A QUARTER OF A CENTURY OR SO AGO, A remarkable exhibition toured the major cities of the world' introducing many tens of thousands of people to the wonders of Ancient Egypt through artefacts from the newly discovered tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun. For some, the fascination sparked by the exhibition never went away. Now, King Tut is back on the museum circuit but this time around, it seems the organisers may have priced themselves and this uniquely awesome collection out of the market. Milan Vesely reports from the United States.

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO the Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun was all the rage. Museums around the world scrambled to put on blockbuster exhibitions of the newly discovered Tutankhamun artefacts presented by a delighted and proud Egyptian Department of Antiquities.

Now however, with a second tour called Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs about to get underway in the United States, the Egyptian government has shed its mellow attitude of the past and adopted a new one; more in keeping with today's money-driven 21st century culture. "Show me the money" is the message in 2005, with the Egyptian authorities aiming for a profit of $10m from every city visited by the new exhibition. To sweeten the deal they are combining many new, never-before-seen artefacts with those seen before, many of which so captivated the generations of the late 1970s.

"To a great extent it is a brave new world," New York City cultural affairs commissioner, Kate D. Levin, said in December 2004. "It used to be that museums themselves developed exclusive content, but now organisations with a more commercial mindset are trying to package such ancient showings on a for-profit basis."

The Egyptian government makes no apology about wanting to cash in on its ancient history with this latest tour. To undertake the new Tutankhamun exhibitions it signed a contract with a Los Angeles-based promotion company called Anschutz Entertainment Group. Targeting $10m of earnings for each city visited beginning in June 2005 it will claim over 50% of all gross takings, this demand raising the standard $9 museum entry fee to an eye-popping $30 per adult visitor. As a result, many of the museums that clamoured to show the original exhibition have reacted negatively, some even deciding, "thanks, but no thanks".

"We tried to negotiate as low as we could," Andrea Rich, president of the Los Angeles Museum said. "But the ticket price was not under our control. The choice was to agree, as opposed to not having the exhibition at all." For its part the museum agreed to the conditions. By allowing entry to the whole museum for the one inclusive fee it is hoping to overcome resistance to the new entry prices.

Only four American museums have so far signed up for the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs 2005 tour. Among these is the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. "The show and its cost has to be compared with prices for a rock concert, a football game or a visit to Disneyland," spokesperson Nancy O'Shea said. Confirming that the museum had not yet finalised what admission prices it would charge O'Shea said the matter was still "under active discussion".

Some of the most prestigious museums taking part in the original 1970s tour have taken the opposite viewpoint. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art refused to agree to the terms demanded by the Egyptian government and its commercial partners, their lead followed by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Philadelphia Museum of Arts in nearby Philadelphia. For its part the competing Brooklyn Museum in New York would only say that it is "considering the idea", its decision still to be made.

The new King Tut exhibition aims to give value for money. Almost two-and-a-half times the size of the original 1973 showing it will have many new exhibits. Co-sponsor, The National Geographic Society, calls it the most "ambitious exhibition ever mounted anywhere". …