The Saatchi gallery, founded by the masters of spin has secured the big prize in blockbuster exhibitions with the master of bling paying his last visit to London.
Or at least, his goods are here, the man himself stayed in Egypt, along with most of the best bits from his famous tomb, but save paying the airfare to fly out to the Cairo museum in person, this is pretty much the gold standard in what to expect from an Egyptology exhibition.
A total of 150 objects, from tiny to really big have come here, many on their first trip out of Egypt, and the London visit is part of a world tour which is billed as the last time the objects will ever leave Egypt. Which is probably an exaggeration, as who knows what will happen in 50 years time. It’s almost certainly though a once-in-a-lifetime visit to London though.
An exhibition could have been very informative about the King, his heretical father, his death, and much later, the discovery — but then it might have been good, but dry.
This is really not an exhibition about history, it’s bling. It’s pop-history for the wow factor alone. And there’s a lot to go wow at. Cleverly displayed in dark rooms with moody music and several theatrical sets dotted around, this is an exhibition to sate the desire to see, than to learn.
Over here is some gold, over there inlaid ivory, there’s a big wooden boat, here’s some pots, there’s some jewels, look at that statue, more gold, big and small, all a glitter in the darkness.
Small texts dot around the display offering small nuggets of facts and more poetic verses from the period. It’s forgivable that they said in one that Tutankhamun was his birth name, as most people wont know that he was born Tutankhaten and later changed his name. In fact that change was critical, as it marked the overthrow of the Aten heresy and the restoration of the many-gods supremacy, which is a really quite fascinating period of history — but that’s for another exhibition to look at.
A downside of the exhibition is that it’s crowded. I mean, really crowded in a series of dark rooms. As photography is allowed, most of the visits are people waiting to get their perfect photo and then moving on rather than loitering for ages to study each item in close detail. Which is actually to the exhibition’s benefit as people move along fairly quickly.
I do wonder though what the gods and Kings think, stood there in their glass cases, impassively staring ahead unblinking forever as people come up and gawp at them then they hold up a religious icon of black plastic as a token of worship for a moment, then wander off.
The gods remain, the instagram is dispatched.
That ultimately is what this exhibition is about — to see objects, not to learn about them. While the historian in me is sad, this is simply the wrong place to try and teach people the history of the era. The gallery (and the history) is too crowded, and frankly people are here to see the objects. If the exhibition triggers a few more page views on Wikipedia to learn more about King Tut when people get home, then that’s a bonus.
And it’s glossy exiting atmospheric displays like this which will also excite some young people into becoming Egyptologists themselves.
There has been much tutting about the ticket prices to see King Tut, with prices starting from an already eye watering £25, and rising to at least £39 for a weekend visit, and it’s a hefty fee — and while cheaper is always better, it’s not an outrageous amount compared to other venues, such as the theatre, a football match, or a pop concert.
Also, a lot of the money goes to the cost of building the Cairo museum that will be the artifacts eventual “forever home”.
Given the price charged, it would have been nice to have more space and feel less like they are cramming in as many people as possible. That said, if you’re sensible and don’t rush, you can have a moment in front of each case in turn, take your photos and meander over to the next case.
I personally don’t care for audio guides, but that they were charging an additional £6 on top of the entry price for one… was offensive.
There’s a shop, obviously, with a lot of Tut Tat to buy, but there’s a rather good, if obviously expensive book — and a rather overpriced in comparison souvenir guide book, and I topped up my cup collection.
They’re also selling vials of Egyptian sand, so I really hope someone from the middle-east visits, and they can truly be said to have sold sand to the Arabs.