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.

The exhibition is open until May 2020, but tickets are selling quite fast, so book early.

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14 comments on “Exhibition Review: Tutankhamun comes to London
  1. Tom says:

    Thanks, Ian. Entertaining as always.

  2. Chris Wilson says:

    is king tuts death mask going to be there. i going in april

    • Chris says:

      Agree with everything said. Too crowded, not enough audio description – not even provided for half of the cases – paid for audio to get more in depth info but poor. Poor gift shop. Not enough seating around edges for those who needed it . Beautiful artefacts and great opportunity to see them but some key things – incl the boy king himself – not here. Very expensive. Disappointed. ☹️

  3. nerys kemp says:

    Found this review sadly to be very accurate as i found myself to be one of the click it and move on crowd – it was so crowded and i felt – dare i say it slightly disorganized. We paid for the radio guides but wished we hadn’t as most cases didn’t have audio description. Glad i went because the artifacts made it worth while – wished King Tuts Death Mask had been there – although the crowds would have been impossible to get to

  4. Alison says:

    I saw the exhibition today, we had bought tickets but still had to wait forty + minutes queuing in the rain. Too many people taking too much time taking too many pictures, which stopped many of us being able to negotiate the real experience. It is badly organised and no small guide books available at a reasonable price. Wonderful artefacts, but the overall experience was sadly lacking in care and attention.

  5. Laura says:

    I attended on Monday.

    The exhibition was a cash grab from the moment one is asked to stand in front of the green screen, the £6 nearly useless audio tour, the Disney-like video introduction, crowded galleries, annoying picture taking, and finally the inevitable push into the gift shop ( where you can buy your green screen photo superimposed in front of the Pyramids of Giza. The gift shop is an insult to say the least.

    Poor King Tut. His stunning burial artefacts deserved so much more respect and intellectual consideration.

  6. Del says:

    No, all the good stuff stays in Egypt !

  7. Janette says:

    Attended Wednesday

    Disappointing, expensive, excessively crowded and spoilt by irritating and inconsiderate picture takers.
    The artefacts were amazing in terms of detail and craftsmanship, that’s when you were able to get close enough to see them.
    The best artefacts sadly were not there.

  8. Leon Meyer says:

    Of course the selection of objects on loan can only be a sampling of the treasures from the tomb, but there are some significant original items. A useful checkist can be found on in this document. http://www.saatchigallery.com/Tutankhamun_Artifact_List_08.22.19.pdf

  9. JOHN & JUDY ADAIR says:

    This was a hugely disappointing and costly experience – poorly organised, huge queues, we entered almost an hour late after waiting outside in the rain….Less people in the Cairo museum!

  10. Leon Meyer says:

    The tickets are expensive, but for comparison admission to special exhibitions at national museums are also becoming dear, with extra prices for weekends. British Museum’s Troy is £20/£22 weekend; Gauguin at National Gallery £22/£24 weekend.

  11. Jo Bell says:

    Went today at a cost of £26 for a timed ticket. We arrived in good time but still had to queue for fifteen minutes. Inside it was very, very crowded. Beautiful artefacts of course, but NOT including the famous funeral mask which features so heavily on publicity and banners. There are two or three video rooms which create atmosphere but tell you nothing that a layperson wouldn’t know already.

  12. Con says:

    There’s more stuff connected with this at the British Museum

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