Things That Are Old and Gold

If you’re one of the thousands of people turning up to view the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum don’t go expecting to see the famous gold funeral mask, because it ain’t there. Neither is the boy king’s throne. I mention this because these were two objects that stood out for me back in 1978 when my mom, sister Jenny, and I made the trek up to the LA County Museum of Art from San Diego to see the original blockbuster King Tut exhibit. I was 14, Jen was nine. She most remembers the La Brea Tar Pits.

Any-hoo, all this is my way of introducing how odd it was to see a “once in a lifetime” exhibit again, almost thirty years later. Never in a million years would I have guessed back in ’78 that I’d be viewing some of these artifacts, dragged across the globe a second time, in Chicago.

It took us about an hour and a half to view Tutankhamun: The Golden Age of the Pharaohs last Saturday. Crowd control is the name of the game. Groups are staggered to enter at set times and the Field did a pretty good job of managing the traffic flow. There were only a few galleries where people were so jammed up it was hard to view items displayed in their glass cases, especially for us vertically challenged folk.

The objects, as expected, are stunning; amazingly preserved and restored. The detail and artistry are amazing, and it’s just plain fantastic to be inches away from something that’s over 3000 years old. While the collection of artifacts in this exhibit are fewer than the 1970s tour, it does include a few things not seen in this country before, including a stunning miniature coffin that contained Tut’s liver. (See it here, middle of the bottom row.)

For the most part, the exhibit is well done, though I did have two criticisms. First, the new age-like music piped in the galleries has to go. The loop of techno-angelic voices accompanying the room with the Coffin of Tjuya (image, top row, middle) was particularly annoying. My second, stronger criticism: I learned nothing I didn’t already know about Tut and Ancient Egypt.

As I visit major exhibits at places like the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Art Institute, I increasingly find myself disappointed by the dumbing down of information. Sometimes I purchase the audio tour, as I did for Tut, hoping to get some deeper insight into what I’m seeing. Cultural institutions are getting really fancy with the technology; they’ve come a long way from the stop and start of a Walkman audio tour. But they could do more. With the Tut audio tour, there were points where you could push a button for additional information–take it or leave it depending on your level of interest. It’s too bad they didn’t have much more of that. On the other hand, keeping the audio tours brief ensures that people will keep moving.

Plus, I’ve been a bit jaded by my many visits to the wonderful Oriental Institute down at the University of Chicago. (It’s time for them to upgrade their website to match their beautifully refurbished galleries of ancient artifacts.) I see the Oriental currently has a Tut tie-in exhibit of photographs taken by Harry Burton, documenting the discovery of Tut’s tomb. I see another ancient outing in my future!

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1 Response

  1. I saw King Tut’s mask etc. at the Cairo Museum about 15 years ago. We were on a day trip from Cyprus (overnight ferry journey to Egypt – day visiting pyramids, sphinx etc, – overnight ferry journey back to Cyprus). We were whisked past thousands of amazing exhibits to get to the one tiny, crowded room where all the King Tut stuff is usually kept, then whisked back out again.
    I’d love to go back and see all those things we weren’t given the opportunity to look at.

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