Saturday, August 27, 2005

King Tut exhibit - impressive, crowded, and expensive

My SO, my SO's mom, and I went to the Tutankhamun exhibit at LACMA yesterday. The exhibit, which is in Los Angeles until November 15, 2005, has dozens of original artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb, as well as many other artifacts from slightly before Tutankhamun's time. The artifacts included in the exhibit were extremely detailed and well preserved; we could get up to a few inches away from most of the items (which were behind Plexiglas), and it was great fun to gaze at the intricate carvings and attempt to decipher what the artist was trying to imply. One of our favorite finds was a carving on a gold chest depicting an animated ankh running behind Tutankhamun's chariot; the ankh had cute little legs, and was holding an ostrich fan to protect the pharaoh.

The problem, however, was that the exhibit was packed with people. We had bought tickets in advance, and arrived well before our scheduled time of 5pm. We were told that we should start lining up at 4:30 in a tent outside the building, and when we lined up at 4:30 (in the 5:00 line) we were already behind a hundred or so people (and by 5:00 there were at least another hundred behind us). We didn't get through the security check at the door of the museum until at least 5:30, and then waited in line in the entry hall of the museum until after 5:45 before we finally got crammed into a little standing-room-only theater to see a 90-second overview film. After more than an hour and a half of waiting, the film was not very impressive.

The theatre exited into the exhibit halls, which were arranged as a series of rooms that each focused on a different aspect of life in ancient Egypt. Each exhibit hall had about 6-10 stations, and while each artifact in the stations had detailed explanatory text, the text was only placed on one side of the artifact, forcing people to clump around the front of the station. Every single room, and every station, was packed with people; we were constantly dodging around and squirming through tight spaces in an attempt to see the items. I felt bad for the few people there in wheelchairs. We finally settled into a pattern of looking at the unlabeled backs and sides of most artifacts first, while keeping an eye on the front of the artifacts to see when there were openings near the front we could slip into so we could read the signs.

The commercialism of the exhibit was also somewhat disheartening. The tickets were $25 per person, which seemed rather high compared with other museum admission fees (e.g., the British Museum). There was absolutely no photography permitted in the exhibit halls, and the security guards at the door were ensuring that all cameras and cameraphones had been left at the coat-check ("for security reasons"). The gift shop, however, was selling illustrated guides to the exhibit for $50.

Even with the crowds and the commercialism, though, all three of us were happy that we went; it just felt like it could have been better.

As a final note, one of Radagast's favorite pieces from the exhibit was the "wishing cup", which had a touching inscription around its rim (translations appear to vary slightly):
"May your ka [life force] live, may you spend millions of years, O you, who love Thebes, sit with your face to the north wind, your two eyes beholding happiness."

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