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Thursday, September 20, 2007

King Tut

Immediately after the Gibson lecture, Matt and I made a split-second decision to visit the Tutankhamen exhibition at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. It was something of an indulgence - the tickets are $30 each - but we're both nursing childhood Egyptophilia hangovers.

My admiration and fascination for the exhibition was, however, tempered by an incredible omission. Firstly, let me explain that the famous gold-and-lapis face mask of Tutankhamen is used on every - and I mean EVERY - promotional image for this exhibition. Brochures, banners, posters, billboards, official websites: they all feature the face mask front and center. The front steps of the goddamn Franklin Institute even depicted it. The entire exhibition was designed to mimic the experience of entering a tomb, with the main burial chamber as its highlight. And yet, upon entering the "burial chamber," as you have no doubt guessed, the archetypal Tutankhamen artifact was nowhere to be seen.

No, wait, it was worse that that, because you could see it -- there was a stone platform in the middle of the room where the sarcophagus should have been, and on the face of the platform, an image of the sarcophagus and face mask were projected. Using a projector. Insult to injury.

I asked a security guard if she was aware that the sarcophagus appeared to have been replaced with a freaking light display, and she wearily directed me to some museum staff (the poor guards must get a lot of complaints in that room), who informed me that the mask never travels and is safe in Cairo.

And I'm totally fine with that -- except, GEE, MAYBE THE EXHIBITION SHOULDN'T HAVE USE THAT IMAGE ON ALL THE ADVERTISING, THEN. I mean, at the very least, they should put a sign at the entrance informing people that the mask doesn't travel so that you don't spend your time at the exhibition rampantly anticipating what turns out to be a slideshow.

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