For the next six months the best of the best treasures from the biggest Ancient Egyptian celebrity, the boy-king Tutankhamun, will be on display on the Saatchi. The London exhibition is one of the stops in the truly royal tour, which is a lavish celebration of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Most recently the treasures of Tutankhamun were shown in Paris, where they attracted a record audience. For many of the 150 objects this is the first time out of Egypt. After the touring exhibition is finished they will return to the land of the Pharaohs and settle in the new Grand Egyptian Museum.
It’s dazzling. Your eyes wander from one beautiful artefact to another. Soaked in almost heavenly blue light, the gold and bejewelled objects really come to life. They are beautifully displayed and complemented by fitting quotes from the corpus of prayers and spells known collectively as the Book of The Dead. As for the narrative it’s perhaps a bit too simplistic, as if the labels could distract from the objects themselves. The exhibition is perhaps closer to a high-budget light and sound performance than to a traditional museum display, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Let’s not forget that this is not a museum but an art gallery. We’ve all been to displays with too many cool and amazing objects to get our heads around. Here, the key objects are well spaced, many are in individual glass cases for better access. The labels sometimes risk being too poetic or romanticized (we get to see the black panther who ‘carries Tutankhamun to safety through the nocturnal darkness of the Netherworld’), but that’s probably part of the charm.
There is so much to see. Beautifully decorated weapons, boomerangs and furniture (including the famous golden bed), wooden containers that held food for the afterlife, shabti figurines (‘workers for the afterlife’), and statuettes of Ancient Egyptian deities all compete for our attention along with several representations of the Pharaoh himself.
Accompanying the artefacts in the background is the story of the discovery and the research that has been conducted since, including the research led by Zahi Hawass and his associates in Egypt. However, the timeline is presented more as concise bullet points than a detailed story. I was pleased to see that aside from the British members from Howard Carter’s team, the water boy Hussein Abdel-Rassoul has received due recognition. He was in fact the person who discovered the location of the tomb.
If you want to see the sarcophagus with the golden mask of Tutankhamun, you will have to go to Egypt when the Grand Egyptian Museum opens. However, the treasures on display at the Saatchi are definitely worth a visit. Designed to wow the visitors, it captures imagination, but it also has the scope to inspire the youngest generations of future Egyptologists. The ‘Tutmania’, which gripped Britain and the world after the discovery of the tomb, had an enormous impact on popular culture and arts, especially with the rise of cinema. It continues to inspire authors, film directors, designers and artists to this day.
The Saatchi Gallery invited two artists in residence Cyril de Commarque and Kate Daudy, to prepare art installations in response to the Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh (running from 2 November 2019 until 3 May 2020). Entrance included with tickets for the Tutankhamun exhibition. The exhibition was produced by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and IMG, and presented by Viking Cruises.
Exhibition website: https://www.saatchigallery.com/art/tutankhamun.php
Photos: Ground Impressions