Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tutankhamun at the de Young

It's kind of ironic that Tutankhamun is unquestionably the best-known Egyptian pharoah, because, had it not been for an accident of history, he would spent eternity nestled in obscurity. That footnote, of course, is the fact that the British archaeologist Howard Carter found Tutankhamun's tomb more or less intact in 1922. Virtually all known tombs at the time had been long since emptied by robbers, so the discovery was a monumental one.

A selection of artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb, as well as other pieces meant to give context to his life and times, are now touring America under the name "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs." We're lucky enough that one of the three American stops is the de Young Museum here in SF, because the exhibition is fantastic.

After reading this weirdo hit piece in the Chronicle, I was a little worried about the show but went anyway, and I'm glad I did. Kenneth Baker's main gripe seemed to be the commercialization, and yes, there are gift shops selling all manner of King Tut knickknacks, but that doesn't detract from the show itself in any major way I could discern.

On the contrary, I thought the exhibit did a great job of putting Tutankhamun's life in context. As it turns out, he lived in one of the most tumultuous periods in Ancient Egyptian history, immediately after his putative father tried to convert the country to monotheism. Tutankhamun (or, more likely, his advisers) steered Egypt back to the more familiar polytheism. It would be like George Bush declaring the US a monarchy, with him in total control. Oh wait, bad example.

There were a lot of people there, even on a Monday at 10:30 a.m., but the tickets are timed and they only let in a certain number of people at a time. It was crowded, but you're able to get close to each piece.

Some of the pieces are breathtaking, and you walk away with an incredible appreciation for the skill involved in working gold and stone with incredible precision and without the benefit of modern technology. Or maybe not! (Cue spooky music.)

Anyway, I can't recommend it enough. Follow it up with a bowl of niku udon at Hotei and you've got a great morning, especially if it's foggy and about 58 degrees, like it was yesterday.

No comments: