King Tut will reign this summer in Kansas City.
By MATT CAMPBELL
The Kansas City Star
Union Station will conjure Egypt’s Valley of the Kings with an exhibit that re-creates the discovery of the Boy King’s tomb, station officials are scheduled to announce today.
The exhibit — the largest Union Station has ever attempted — is described as “virtual archaeology” in that it allows visitors to enter the tomb, chamber by chamber, and encounter the treasures just as they were placed when they were sealed up with Pharaoh Tutankhamun more than 3,300 years ago.
In pitch-black rooms, spotlights will illuminate the golden glory of objects fit for a king’s journey to the afterlife.
Union Station, the exhibit’s first stop in North America, hopes to bask in that glow.
“This is a major coup for us and a coup for Kansas City,” said George Guastello, Union Station’s CEO.
“The Discovery of King Tut” opens April 4 and runs through Sept. 7.
The exhibit does not have genuine artifacts of the Egyptian pharaoh, but it has more than 1,000 reproductions of Tut objects, including the famous golden mask that covered the mummy’s face, the alabaster canopic jars, his golden throne and his ceremonial chariot.
Original Tut artifacts have toured before, but they are now back in Egypt, which is in turmoil.
“This exhibition would be impossible to present without the use of reproductions, and there are multiple reasons for that,” according to Premier Exhibitions Inc., the exhibit producer. “Primarily, the original artifacts discovered in King Tut’s tomb are no longer permitted to tour outside of Egypt.”
The exhibit also aims to accurately depict the tomb as it was discovered, packed with objects stacked one upon another, and there is no way the fragile originals could be displayed this way.
The producers say the reproductions were faithfully crafted by Egyptian artists to the smallest detail.
Michael Tritt, Union Station’s chief marketing officer, noted that this exhibit has been seen by an estimated 5 million people in Europe since 2008.
“If you don’t have the highest quality, you get dismissed,” Tritt said.
The producers draw a comparison with prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, France, which have been recreated so visitors can experience the beauty without harming the originals.
Organizers say the aim of this Tut exhibit is to simulate the experience of the discovery.
It begins with background about the “discovery of the century” that inspired a wave of Egyptmania in the 1920s.
Visitors are then ushered into the dark “tomb” where the treasures are illuminated, packed to the ceiling, in exactly the way they appeared to British archaeologist Howard Carter when he found them from 1922 to 1924.
They include barges for the afterlife, jewelry and furniture, three nesting coffins, colorful wall paintings and figures of various gods including Anubis the jackal.
After passing through the four chambers, visitors are free to inspect tomb replicas more closely in the second half of the exhibit, which has display cases familiar to more traditional museum displays.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors listen to a narration about what they’re seeing through a headset that is included with admission. There are versions for adults and for children.
Mark Lach of Premier Exhibitions designed a previous King Tut exhibit that toured the United States beginning in 2005. It had authentic objects but only 50 of them. This larger exhibit, although made up of reproductions, offers a much broader understanding of the find, he said.
“It’s an amazing step back in history,” Lach said of the opportunity to see the tomb as Carter did. “You’re listening to the audio tour and the narrator (as Carter) describes what he saw and then a light will come up on a particular object. It’s very theatrical and experiential.”
Tutankhamun became pharaoh at about age 9 and reigned about 10 years before he died. He was a king of the 18th dynasty and is thought to have been the son of the pharaoh Akhenaten.
Akhenaten, husband of Nefertiti, briefly upended Egyptian culture by worshiping the sun god at the exclusion of others. Tut restored the old ways, but his legacy was obscure until his dramatic rediscovery by Carter.
(Fun fact: Carter’s financial backer was Lord Carnarvon, who lived at Highclere, the English manor that is the setting for TV’s “Downton Abbey.”)
Lach attributed the choice of Kansas City to Union Station’s experience in staging other Premier Exhibitions shows, including ones about the Titanic, Britain’s Princess Diana and, most recently, “Real Pirates.”
“If it hadn’t been for that kind of relationship, trust and enthusiasm it probably wouldn’t have happened,” Lach said.
Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions is partnering with Semmel Concerts of Germany, which produced the show. Christoph Scholz and his team from Semmel visited Union Station in December to scout the location.
At 20,000 square feet, the Tut exhibit will spill out from Union Station’s Bank of America Gallery on the lower level. It will require five weeks to install.
The exhibit is sponsored by Bank of America. Union Station officials hope it will be as popular, over five months, as the Princess Diana exhibit, which drew about 105,000 visitors in about three months in 2011.
Station officials were looking for a blockbuster to celebrate the centennial of the railroad depot’s opening in 1914.
“This is our 100th anniversary,” Guastello said. “There is no bigger name for our anniversary than King Tut.”