Year of Egypt

Egyptian combUniversity of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

“I’m not going to say I believe in the curse of King Tut,” said Egyptian Section Curator David Silverman at a preview of Penn Museum’s new exhibit last week, “but we’ve had our problems.” Those included a power failure that took several days to fix and assorted snafus involving light bulbs and Plexiglas.

Getting the exhibition space in the Lower Egyptian Gallery ready for “Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun,” which opened last Sunday, has been no mean feat. Just four months ago the narrow gallery, adjacent to the restored palace housing the famous 12-ton sphinx, was being used as a storage space. For it to make the grade as a place to exhibit priceless ancient artifacts, Museum workers had to install new electric cables and air conditioning, lay new flooring and expand doorways to accommodate both objects and visitors.

When we visited, work was almost complete, with last-minute tweaks being made to ready the exhibit cases for the scrutiny of the viewing public. With the nationally touring King Tut blockbuster arriving at the Franklin Institute in February, Museum staff anticipate 2007 will be the “Year of Egypt” in Philadelphia, with plenty of folks supplementing a visit to the national show with a side trip to Penn Museum. A Tut Trolley will even be provided to transport visitors to and fro between the museums.

“Philadelphia is going to have a Tut banquet,” said Silverman, who co-curated the Amarna exhibit and was national curator for the traveling show. Those who make the trip to Penn will learn about Tutankhamun’s boyhood home in Amarna, where his father Akhenaten established an extreme new religion that established the sun as the sole object of worship, aside from the pharaoh and his beautiful wife Nefertiti. (See Q&A on page 4 for an interview with exhibit co-curators Josef Wegner and Jennifer Houser Wegner.)

Many of the artifacts in the show are gorgeous to look at—a to-die-for solid gold necklace with an amult of the goddess Sekhmet caught our eye—while others, like the wooden comb (shown above) are touchingly ordinary. The exhibit cases themselves are things of beauty. That’s no surprise, since the design team, the McMillan Group from Westport, Conn., also came up with the design for the Los Angeles installation of the touring King Tut exhibition. Jack Murray, the Museum’s staff exhibition designer made the McMillan’s vision a reality, figuring out such details as the striking text panels, some designed to look like stone slabs with chiseled letters, others with white lettering on frosted glass suspended before a parchment backdrop. Museum Catering Company, the culinary outfit responsible for Penn Museum’s café (and special event) fare, has come up with a tempting array of edible Year of Egypt offerings, including chicken shwarma wraps, stuffed grape leaves, Egyptian mezze (appetizers) and karkedeh (traditional Egyptian hibiscus tea). Visit the exhibit during one of the next three weekends, and you can also catch an original theater-in-the-gallery performance by the Vagabond Acting Troupe, who will bring to life Amarna and its demise in “The Trial of Akhenaten.”

“Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun” will remain on display at Penn Museum through October 2007. Admission is free after regular Museum admission. Coming soon, look for discounted joint tickets to the Franklin Institute’s “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” and the Penn Museum exhibit. For details, go to www.museum.upenn.edu/new/exhibits/amarna/index.shtml.

Originally published on November 16, 2006.

Originally published on November 16, 2006