Tut-Tut-Tut

Treasures of Tutankhamun

with commentary by I.E.S. Edwards, photographs by Lee Boltin
Ballantine, 176, 175 illustrations pp., $8.95 (paper)

Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures

by I.E.S. Edwards
Knopf, 256, 203 illustrations pp., $35.00

The Gold of Tutankhamun

by Arnold C. Brackman, by Kamal El Mallakh, with a preface by William Kelly Simpson
Newsweek Books, 16, black and white illustrations pp., $60.00

Egyptian Treasures from the Collections of the Brooklyn Museum

with commentaries by Robert S. Bianchi, photographs by Seth Jowel
Abrams, 64 pp., $10.95 (paper)

An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary

by E.A. Wallis Budge
Dover (reprint of London 1920 edition), 2 vols pp., $20.00 (paper)

Egypt Observed

by Henri Gougand, by Colette Gouvion
Oxford University Press, 130, 128 photographs, 64 in full color pp., $19.95

Ramesses the Great, Master of the World

by William MacQuitty, foreword by T.G.H. James
Crown, 64 pp., $4.95 (paper)

Tutankhamun: The Untold Story

by Thomas Hoving
Simon and Schuster, 384 pp., $12.95

The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen

by Howard Carter, by A.C. Mace
Dover (reprint of 1923 edition), 382 pp., $4.00 (paper)

The Ancient Egyptians: A Sourcebook of Their Writings

by Adolf Erman
Peter Smith, 381 pp., $10.00

The Wisdom of the Ancient Egyptians

by William MacQuitty
New Directions, 85 pp., $3.25 (paper)

Ancient Egypt: A Cultural Topography

by Hermann Kees
University of Chicago Press (Phoenix Books), 392, 25 illustrations pp., $6.95 (paper)

Egyptian Religion: Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life

by E.A. Wallis Budge
Routledge & Kegan Paul (reprint of London 1899 edition), 216 pp., $5.95 (paper)

Egyptian Magic

by E. A. Wallis Budge
Dover, 234 pp., $3.00 (paper)

The Egyptian Gods: A Handbook

by Alan W. Shorter
Routledge & Kegan Paul (reprint of London 1937 edition), 156 pp., $10.00

Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs

by Barbara Mertz
Dodd, Mead (revised edition), 335 pp., $7.95 (paper)

Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

by Barbara Mertz
Dodd, Mead (revised edition), 385 pp., $7.95 (paper)

Ancient Egypt

by Warner Hutchinson
Grosset and Dunlap, 116 pp., $7.95 (paper)

Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid

by Piazzi Smyth
Multimedia (reprint of London 1890 edition), 628, 24 illustrations pp., $15.00 (paper)

Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt

by John Anthony West
Harper & Row, 253 pp., $18.95

The First Practical Pyramid Book

by Norman Stark
Andrews and McMeel, 167 pp., $5.95 (paper)

The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon

translated by Alexandre Piankoff, edited by N. Rambova
Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series No. XL:2, 176, 64 plates pp., $5.95 (paper)

The Egypt Story: Its Art, Its Monuments, Its People, Its History

with text by P.H. Newby, photographs by Fred J. Maroon
Abbeville Press, 264, 200 color illustrations pp., $39.95

By the time the Tutankhamun exhibition closes in San Francisco, it will have been seen by more than eight million people, almost all of whom had to apply for reserved tickets: the potential audience was probably twice as large again. Museum directors and their PR men have in the past decade become experts at what one critic nicely terms “the techniques of hype and hoopla,” the hard sell of cultural packages, from the Chinese show of 1973 to this year’s “Pompeii AD ‘79”: not surprisingly, since the windfalls that such happenings generate can be immense, and the “Tut craze” is the biggest money-maker of the lot. The New Orleans Museum of Art, for instance, let it be known that “a minimum of $69.4 million was pumped into the New Orleans economy” in no more than four months, as a direct result of the Tutankhamun exhibition being on view there.

In The New Yorker‘s “Talk of the Town” column for December 25, 1978, there was an interview with Tutankhamun himself (“We found the boy king in the pale pink sitting room of his suite, wearing a Turnbull and Asser djellabah and sipping Perrier”), in which he was asked if his spectacle had a theme, and replied with commendable bluntness: “Yes, it’s about gold, man. Heavy metal.” So it is, and in more ways than one. When Robert Hughes characterized the art world in these pages as “the last refuge for nineteenth-century laissez-faire capitalism” he was not indulging in idle hyperbole. The Egyptian government alone anticipates making about $7 million out of Tut’s peregrinations in the US and Canada, all earmarked (despite some rumors to the contrary) for revamping the display facilities of the Cairo Museum.

Yet Ahmed Abushadi, press counselor to the Egyptian Embassy, has described the sum as “peanuts,” and is on record as saying: “We didn’t bring the show here for the money, or we’d have demanded a fair share of the millions made by cities around the country on it.” It is interesting, too, that a large amount of the cash-flow comes from what has been labeled “Tutsploitation” or the “Tut glut”: Tut beer mugs, T-shirts, tote-bags, stationery, posters, paper dolls, whiskey decanters, and, at a slightly more pretentious level, the replicas of Egyptian artifacts marketed, as an exclusive monopoly, by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These range from simple ankh pendants or crook-and-flail pins to a gold-surfaced copy of the exquisite statuette of the goddess Selket, going for $1,850, and unkindly described by Franz Schulze (above, note 1) as “neo-sleazo.” One can argue that museums are putting too much of their efforts into department store salesmanship, but the trend strikes me as comparatively harmless, having the advantage of bringing some attractive historical designs within reach of almost anyone who can appreciate them. No one is forced to buy the other items.

A far more intriguing question is just why a collection of grave goods from the tomb …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.

Letters

Egyptian Erudition May 15, 1980

The Secrets of the Pyramids December 20, 1979