Just like another '70s-era cultural phenomenon, “blockbuster is the word” that captures the de Young Museum’s current exhibition, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.
In fact, we can’t recall ever hearing that phrase uttered more at a single event than at the recent opening-night gala which celebrated the return to San Francisco of the Boy King.
The exhibition features 130 objects (curated by the de Young’s Renee Dreyfus). Only about 50 of those derive from the treasure-troved tomb of Tut which was discovered in 1922. The rest comprise other, wonderfully fantastic funereal finery from the tombs of his royal relatives.
“He’s back, he’s bigger, he’s older,” declared Fine Arts Museums Director John Buchanan to gathered grandees. “And this time, he’s brought his family with him!”
This “blockbuster” factor also completes a thirty-year circle back to 1979 when the de Young first famously hosted Treasures of Tutankhamun, an exhibition which drew almost 1.4 million viewers to Golden Gate Park and launched the era of the “blockbuster” art show.
Museum gift shops, worldwide, have never been the same.
(Shopping opps continue to abound on this tour of Tut, too. While we weren’t allowed to photograph the exhibition, we did shoot some of the items for sale in the shops. Ghiradelli has created a one-of-a-kind chocolate Tut bust; Iron Horse Vineyard’s Tut Cuvee debuts in October.)
Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities likes to joke that this new production of Tut represents the “longest comeback tour in history.”
Fine Arts Museums Board President Dede Wilsey and Dr. Zahi Hawass
And a production it certainly is, with an organizing cast that includes National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International, and AEG Exhibitions, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. Northern Trust serves as cultural partner, and American Airlines is the official airline of the exhibition. The San Francisco presentation is sponsored by Athena Troxel Blackburn, Mrs. Thomas B. Crowley, Sr., Rajnikant and Helen Desai, and Beringer Vineyards.
During cocktails guests clamored to view the Tut galleries, configured to elicit the sense of wandering a darkened tomb -- and then stumbling into a chamber aglow with gold.
But the 300 gala guests glimmered, too, in Egyptian-inspired finery.
Lucy Jewett fondly wore a gold Tut pendant given to her by late husband, Fritz Jewett, 30 years ago during the first exhibition.
Marianne Peterson sported a chic, red galabeya she’d purchased on the streets of Cairo. A lotus flower adorned the papyrus cloth jacket of Jamie Bowles. Lucy Buchanan sparkled in a colorful and beaded Naeem Khan gown.
But leave it to dynamo Dede Wilsey, Fine Arts Museums Board President, who dazzled in a modern-day Chanel gown -- while stylishly channeling the concept of ancient Egypt.
Holding a crystal-covered Judith Leiber evening bag in the shape of little dog, Dede joked: “When I die, I want this purse to be buried in my tomb!”
However, Barnaby Conrad III adorned his ensemble with a piece of actual antiquity. He arrived with a gift for Dr. Hawass: a photograph featuring the two men, in front of a pyramid, while working a dig in Egypt. Circa 1970. Hawass sports pitch-black hair; Conrad is rocking a full head of hair.
The revelries continued as guests dined upon a delish McCall Associates Egyptian-inspired dinner set atop colorful Pharaoh-inspired tabletops by Blueprint Design.
“Who knew our vocabulary wasn’t complete without the word, ‘Pharaonic’? teased Trevor Traina, as this new phrase was tossed about with great ease.
Others oohed over the previously viewed delights -- which unfortunately does not include King Tut’s magnificent death mask (the one which launched a million T-shirts back in the ‘70s) as it is too fragile to travel and now permanently resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
However a canopic coffinette gave a familiar thrill to those who’d viewed the mask on its previous tour. Designed to contain the king’s liver, this similarly-designed vessel features Tut in his signature headdress (sporting the cobra and vulture) and crossing the royal crook and flail over his chest.
Exquisite as it is, it’s surprisingly small -- only about 14 inches high.
“Everyone’s trading down these days from a sarcophagus to a coffinette,” joked Leslie Berriman. “It must be te economy.”
Dr. Hawass delighted the dinner crowd with entertaining anecdotes about his long history with the boy king. But, he promised, more excitement awaits when he decides to announce the DNA analyses which will determine the mummified remains of two fetus coffins found buried with Tut in his tomb.
Others chose to remain more sedately skeptical about any new Tut revelations.
“I don’t know. I believe there are many things about the ancient Egyptians we will never fully understand,” said Dr. Amer El-Ahraf, Emeritus Professor of Health Science at Cal State Dominguez Hills. “But the opportunities to study and learn are endless because, by its nature, Egypt is an eternal culture."
Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs is on display at the de Young Museum through March 2010
Dalia Elnakib, her husband, Egyptian Consul General Hesham Elnakib, His Excellency Sameh Shoukry the Egyptian Ambassador to the US and his wife, Suzy Shoukry
Lucy Buchanan and her husband, Fine Arts Museums Director John Buchanan
Dr. Amer El-Ahraf, Emeritus Professor of Health Science at Cal State Dominguez Hills
Alexis Traina and her husband, FAM Trustee Trevor Traina
FAM Trustee Belva Davis and her husband, William Moore
Laura and Rick Pfaff with Lucy Jewett
Emmy Andrews and husband, FAM Trustee Dolph Andrews
Stylist Nikas Nikas and the stylish Tut
Pharoah hats in the gift shop
Michele and Richard Goss
Doug and Jennifer Biederbeck
FAM Trustee Marianne Peterson and Joan Danforth
Leslie Berriman, Nion McEvoy and Theo Schwabacher
Dorothy and George Saxe
FAM Trustee Randolph Scott and his wife, Bette Davis Scott
Philip and Jamie Bowles
William Fries III and Virgina Hansen
Sandy Robertson and his wife, FAM Jeanne Robertson
Martha Sutherland and her husband, FAM Trustee Barnaby Conrad
Vintage photo of Dr. Zahi Hawass and Barnaby Conrad in Egypt
FAM Trustee Marion Cope and Philip Smith
Kate Chung and her husband, FAM Trustee David Chung
FAM Trustee Denise Fitch and Richard Essey
Pharaonic candelabra in the gift shop