The golden treasures of the boy pharaoh are dazzling, but it is costing a king’s ransom to see the loot. The new King Tut exhibit debuting in Los Angeles this summer is also shaking the cobwebs of museums everywhere and perhaps redefining their role.
“It's a different world today,” says Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Company.
Different, indeed. Leiweke’s world is rock concerts. He's never done art. But, for the first time, his entertainment company is betting $40 million it can run a blockbuster art exhibit — and make lots of money doing it.
“This has to be more than just ‘let's go take a look at that box sitting on the floor,’” he says.
This new “outsourcing of art,” like Tut's golden head dress, is all about money.
Egypt owns the antiquities and wants $40 million to let Tut travel. That's a far cry from the almost nothing it got 26 years ago when mummy-mania ruled U.S. museums.
Egypt's chief archeologist says there's no free lunch anymore. It needs to turn the king's gold to hard cash to restore other crumbling monuments.
“No one can take an exhibit free, they should pay,” says Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. “It is not the idea for money, but for the idea of money to restore our past.”
It's the future that museum curators are worried about.
The consortium of new Tut promoters not only took control of how the artifacts will be presented, but they're dictating record high ticket prices — as much as $30. Several museums, including New York’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, refused.
“It's not worth the cost, the hassle, the difficulty of setting up the whole infrastructure,” says Philippe deMontabello, director of the Met. “The Metropolitan has a pay-as-you-wish policy.”
“I don't mean to pick a fight here, but I think it's old school,” responds promoter Leiweke. “I think they're used to doing business a certain way and they look at this commercialization and say, ‘Well, this is terrible.’”
But ticket sales suggest another wave of Tut-mania is starting, despite the world's most famous art museum snubbing the world’s most famous mummy.
"Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" opens June 16 in Los Angeles, then travels to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago and Philadelphia through 2007.