by André Filipe Neto
Open are the double doors of the horizon!1
PARIS – Tutankhamon, perhaps the most famous pharaoh of Egypt, has been making headlines since the discovery of his tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter. A hundred years after, his name continues to be echoed, hummed, repeated, uttered. And that is not something to be lessened when we glance at a civilization where the power of the word, said and ritually repeated, bears an extreme importance. Although Tuthankamon had his eternal address broken into, that event allowed him to achieve the ultimate goal: the existence beyond life, eternity distilled every single time we pronounce his name.
150 objects from Tutankhamon’s tomb amaze us throughout this exhibition, 60 of them leaving Egypt for the first time, heading for one final grand tour of the world before landing in their new home: the Grand Egyptian Museum of Cairo, to be inaugurated in 2021. Before that, Tut and his treasure stopped in Los Angeles, Paris, London and finally Sidney.
I went to “meet him” in Paris. Installed in the Grand Halle de La Villette, the exhibition is a queue maker in all its hype. Having long pre-booked, we arrived at the big pavilion to find us surrounded by growing numbers of people. The exhibition feeds on this, adding more and more to it – doors that open by themselves, dim lights as if we’re entering the actual tomb, a guided journey to what was and what has become of Tut and his Tutmania.
Despite the waves of people that flood the consecutive rooms of this exhibition-tomb, the objects shimmer in all their glory – highly skilled hands that speak to us throughout the sands of time, necklaces and ankhs, shabtis and canopic jars, translucent alabaster and that unique blue, a hue that comes from lapis lazuli, and got the name of Egyptian blue – already then the warmest colour. Not flawless in its execution, this exhibition lives fundamentally of the invaluable objects that we here get a glimpse of (when we patiently wait for everyone else to look at them). Throughout the exhibition, background music accompanies your steps, replaying notes that immediately made me think of the eternal repetition on Philip Glass’s “Akhenaten” – whose latest (marvellous!) production, by Phelim McDermott, I recently had the privilege to see in London and where we meet a little Tut walking on the final scenes.
Remarkable in terms of digital resources applied to the reconstruction of the tomb and its objects, I am truly curious to see how it will all take shape in the much smaller area of the Saatchi Gallery in London, where it is moving in in November.
If you had the opportunity to visit it in Paris, you will have been greeted by a statue that ushered the visitors only for this stop-off of the exhibition, courtesy of the nearby Louvre. Moreover, you might also admired what are supposed to be the oldest known gloves on Earth – the question that lingers on is: are they yellow?
1 Opening lyrics of Philip Glass’s opera Akhenaten, from the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, written thousands of years before Tutankhamon’s short reign.