Tutankhamun at LACMA 1978 (TMAS10)

Tutankhamun at LACMA 1978 – Tell Me a Story 10

This past sunday, my friend Max walked in with a vintage vinyl record that contained a brochure advertising “Treasures of Tutankhamun”. He was showing it to me because it was cool and it took place before he was born. Ironically, I was born and I was there.

The year was 1978. King Tut was at the LA County Museum of Art and it was a spectacle. There were lines to get in and crowds bunched in front of each glass-cased artifact. There were 55 items, one for each year since the 1922 discovery, and I clearly remember the icon of the exhibition – The Mask of the Mummy in it’s goldenness. This show was huge. Word travelled via newspaper, TV and even brochure.

As a 9 year old, a fine art museum doesn’t offer much. Paintings and sculptures, as grand as they can be, won’t do it. If there isn’t a space to run or an object to climb, what value is it? Yet in our imaginations, King Tut was as great as a T-Rex. It was greater than a Dodger game and on par with Star Wars. You had to see it so you could brag about it at school.

The urban legends helped, since some of the original excavators mysteriously died. Did the tomb cast a curse? It was something parents would love to tell their kids. All of a sudden on top of “once in a lifetime,” there was danger. It was like seeing Ozzy and thinking you’d be sprayed by bat’s blood. It sounded cool.

Some research on King Tut’s 2005 return yielded: “With more than 850,000 tickets sold since the exhibition opened on June 16, 2005, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has become the second most popular exhibition in LACMA’s history, exceeded only by the 1978 visit of Treasures of Tutankhamun.”

The 1978 LA exhibition was reported to have 1.25 million visitors and the entire US tour, over 9 million. Perhaps the largest exhibition in the world. I posted an image of the brochure online and people continue to comment: “I was there”, “I saw it twice” and “I saw this in San Francisco”.

30 plus years later, it still has to be among the largest exhibitions in the world. For a generation of kids, it was a gateway to museums, and it was all thanks to a king who died in his teens, but whose tomb was filled with the coolest items imaginable. He was practically one of us, but a god.

My memory isn’t clear on every aspect of the show, but it was my mother who took me there. It was 1978, she was in her 30s and lived in the US for 20 years. I was a typical 9 year old American kid. She took me to Tut and bought me a ticket to see Star Wars just a year before.