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Tut Everlasting

More than 100 of ancient Egypt’s finest artifacts give new life to pharaoh Tutankhamun and the great kings of old.

This statue of Tutankhamun stands nearly three metres high (photo by Sandro Vannini).

The mummification and entombment of Egypt’s pharaohs ranks as one of the ancient world’s most widely known practices, satisfying both our age-old curiosity surrounding death and our fascination with the gold, jewels and other treasures such rulers amassed in life. Thousands of years ago, these kings were laid to rest with all their earthly possessions—bones preserved, organs placed in canopic jars, opulent riches testifying to their importance. And thanks to modern archeologists, the discovery of these objects has allowed Egypt’s storied pharaohs to achieve their greatest desire: to live on forever in the afterlife.

Ironically, it is a relatively minor ruler, Tutankhamun, who in death commands the most reverence. Since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, his priceless cache—from a small board game to his iconic, solid gold funerary mask—has travelled the globe and inspired generations of professional and amateur Egyptologists alike. The Art Gallery of Ontario provides fresh opportunity to glimpse some of these precious artifacts in its latest exhibition, King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs.

As its name implies, the boy-king Tutankhamun headlines this blockbuster showcase, but the exhibition also looks at Tut’s predecessors, lending broader perspective to religion, art and courtly life between 2600 and 660 BC—some 2,000 years of ancient Egyptian history. Thutmose III, controversial Amenhotep IV (also called Akhenaten), and Khafre, whose image adorns the Sphinx, are among the pharaohs who make an appearance in beautifully rendered and exceptionally well preserved stone carvings.

The funerary mask of Psusennes I (photo by Sandra Vannini).

Thus acquainted with Egyptian antiquity, visitors are invited to share in the awe experienced by British archeologist Howard Carter when he unearthed Tut’s final resting place almost a century ago. Inside the four-chambered tomb Carter found thousands of significant objects, more than 50 of which are on display at the AGO. Ornate shabtis (figures carved in the pharaoh’s likeness and meant to take his place when labour was called for in the afterlife), canopic jars and a variety of gold adornments are prominent, but perhaps the most affecting artifacts are a small woven-reed bed and chair—reminders that this monarch rose to power, ruled and died before he even reached adulthood.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is open Tuesday to Sunday. King Tut admission is $16.50 to $32.50 and includes entry to the AGO’s permanent collection; call 416-979-6648 for more information and to purchase tickets.

November Editor’s Picks: Art

Early Snow with Bob and Doug, by Diana Thorneycroft.

Early Snow with Bob and Doug, by Diana Thorneycroft

TO NOVEMBER 29 Fresh—both refreshing and cheeky—aptly evokes the Diana Thorneycroft: Canada, Myth and History exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The Winnipeg artist juxtaposes toy figurines with well-known landscape paintings in memorable, outlandishly staged photographic tableaux that seem comical but ultimately reveal darker underpinnings. Her Group of Seven Awkward Moments series irreverently deconstructs mythological narratives and challenges notions of cultural identity in such works as Early Snow with Bob and Doug, which places über-Canuck pop icons the McKenzie brothers against the back-drop of Tom Thomson’s 1916 oil painting, Early Snow. Among the other iconoclastic, diorama-like images, expect to see a brilliant exploration of Canadiana emblems like mounties, Bobby Orr, and the Tim Hortons double-double.

Viola Frey's Weeping Woman.

Viola Frey's Weeping Woman

ON NOW Colossal clay sculptures by one of the world’s premier ceramicists take over the Gardiner Museum as part of Bigger, Better, More: the Art of Viola Frey. The California-based artist, who died in 2004, helped elevate the status of ceramics as an art form in the latter half of the 20th century. Monumental in aesthetic and scale—the exhibition’s 22 works fit into crates that occupied two 18-wheeler transport trucks—Frey’s figures, such as the larger-than-life Weeping Woman, boast bright primary colours and an electrifying marriage of ceramics, painting and sculpture that offers a provocative commentary on American life. Complementing this retrospective is the release of a catalogue that compiles three essays about the artist along with photographs of her bold mixed-media pieces. Pick it up for posterity at the popular Gardiner Museum Shop.

Tutankhamun's <em>canopic coffinette</em>

Pharaoh Tutankhamun's canopic coffinette

OPENS NOVEMBER 24 The boy-king is back—30 years after his celebrated Canadian debut—with his fellow pharaohs in tow. The Art Gallery of Ontario showcases King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, with more than 100 incredible artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb, including weapons, jewels, furniture, his golden sandals, and a gold, carnelian and coloured-glass Canopic Coffinette. Also on view are historical objects from Egyptian temples and other royal tombs circa 2600 to 660 BC, including one of the largest icons of the monarch ever unearthed—a 10-foot statue with much of its original paint intact. There’s also a CT scan of Tut’s mummy! Even if you succumbed to “Tutmania” during the 1979 exhibition, it’s still worth reacquainting yourself with the pharaoh. The AGO’s new display offers an almost entirely different collection of treasures, with twice as many relics as the previous show.