Three decades after he set off "Tut Mania," Egypt's famed boy pharaoh is set to return to Toronto, with Art Gallery of Ontario officials hoping he'll give a healthy boost to the art venue's flagging attendance.
The gallery announced Thursday that Toronto will be the sole Canadian stop for the massive exhibit Tutankhamen: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, beginning in November.
When the Treasures of Tutankhamen went on tour in the 1970s, throngs flocked to the exhibit, including when it hit Toronto in 1979. AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum believes that the pharoah's allure continues.
"He's a young guy who ruled the world. I mean, that's the fantasy for all of us, I think," he told CBC News.
Since reopening after a lavish Frank Gehry redesign about five months ago, just 350,000 people have visited the downtown gallery — nearly 20 per cent behind projections — and officials recently cut back visiting hours. However, AGO public affairs director Susan Bloch Nevitt said she believes the Tut show will turn things around.
"We absolutely believe it can," she said. "The last time King Tut was here, in 1979, we had 750,000 — actually, more than that — who came during a six-week period. So imagine what we can do now in this wonderful gallery."
More treasures plus scientific displays
Encompassing about 130 ancient artifacts, or nearly twice the number of artifacts displayed in the 1970s Tutankhamen exhibit, the new show features "an almost entirely different selection of treasures," many never before seen in North America, according to AGO officials.
A featured artifact will be the colourful, 10-foot statue of the pharaoh found at the remains of the funerary temple of two of his high officials, described as the largest image of King Tut ever unearthed.
The exhibit will also include elements from a scientific research and conservation project, such as the first three-dimensional CT scan of King Tut's mummified body, as well as multimedia components, including an audio tour and video documentary narrated by Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford.
"Tutankhamen's magic still captures the hearts of people all over the world, even though more than 85 years have passed since the discovery of his amazing tomb," Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in a statement.
"I always say that Egyptian antiquities are the heritage of the world and that we are their only guardians."
The Egyptian council teamed up with the National Geographic Society, Arts and Exhibitions International and AEG Exhibitions to organize Tutankhamen: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, which is currently attracting record visitors to the Atlanta Civic Center.
The AGO will give its members a sneak preview of the exhibit beginning Nov. 21, with the general opening to the public set for Nov. 24. The show will remain in Toronto through April 18, 2010.