The King Tut exhibit now showing at the Atlanta Civic Center opened to much fanfare last month. Our fair city is the first stop in the world premiere of a major Egyptian art exhibit, which continues here through May 25. And “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” has proved popular for its sponsor, the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University. Peter Lacovara is senior curator of Egypt, Nubia and the Near East at the Carlos Museum and was instrumental in bringing the exhibit here. We talked to Lacovara about acquisitions, values and Indiana Jones.
Q: What was the experience that convinced you that Egypt and Nubia would be your life’s work?
A: In college I took a class and then volunteered in the museum of fine arts in Boston, and they have a great Egyptian collection and a great, great Nubian collection. That really got me interested.
Q: So you were the kid who was always digging through the family attic?
Q: Emory lays claim to you, but you spend a lot of time living and working in New York.
A: (Laughs) Well, I’m from there.
Q: Is Atlanta too modern for the antiquities scholar?
A: Actually, more of our support for the Egyptian collection comes from New York these days than from Atlanta itself.
Q: Why aren’t you getting the Atlanta support?
A: I don’t know. You would think they would be more public minded, but I have found it very difficult to —- despite the popularity of the Egyptian collection —- I’ve found it very hard to build one here in Atlanta.
Q: You’re saying people just don’t get the importance of it?
A: Here, people seem to put the cart before the horse. They’re into building big, splashy museums and additions and not realizing that it’s the collections that are the important thing. It’s what’s inside that counts, not the outside.
Q: A few years ago, scholars including you concluded that a mummy acquired by the Carlos Museum was likely that of the great King Rameses I. Later the museum returned the mummy to Egypt. Did giving back Rameses I help to secure the current Tut exhibit?
A: No. When we gave back the mummy, we gave it back no strings attached. We weren’t going to ask for anything in return. But we’ve had a close relationship with the Egyptian antiquities service. We’ve had people from Egypt trained here, we’ve gone over and done collaborative projects. So it’s part of a close relationship with them.
See the above page for the entire interview.