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The Middle East might not be the safest place for American’s to go these days, but what can be done about that timeless yearning for those shifting desert sands, the pyramids, and the Sphinx?

Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts has solved the problem by bringing the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts ever loaned to a foreign country, to us. Called “The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt,” the exhibit features over 100 artifacts that illuminate how Egyptians viewed the afterlife during the long “New Kingdom” (1550-1069 BCE), to the “Late Period” (664-332 BCE). The artifacts come from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Luxor Museum, among others.

The Egyptian government arranged the tour, bringing with it a cultural message and the hopes that more people will understand Egyptian culture. “We’re working really hard to understand our world culture these days,” Says Frist Center Communications Director Ellen Pryor. “With so much going on in the Middle East, here’s another portal we can begin to understand other cultures. You can just walk through the galleries and make connections from 3,000 years ago to today, and that’s pretty exciting.”

Pryor continues, “The chance to walk into a gallery in downtown Nashville and see some of the most priceless artifacts the world has ever known and some of the world’s greatest art—it’s easy to talk about them as artifacts, but you can’t stand in front of those statues and not look at them as really magnificent art—but the chance to bring that to Nashville was really undeniable.”

The exhibition is divided into six themes: the New Kingdom, the Reign of Thutmose III, Tombs of Nobles, Royal Tombs, the Realm of the Gods, and the Tomb of Thutmose III and the Amduat (a funerary text). Within these themes, a number of artifacts are featured, including a life-size replica of the burial chamber of the pharaoh Thutmose III and an eight-foot-long ancient wooden model of the river boat believed to carry the pharaohs into the afterlife.

When the exhibit was first designed, no mummies were included. But when it commenced in Nashville, mummies were added. “We felt strongly that we should have mummies,” said Pryor. “So much of that Egyptian quest for the life after life have to do with mummification and preserving the body for the [after] life they anticipated. The combination of the mummies with the exhibition makes it different in Nashville than it has been anywhere else.”

The addition, entitled “Mummies,” features a real linen-wrapped human mummy from the Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as animal mummies from various other museums.

The exhibit is child-friendly as well, with audio tours and fun, educational activities available. Children can learn about animals depicted in Egyptian art, while adults can find their “inner archeologist” during a late-night visit using only flashlights along the way.

Opened just a little over five years, the Frist Center has never had an exhibit quite this large. In fact, one of the artifacts, a sarcophagus lid, weighs almost four tons! However, Pryor says they were ready for it. “We had to have structural engineers come in, because this building was never meant to hold four tons worth of stuff,” she said. “But when we renovated the building, we took all of that into account. Everything was made more stable.”

The Frist Center hopes to bring in 150,000 to 200,000 visitors by the time the Egypt exhibit is over. “To walk in and see the galleries full of people—that warms our hearts, because that’s what we were built to do,” Pryor adds, smiling. “So, to bring something here that people are responding to just pleases us to no end.”

PHOTO CAPTIONS: The Great Pyramid, Raeanne Rubenstein, 1988, Falcon collar of Princess Neferuptah, Twelfth Dynasty, reign of Amenemhat III, 1831–1786, Boat from the tomb of Amenhotep II, Eighteenth Dynasty, reign of Amenhotep II, 1427–1400, Funerary Mask of Wenudjebauendjed (detail), 1039-991 BCE, Sphinx of Thutmose III, Eighteenth Dynasty, reign of Thutmose III, 1479–1425

The exhibit runs through October 8, 2006. For more information, and for tickets, call the Frist Center at 1.866.683.4978 or visit Please note that by the time the exhibit leaves the United States, it will have traveled to 10 or more cities, so be sure to check your local art listings. / Issue 60 - September 2018
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