The Political Calculations of Richard Nixon that Lay Behind the First King Tut Visit

Roundup: Talking About History

Thomas Hoving, in a letter to the editor of the NYT (12-17-04):

[The writer was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1967-77. ]

The first Tutankhamun exhibition of 1976-79 was hatched for political reasons and to make money. It was Richard M. Nixon's idea to show America that Egypt was a friend. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was asked by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger to choose the pieces and organize the six-city show.

From the start, the president of the Organization of Antiquities in Egypt demanded all admissions money. I explained that the National Gallery could not by law charge admission, and that the Metropolitan had recently begun a pay-what-you-wish general admission, banning charges for special shows.

I suggested that the Egyptians allow the Metropolitan to select and make reproductions of dozens of objects in the Cairo Museum to be sold in the American museums. We agreed that the Egyptian government would receive 100 percent of all proceeds from the sale of the objects and the catalog.

That first exhibition did not have "long lines," nor was it "overcrowded." We used reservations, and audiences were restricted to a certain number each hour. The arrangement was designed so that most of the glorious objects were placed in the middle of galleries and visible to as many people as possible.

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