King Tut still pulls them in, but not quite like 1979.
The exhibit King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, which is closing this week at Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario after a 24-week run, attracted more than 400,000 visitors to see the various artifacts and accoutrements of the eternal boy king.
That's less than the record attendance of more than 750,000 who visited Tut's first show at the AGO in 1979, a record that's particularly astounding given that the exhibition only lasted two months.
The museum wasn't expecting such high numbers for Tut's repeat performance three decades later. "Nineteen-seventy-nine was an international phenomenon, almost like the Mona Lisa coming across the Atlantic. So we never had that in our expectations," said AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum.
Still, the recent exhibit did receive the third-highest attendance in AGO history, second to the Barnes Exhibit, which ran for 3 1/2 months in the fall and winter of 1994 and attracted 600,000 visitors.
Many in the arts community regarded Tut as an odd fit for the AGO - more of an archeological exhibit than an art show per se.
But attracting a different audience was a large reason for hosting the exhibit. The museum said on Monday that 47 per cent of the 404,364 attendees were visiting the AGO for the first time. Gallery memberships also increased strongly, with 12,450 new members, the museum reported.
"It is great art, and it does connect us to another culture through art," Teitelbaum said. "And the way in which the exhibit is presented is in my judgment - and we thought a lot about the presentation, not just the objects - the presentation values felt a lot like an art museum.
"In the end, you can say that the exhibition didn't have objects that relate to our collection. But what it does have in it are works of art that connect cultures. And that is something we are very interested in."
The museum plans to continue in this vein, with an exhibit opening in November on the art objects and luxury goods from the royal courts of Indian maharajas.