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Visitors to Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to explore Temples and Tombs: Treasures of Egyptian Art from The British Museum at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art beginning September 7.

Organized by the American Federation of Arts and The British Museum, this exciting exhibition of approximately 85 magnificent objects spans the full range of pharaonic history — from shortly before the Third Dynasty, about 2686 B.C., to the Roman occupation of the fourth century A.D. — and provides a rare opportunity to view renowned Egyptian masterworks and lesser-known treasures before their final return to The British Museum.

Temples and Tombs marks the Museum’s most recent collaboration with the American Federation of Arts. Over the last few years, we have worked closely with the AFA on several projects, including the exhibition Millet to Matisse: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century French Painting from Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, and work has already begun with AFA and the Louvre for Roman Art from the Louvre, which is scheduled for 2008,” said Carolyn Hill, executive director. “Our collaborations with AFA and some of the world’s greatest museums are exciting ventures for Oklahoma City.”

Included in the exhibition are sculptures, reliefs, papyri, ostraca, jewelry, cosmetic objects, and funerary items in a variety of media – including stone, wood, terra cotta, gold, glass, and papyrus — that reflect the richness and scope of The British Museum’s exceptional collection. Selected by Edna R. Russmann, curator of Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Temples and Tombs explores four distinct themes: objects from the lives of artists and nobles; the king and the temple; statues of Egyptians from temples and tombs; and the tomb, death, and the afterlife. The four thematic divisions of the exhibition allow for a specific examination of these masterworks in the context of the Egyptian temporal and cosmic world view.

The first section of the exhibition is devoted to objects used by artists and nobles, offering an insightful look into Egyptian daily life. Among the included items are objects of decoration and protection, such as amulets, jewelry, and cosmetic containers. Statues and paintings of figures portray the Egyptians’ enjoyment of jewelry; their hairstyles, makeup, and clothing; their household furniture; and the company they kept, including servants and family. Other items, such as a scribal palette, drawing board, and inked grid, provide information about artisans’ working lives. Hiero-glyphic writing on many of the objects demonstrates the masterly level of graphic communication attained by the Egyptians.

Featuring numerous exceptional examples of royal representation, the second section of the exhibition examines the role of the Egyptian king as the intermediary between the divine and human worlds. Immediately recognizable by his garments, crown, and the oval cartouche in which his name was usually inscribed, an Egyptian king was the highest-ranking mortal and the individual best able to please the gods. This section of the exhibition also considers the function of the temple, as the central physical expression of the unique relationship between the king and the gods.

The third section of Temples and Tombs considers the role of the private statue, in the context of both the temple and the tomb. The earliest statues of private individuals were found in tombs, as a place where the spirit of the deceased could reside. Private statues were also found in temples, representing an individual’s status, wealth, and ability to partake in cult offerings. The examples in this section allow viewers to see both the continuity and change in the representation of private art from about 2600 B.C. to the first century A.D.

The exhibition concludes with an exploration of the Egyptian concepts of the tomb, death, and the afterlife. Seeking to extend life after death, the Egyptians made provisions in their burials for the afterlife, although only the affluent could afford the full array of tomb items and rituals intended to protect the body of the deceased and insure a successful afterlife for the soul. Many of the bowls, palettes, headrests, ostraca, and other utilitarian objects in the exhibition are embedded with protective symbols because they were intended to accompany their owners to the tomb.

In her contribution to the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, Guest Curator Edna R. Russmann explains, “The Egyptians were passionate in their love of life. It inspired in them an equally strong determination to make life last forever, a goal they pursued with extraordinary intensity and ingenuity. It seems ironic that we should be the accidental beneficiaries of their quest for eternal life. We are extremely fortunate that this quest extended to surrounding themselves in death with objects from life in tombs and temple caches.”

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is one of the elite 5% of museums nationwide to achieve accreditation by the prestigious American Association of Museums. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Thursdays until 9:00 p.m., Sundays 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, students and children, and children under five are free. For more information, call 405-236-3100 or visit

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