Institute of Archaeology


Summer Austin

Tut on the Auction Block: Demand Creation through Exhibition — A case study of market reaction to the last 50 years of Tutankhamun exhibitions in New Contexts


Email: summer.austin.20@ucl.ac.uk              
Section:  Heritage Studies


 Tut on the Auction Block: Demand Creation through Exhibition — A case study of market reaction to the last 50 years of Tutankhamun exhibitions in New Contexts

There is an assumption that largescale exhibitions influence the art market; an opinion held by antiquities dealers, reporters and researchers. However, there is limited quantitative evidence to support this assumption. Anecdotal evidence cited in news articles and single-auction evidence in academic journals make up the totality of evidence for this belief. Do museums influence market trends? Do blockbuster exhibitions generate demand for certain objects?

 Billed as the original museum blockbuster, the Treasures of Tutankhamun in 1972 started the trend of largescale museum exhibitions. But what are the consequences of these mega-exhibitions?  Does Tut sell? Do Tut exhibitions inspire an entirely new fashion of Egyptian collecting? If Tut does sell, for how long? And at what prices? And by price, not just monetary; the high cost of esteem (Chippindale and Gill 2000) that we have placed on a relatively inconsequential historical figure inspires and motivates the illicit trade in Egyptian antiquities that results in mass looting, loss of knowledge and most importantly, the loss of life. Blockbuster exhibitions, like the Treasures of Tutankhamun, influence, enhance and normalize the demand for ancient Egypt, which results in looting and destruction of cultural heritage.

           The relevant theoretical foundation for this work investigates what creates, influences, enhances and normalizes demand for antiquities in order to anticipate trends and motivations for collecting. Museums act as both active economic agents and hosts for blockbuster exhibitions. Museums imbue their collections with desirability through their authoritative influence, strategic display, storytelling, and the commercialization of cultural heritage which normalizes and justifies the demand for antiquities and acts as a guide and goal for collectors.

           This study provides a theory-guided empirical analysis of the long-term impact of exhibitions on demand for Egyptian antiquities. The aim is to fill a gap in our understanding of influences on demand by focusing on the 50 years of Tut blockbuster exhibition and the subsequent market reactions in three unique markets, London, New York and Hong Kong. This study is supplemented with qualitative research surveyed from primary sources to contextualize the exhibitions within the broader socio-economic environment.


  • MA, Comparative Art and Archaeology, UCL, 2010

  • BA, Archaeology, University of California San Diego, 2010

  • BA, History, University of California San Diego, 2010

  • MSc, Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, 2012

  • PG Diploma, Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime, University of Glasgow, 2018

  • MSc, Provenance and Collecting in an International Context, University of Glasgow, 2020