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“Tea with Nefertiti”

View of “Tea with Nefertiti: The Making of the Artwork by the Artist, the Museum and the Public,” 2012, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar. Foreground: Vik Muniz, Tupperware Sarcophagus Object (Relicario), 2010. Background, from left: Lee Miller, Portrait of Space near Siwa, Egypt, 1937; Lee Miller, The Shadow of the Great Pyramid, Egypt, ca. 1938. Photo: Haupt & Binder.

“NEVER DID THE LABOR OF MAN show me the human race in such a splendid point of view. In the ruins of Tentyra the Egyptians appeared to me giants,” exclaimed Dominique-Vivant Denon when, in the winter of 1798, he encountered the temple now known as Dendera, located south of the small town by the same name in Upper Egypt, as part of Napoleon’s French expedition to Egypt (1798–1801).* Faced with the marvels of Egyptian art, he and the other savants attached to the mission had to question the Greco-Roman paradigm of their own history of art and to admit Egypt as the fountainhead of the tradition they called their own. Henceforth, Egypt became not only a subject of intense scientific scrutiny, exemplified by the monumental multivolume Description de l’Égypte (1809–28), produced by those same savants, but also a European fascination, at times even an obsession, whose history, myths,

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