A new exhibition about the benefits of reuniting the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens has gone on display at ICA in London.
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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Marbles exhibition opens in London
A virtual exhibition, which shows how the Elgin Marbles would look if they were reunited, has opened in London.
Marbles Reunited shows those sculptures removed from Greece 200 years ago by Lord Elgin next to those which remained in Athens.
The London marbles are shown in colour while the others are depicted in white.
The exhibition was shown at the Houses of Parliament earlier in the year.
The marbles, ancient sculptures which once adorned the Parthenon in Athens, have been held in the British Museum since 1811.
The current exhibition was organised by those campaigning for them to be returned to their original home.
“There has been a misconception that the entirety of the collection is in the British Museum,” said Freddie New, of the British Committee For The Restitution Of The Parthenon Marbles.
“However, this exhibition shows that this is not the case”.
Other campaigners are using the forthcoming Olympics, due to be held in Greece next year, to raise the question of ownership.
“The clock is ticking towards 2004 when the whole world’s eyes will be on Athens as the Olympic Games are held there,” said Richard Allan MP, head of the marbles campaign group Parthenon 2004.
“We believe that it is more important than ever that the UK engages in the debate about the future display of the Parthenon Marbles.”
However, the British Museum has said in the past that the marbles should not be reunited as it would be impossible to do so properly.
Many of the marbles are incomplete, such as Poseidon, a sculpture whose torso remains in Athens while the back and shoulders are in Britain.
In another, a foot is in London while the rest of the sculpture is still in Greece.
The exhibition is showing at London’s Institute Of Contemporary Arts until Thursday. It then travels to Oxford and Cambridge.
Parthenon marbles ‘reunited’ in exhibition
By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent
07 October 2003
The marble sculptures removed from Greece by Lord Elgin 200 years ago were “reunited” with the sculptures he left behind in Athens in a virtual exhibition yesterday.
The display was organised by British campaigners who believe that the Elgin marbles, at the British Museum in London, should be returned to Greece. Freddie New, of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles campaign group, said: “There has been a misconception in Britain that the entirety of the collection is in the British Museum. This [exhibition] shows that is not the case and that, furthermore, the divide is significant.”
The reconstruction, called Marbles Reunited, shows the marbles in London in colour while those in Athens, where they adorned the temple of Athena 2,500 years ago, are in white. In one case, the back and shoulders of Poseidon are seen in the UK while the rest of the torso is in Athens. In another sculpture, a foot is in London while the rest of the figure is in Greece. The exhibition runs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London until Thursday, and will then travel to Oxford and Cambridge.
Richard Allan MP, chairman of Parthenon 2004, which is using the 2004 Olympics in Greece to raise the issue in Parliament, said that he believed the question of ownership was secondary. The issue was where the sculptures would be best displayed, he said. The building of a dedicated museum in Athens meant that the marbles should be in Greece with the Parthenon in the background, he said.
Mr Allan said that the British Museum, and the Government, were still opposed to the return of the Marbles. But he said that he believed there was a “thawing” in hostilities. The Greeks have suggested that the British Museum has an outpost at the Athens museum.
Virtual intervention in battle over Parthenon marbles
Fiachra Gibbons, Maev Kennedy and David Hencke
Tuesday October 7, 2003
The British Museum yesterday issued its most stinging rejection yet of Greek pleas for the return of the Parthenon marbles, on the day an exhibition opened to show how even a partial return of the sculptures could dramatically alter the way they are seen.
Neil MacGregor, the first director of the museum to agree to meet representatives from Greece, in effect slammed the door on them yesterday in a speech at the Museums Association conference in Brighton, an event dominated by the issue of the marbles.
Mr MacGregor said that it was the museum’s duty to preserve the universality of the marbles, and to protect them from being appropriated as a nationalistic political symbol.
But with half of the marbles still in Greece, and with a museum being built to house them at the foot of the Acropolis, campaigners for their return said that they found the British Museum’s attitude “insulting”.
Richard Allan, the Liberal Democrat MP leading the Parthenon 2004 campaign for their return in time for the Athens Olympics, said the museum had lost all justification for retaining the sculptures, which were torn from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin in 1802.
He said: “Going to see the marbles in the British Museum is not a satisfying experience – it can’t possibly be when you know the building from which they were taken is still standing 2,500km away.
“The display in London only works and makes sense for a small number of academics. It is like having a few stones from Stonehenge in a museum in Rome. It would be more dignified for the UK to give them back now, rather than having them dragged back kicking and screaming, as will happen in the end.”
The Greek culture minister, Professor Evangelos Venizelos, has already conceded that the British Museum can retain ownership of the marbles if they lend them to the museum in Athens. The Greeks are also prepared to make its galleries “an official outpost of the British Museum”.
Yesterday, an exhibition run by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London showed that, by sharing vital segments, the jigsaw of how the 500BC friezes fitted together could be recreated for the first time in centuries.
The committee’s chairman, Professor Anthony Snodgrass, said the marbles were a special case because the building of which they were an integral part was still standing. His plea seemed to be in vain; Mr MacGregor insisted that the British Museum was “a resource against fundamentalism”, one of the few places in the world where objects such as the marbles could be seen in the context of world history and culture. The marbles were only fully comprehensible when the contributions of Asia and Europe were both considered, he added.
“This is one of the roles of a universal museum, to refuse to allow objects to be appropriated to one particular political agenda,” he told the conference, which will hear today from Dimitrios Pandermalis, the archaeologist heading the team at the new Athens museum.
If the British Museum, which is barred by its constitution from handing back its treasures, were to return the marbles, the floodgates might open on other restitution claims. Nigeria, for instance, wants the return of the Benin bronzes, looted by Britain in 1897.