Reports have appeared in the Greek Press suggesting a range of architectural problems with the New Acropolis Museum. One suspects that the people spreading these stories may well be the same groups of local architects who also made false allegations in the past about how the construction of the museums was destroying artefacts on the site when in fact it was designed to deliberately avoid them. What they are trying to achieve with this story is unclear however.
Athens Plus 
ATHENSPLUS • FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2009
ARCHAEOLOGY BY JOHN LEONARD
Athens museums in transition
Puzzling problems in structure of capital’s star venue reported just months ahead of official opening
Three of the city’s top cultural institutions are in the news at the moment with the buzz in Greek media about further construction problems at the New Acropolis Museum and the exciting renovation and expansion projects currently under way at the Byzantine and Christian and National Archaeological museums.
Culture Minister Antonis Samaras announced on February 13, after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, that the grand opening of the New Acropolis Museum has now been scheduled for June 20. Acknowledging that the present economic crisis necessitates a review of expenditures and the tightening of ministry purse strings, Samaras emphasized that the timely opening of the new museum is more important than ever, as foreign tourists drawn by Greek culture represent an important source of revenue for the country. One of the first decisions made by the new culture minister, who assumed his duties in January, was to cancel the lavish 6-million-euro opening ceremony for the New Acropolis Museum planned by his predecessor.
Fresh controversy sprang up shortly after Samaras’s announcement when a group of eight Greek architects claimed to have found diagonal cracks appearing in the glass floor panels installed just outside the museum’s Parthenon Hall, according to a report in last Sunday’s To Vima newspaper. This development follows another recent commotion that arose on February 9, when the New Acropolis Museum’s museological program was at last submitted for approval to the Museum Council – amid serious objections by its members. Questions concerning the “forest of columns” that obscure antiquities in the Archaic Sculpture Hall, an insufficient lighting system and the eye-level placement of the Parthenon frieze – although the frieze’s original position on the temple was much higher – were all raised.
Now there are claims that the new museum is plagued with structural flaws as well. Not only are the cracks “repetitive and systematic,” which indicates they are not accidental, but the museum’s floors have been observed to oscillate up and down when walked upon, the architects allege. This movement, they claim, will be amplified by many visitors walking on the floor simultaneously and may lead – in combination with the lofty heights between floors visible through the glass panels beneath visitors’ feet – to feelings of insecurity and perhaps vertigo and panic. As a result of the potential severity of these problems, the report claims that the architects have appealed to the public prosecutor’s office in Athens, seeking intervention.
What will happen next remains to be seen. Dimitris Pantermalis, president of the construction organization of the New Acropolis Museum, is resistant to any changes in the museological program, most of which was already completed prior to its submission for approval. The alleged cracked and oscillating floors seem a more serious matter, which certainly warrant attention but time is running out, especially if the New Acropolis Museum is to open as scheduled just four months from now.
The Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens is also planning a major reopening, as its own construction work and extensive reorganization of displays will soon be completed. Currently open to visitors wishing to see the purely Byzantine exhibitions revamped five years ago, the museum is now preparing to inaugurate an entirely new set of displays that will take the often under-appreciated institution in a bold, new direction. When the new exhibition opens to the public in May, according to a report in Ta Nea, a huge collection of 1,745 previously unseen works of art dating from 1453 to the 20th century will, for the first time, illuminate the Early Modern period in Greece. Once added to the 1,200 Byzantine objects already on display, the permanent collections will cover an area of 1,400 square meters. This new approach by the museum intends to offer a fresh perspective on Venetian and Ottoman times, as well as the Greek Revolution of 1821.
“For us to bring this complex era to light,” remarked Dimitris Constantios, the museum’s director, “we don’t regard the exhibitions as art only, but as witnesses of culture.”
To illustrate life in Greece after 1453, the new displays will focus on particular subjects, which reportedly are: the communities and art of Venetian Crete; the art of the Ionian Islands; the Ottoman conquest; the Orthodox Church; monasteries; views of daily life and the roles of printing and religious painting in the early Greek state. Artworks to be featured include a 15th-century wall painting from the village of Apolpaina in Lefkada; painted panels by the great Ionian Moschos brothers; ceiling paintings by Panayiotis Doxaras from the Church of Aghios Spyridonas on Corfu and 18th-century wall paintings from a church that once stood atop the archaeological site at Delphi.
Among other notable artifacts to be displayed are icons inscribed in Turkish with Greek letters; metal fetters used to restrain mentally ill persons believed to be “possessed” when they were brought into churches and carved, perforated panels of gray stone from the island of Tinos commonly used to let in light over house doors in the Cyclades.
One section particularly relevant today will show how religious art evolved in the 20th century. Featured artists initially will include Fotis Kontoglou and Constantinos Parthenis, but new works and artist profiles will have a rotation every six months in this regularly updated presentation.
Following the May opening, museum visitors can also look forward to a cafe, restaurant and shop, planned for completion by the summer of 2009. Outside the museum, a large cultural park is also being planned, which will include 450 trees, 2,000 shrubs, a display of three Early Christian graves recovered from the metro excavations and an open-air sculptural exhibit. Work on ticket, reception and temporary exhibit spaces that also comprise part of the current renovations will be concluded by the end of 2009. The completed Byzantine and Christian Museum promises to be one of the most progressive cultural centers in Athens, offering visitors one of the city’s richest museum experiences.
Undisplayed items go on show
The National Archaeological Museum unveiled six new exhibit halls on Thursday, February 26, where visitors can now see four previously undisplayed collections, including artifacts from Cyprus, altogether amounting to more than 2,500 objects. These new exhibitions feature ceramic idols, small coroplastic works of art, gold jewelry, exquisite glass objects, as well as the Blastou-Serpieri Collection.
Funding for the new halls was provided by the European Union. With the addition of these latest displays, the National Archaeological Museum has now completed its exhibition program and made it even more impressive.