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Could a joint venture between UK & Greece solve the Elgin Marbles problem?

A possible resolution to the dispute over the Elgin Marbles has been proposed, whereby Greece would operate the New Acropolis Museum as an annexe of the British Museum, allowing the London institution to retain ownership & control of the sculptures, while they would be on public display in Greece.

Greece Now [1]

Joint venture could solve Marbles deadlock
Greece offers annex of new Acropolis Museum to the British Museum to host exhibition

Greece has offered to host a joint-exhibition of the Parthenon Marbles (known in the UK as the Elgin Marbles) with the British Museum in a bid to end the tug of war over the sculptures in time for the Athens 2004 Olympics.

The Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos offered an annex of the planned Acropolis museum, being built in time for the Games, to revive stalled talks over the ancient Greek sculptures.

“In practice this would mean that the building of the new Acropolis museum would function as an annex of the British Museum with the ownership and control of the Marbles would remain as it is now in London,” said Venizelos.

The initiative follows the decision by new director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, to terminate discussions over the future of the sculptures, known to Greeks as the Parthenon Marbles.

End of the road?

He told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper in February that the Museum was the best place to show the marbles in “the context of the wider world.”

However, Maurice Davies deputy director of the UK Museums’ association, told delegates that MacGregor was still open to talks.

Davies said that in a number of recent telephone conversations the British Museum director confirmed he was willing to meet Greek counterparts to agree a basis for negotiation.

According to Davies, MacGregor said “the two museums need to find common ground and develop new personal relationships of trust and collaboration.”

Greece for the first time appealed directly to the British prime minister in October to return the marbles as part of a long-term exchange with the British Museum given equivalent antiquities to compensate.

Long-term loan

Any long-term loan of the marbles to Greece would need to be sanctioned by the museum. A permanent return would have to be approved by Britain’s parliament.

The loan scheme was designed to counteract claims that the return of the Elgin Marbles would create a dangerous precedent that could empty the great museums of the world.

Earlier, Prof. William St Clair, whose 1998 book revealed that the friezes had been damaged by the Museum during attempts to whiten them in the 1930s, dismissed MacGregor’s notion of context.

“Are they saying that we shouldn’t go to Spain to see the Alhambra or that we can’t appreciate it because there isn’t a Greek temple nearby?” he asked.

The marbles, a series of ancient sculptures depicting mythological and religious scenes, were brought from the Parthenon in Athens to Britain in the early 19th century by diplomat and art aficionado Lord Elgin.

High-tech home

Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi who designed the high-tech new museum being built in time for the Olympics, said it would “establish a visual relationship” between the sculptures and their former home, the Parthenon.

Should Greece succeed in its bid the sculptures would be housed in a glass structure, at the foot of the Acropolis mount, with a clear line of site to the ancient temple.

Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, was a lone voice in favour of preserving the status quo. He said the planned Acropolis Museum would show the sculptures wholly out of context and dismissed the USD30 million project as “a modernist box on stilts.”

One of Greece’s longest-running cultural campaigns, the call for the return of the marbles first gained notoriety in the 1980s thanks to the efforts of film star and then Culture Minister Melina Mercouri.

Mercouris widower, French filmmaker Jules Dassin, called on delegates to maintain pressure for the return of the sculptures his late wife dubbed “the soul of Athens.”

The dispute has remained a source of tension between the two European Union members.