Whilst the British Museum insists that the New Acropolis Museum changes nothing in the battle for the battle for the return of the Elgin Marbles, most commentators tend to disagree. It is not the only museum built to potentially returned artefacts either, as the Egyptians are also building a new Grand Museum of Egypt with the hope that this will act as a catalyst for restitution claims.
Foreign Policy (USA)
Is Greece Losing its Elgin Marbles?
The battle between antiquities-loving and antiquities-producing countries continues.
BY SUSAN EMERLING | AUGUST 21, 2009
The culture war between antiquities-importing countries and those whose soils harbor archaeological treasures has flared up again. This time, the battle isn’t over recently looted artifacts returned by a chastened American museum to their country of origin. Instead, it is over the June opening of Athens’ New Acropolis Museum (NAM), which, in addition to housing an eye-boggling cache of art and artifacts found on the Acropolis, was built with the wishful premise of someday housing what the British refer to as the “Elgin Marbles.” These are the late fifth-century sculptures that were removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th-century by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, and acquired by the British Museum in 1816.
Although there are certainly entrenched political and legal obstacles to the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece — chief among them, the British Museum’s claim of rightful ownership — the elegant, state-of-the-art concrete and glass-walled NAM, designed by Swiss-born New York-based architect Bernard Tschumi has put to bed long-standing concerns over Greece’s ability to safeguard and exhibit the stones, should they ever return to its shores. Despite its persistent refusal to consider the restitution, even the British Museum seems to have tacitly acknowledged the suitability of the NAM by offering the marginally sincere three-month loan of the marbles in exchange for a renunciation of Greece’s ownership claims. (The Greeks ridiculed and rejected the offer.) But amid all this posturing, does the construction of the NAM signal the beginning of a shift in the repatriation debate, which might affect museums around the world that are caught in similar conflicts over contested objects? Although not all archaeological source countries have the resources to build such an unimpeachable museum, the issue of restitution for works of art might increasingly be decided less on whether these source countries can legally reclaim their own antiquities — but whether, ethically, they should.
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