Showing results 1 - 12 of 64 for the tag: Universal Museum.

April 9, 2015

Neil MacGregor to stand down as Director of British Museum

Posted at 10:41 pm in British Museum

Neil MacGregor has announced that he is going to stand down as the Director of the British Museum at the end of 2015. During his tenure at the museum, he has definitely raised the profile of the institution, along with his own public standing. He has done a lot of good in broadening the reach of the British Museum, through such things as the History of the World in 100 objects radio series and book.

During his time there, there have been many epic exhibitions, such as the Terracotta Army, although I am sure that while he played a key part, he was far from the only one involved in getting such endeavours off the ground.

However, whatever praise MacGregor might receive should be accompanied by some major caveats.

He is lauded as presiding over a period in which the Museum has risen in popularity, and whilst this is true, it is partly a result of things outside of his control. The Great Court at the Museum is now the iconic space that people remember the building for, but work on it was started well before his arrival and it finally opened a year before he took on the role of director. The previous director presided over a museum that was a building site, with awkward circulation though side corridors, yet the bright spacious museum of the new millennium was not MacGregor’s doing.

In some newspapers, it appears that MacGregor can do no wrong. Even former critics now unquestioningly praise his every move as the work of a genius. I have no idea of the actual arrangements that have been made, but to an outsider it has certain parallels to the embedded reporters accompanying military divisions – you can get the inside stories before anyone else, but only as long as you don’t publish anything negative.

While MacGregor has presented a far more educated approach to the running of the museum than many of his predecessors, with a more rounded global outreach programme, under his control, the museum has always been quick to apply spin to its own actions. Shortly after he took charge of the institution, a highly publicised document appeared – the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum. Many major institutions were present on this list, although the British Museum was notable by is absence. It was clear to many that they were involved in this document, and as it turned out, the declaration fell flat & disappeared from public discourse fairly rapidly.

While the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum might have faded from memory, its legacy is still very much with us. James Cuno continually tries to revive the discredited Universal Museum concept under the alias of the Encyclopaedic Museum. Yet, the whole idea of the Universality of institutions such ass the British Museum is something of a fiction concocted by MacGregor. Prior to MacGregor taking up a post at the British Museum, there are no news stories that mentioned the term Universal Museum, yet it is pushed on us as though it is something that has always existed. It may or may not be a coincidence that its inception followed soon after construction work on the New Acropolis Museum started, removing one of the British Museums previous arguments for retention of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Neil MacGregor receives praise for loaning the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, yet people are quick to forget that for years leading up to this, it was a source of immense tension. The British Museum had earlier made an agreement to loan the artefact, in reciprocation for earlier loans made by Iran, yet when the time came, they did everything in their power to delay this process and avoid following through with the agreement.

While MacGregor talks a lot about cultural diplomacy and working with other institutions, during his 13 years at the museum, he has not moved even a millimetre closer to resolving the long standing dispute over the Parthenon Marbles. Despite Greece building a state of the Art new museum to house them, MacGregor and his representatives try to claim that such endeavours merely strengthen the case for keeping half of the surviving Marbles in Britain. While other museums (particularly in the USA) have gradually seen that old disputes need to be resolved, the British Museum has continued to respond by burying its head in the sand and pretending that the issue will go away.

The Museums recent actions, of lending one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg received much acclaim in the press, but in reality won little support from others in the museum world. Having previously denied denying a loan of the sculptures to Greece, a loan was made in secret to Russia. Once the loan as publicly announced with a multi-page feature in a national newspaper, the British Museum had the audacity to suggest that Greek complaints were ungracious. While once the British Museum claimed that the sculptures were too fragile to move, they are now talking about lending them to institutions around the world – pimping them to everyone except for their rightful owners. Finally, it became clear to many that the museum did not understand the sculptures as a part of a greater whole, something that was designed to be seen together.

Most recently, the British Museum has turned down a request made by Greece for mediation through UNESCO to resolve the Parthenon Marbles dispute. Surely if they were serious about trying to resolve disputes and their position was as strong as they claim it is, they would jumped at the chance to move things forward?

For many who campaign for the return of disputed artefacts, MacGregor’s tenure at the British Museum will be remembered as one of missed opportunities. Of being too blinkered to see the potential advantages of reunifying items with their rightful owners. A rejection of the potential win-win scenario of reciprocal loans of new and unseen works. Of missing out on an increased standing of the institution internationally as old differences were resolved. A failure in cultural decolonisation.

There was (and still is) the potential to reinvent the British Museum as an institution that can provide a moral lead, a new style of museum for the 21st Century, one that can revisit its past in order to create a new, better future. The opportunity has always been there, but MacGregor has never been willing to take it, instead leaving US institutions to take some of the first tentative steps along this path, creating places that exemplify contemporary values rather than the dodgy dealing of times past.

One hopes that perhaps MacGregor’s successor will be able to think different.

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor


Neil MacGregor announces departure from British Museum
Nick Clark
Wednesday 08 April 2015

Neil MacGregor, who has transformed the fortunes of the British Museum during his 13 year reign, is to leave the UK’s most popular visitor attraction at the end of the year.

The 69-year-old Scot told his colleagues of his decision to step down in December at a meeting. The director received prolonged applause from the staff, according to one onlooker, who said the announcement was “emotional for everybody”.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 2, 2014

Culture wars – The return of Dr James Cuno

Posted at 10:47 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

James Cuno will be a familiar figure to long time readers of this blog. Representing the anti-restitution side of the museum establishment in the USA, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the return of artefacts. At times in recent years, it has seemed as though his stance has been mellowing, but his latest article shows that this is clearly not the case.

Following James Cuno’s article, is a critique of it by Dr Kwame Opoku – who is amongst other things a long standing detractor of Cuno’s Encyclopaedic Museum theory.

James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

Foreign Affairs

Culture War
The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts

By James Cuno
From our November/December 2014 Issue

In December 2007, the Italian government opened an exhibition in Rome of 69 artifacts that four major U.S. museums had agreed to return to Italy on the grounds that they had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum. With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship.

Rutelli has hardly been the only government official to insist that artifacts belong to the places from which they originally came. In 2011, the German government agreed to return to Turkey a 3,000-year-old sphinx that German archaeologists had excavated from central Anatolia in the early twentieth century. Afterward, the Turkish minister of culture, Ertugrul Gunay, declared that “each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”
Read the rest of this entry »

March 6, 2013

Turkey versus the Met – challenging the Universal Museum

Posted at 4:48 pm in Similar cases

While many disagree with the concept of the Universal Museum, without an international legal framework in place, few challenges relating to pre-1970 acquisitions by such museums have yet been successful. The odd exceptions to this involve items such as Nazi loot, which are covered by different national laws in many countries.

Now, Turkey is putting pressure on the Met – not on recently acquired artefacts, but on items which left Turkey long before the 1970 cut off date. It will be interesting to see how much success they have with this – threats to withdraw cooperation have been criticised by the museums as blackmail – but it still represents a clear obstacle to the museums that must be negotiated around.


Turkey’s restitution dispute with the Met challenges the ‘universal museum’
Turkey is flexing its cultural, as well as its economic and military muscles. But objects of art outlive the ambitions of nation states
Jason Farago
Sunday 7 October 2012 14.00 BST

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, like most institutions of its size in the US and Europe, has seen its fair share of lawsuits and controversies surrounding its collection. It returned nearly two dozen antiquities to Italy in 2006, as well as work acquired via Nazi looting.

But now the Met is facing a very different kind of restitution battle. The Turkish government is insisting it is the rightful owner of 18 objects from the collection of Norbert Schimmel, a Met trustee and one of the last century’s most astute collectors of Mediterranean antiquities.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 29, 2012

“Universal Objects” such as Cyrus Cylinder more easily lent to US museums than Iranian ones

Posted at 8:55 am in British Museum, Similar cases

While its great to enable as many people as possible to see iconic ancient artefacts, I have a couple of issues with this. First of all, it seems that a loan to not one, but five different museums can take place with relatively little fuss – yet when it was loaned to Iran (the original owners of the artefact), it was a long drawn out process over a number of years involving threats of legal action and to withdraw other cooperation before finally they were able to receive it.

At the end, Neil MacGregor talks about Universal Objects – clearly, this is the next step on from the Universal Museum, which he is is so fond of. Clearly now, we can have objects, that by association of name, if nothing else, can only be displayed in Universal Museums and are no longer valid for consideration for return to their original owners. As with the Universal Museum concept though, the real issue though, as I have mentioned before, is that the museums claiming to fill this role are entirely self appointed to it. No international committee chose them for this, no others were involved in assigning them to this undertaking.

New York Times

November 27, 2012, 7:00 pm
A British Museum Treasure Will Visit the United States

The Cyrus Cylinder — one of the most famous objects in the British Museum — will travel from its home in London to five museums in the United States next year.

Often referred to as “the first bill of human rights” because its inscription encourages freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire, it is a small clay object — not quite nine inches long — bearing an account, in Babylonian cuneiform, by Cyrus, the King of Persia of his conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. The cylinder was found in what was once Babylon, now Iraq, in 1879 during a British Museum excavation and has been on display at the museum ever since. It is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 7, 2012

Videos online from London Colloquy on return of Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 2:07 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following on from the Colloquy on the return of the Parthenon Marbles in June, they have now put online videos of all the speakers who were there.

You can view them on Youtube here.

July 17, 2012

The structural and philosophical problems confronting the Universal Museum concept

Posted at 7:43 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Dr Tom Flynn was one of the speakers at the London Colloquy on the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, where, rather than speaking about the reasons for returning the Parthenon Sculptures, he confronted one of the main arguments given by the British Museum for keeping them here – that of the Universal Museum.

Tom Flynn

The Universal Museum
by Dr. Tom Flynn
London, 2012

Well, you should be ashamed of yourselves, assembling here in a sinister conspiracy to dismantle our Universal Museums, to rob us of the cultural treasures that have contributed so much to the legacy of the European Enlightenment. Just think for a moment of the implications of what you’re doing — if you have your way the great cultural institutions of Europe and North America — the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris, The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago — these noble collections will be dispersed to the far corners of the earth, delivered into the hands of nations and cultures driven by rabid nationalism who lack the curatorial skills and the museological expertise to care for their material heritage. If you succeed, our classical temples to world culture will stand empty or will be turned into multiplex cinemas, football stadiums or basketball courts. The reputation of this once proud nation will be damaged beyond repair, tourism will cease, and as a people we will be forever impoverished.

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? I’m exaggerating to make a point, but that is essentially the message that is being circulated by those striving to resist the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. If the British Museum were to accede to the calls for return, the fabled floodgates would open, leading to a veritable deluge of repatriation requests. It would be a slippery slope that would lead inexorably to a mass exodus of objects, a wholesale denuding, a great emptying, a hollowing out. Or would it?
Read the rest of this entry »

June 13, 2012

Colloquy on the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles later this month

Posted at 6:10 pm in Elgin Marbles

More information on the colloquy on the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, to be held in London later this month.

Source Wire

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

(London, UK, Wednesday, May 22, 2012) – Today, three campaigning organizations for the Parthenon Marbles, from the UK, USA and Australia, announced the launch of an international colloquy on “The Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles” to be held in London. The event is timed to coincide with the third year anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum and the occasion of the 2012 London Olympics one month later. There are plans to videotape and stream the proceedings online following the event for a global audience.

The colloquy is aimed to promote an open dialogue and create further effort for change, and will be held 19 June 2012, at the London Hellenic Centre, 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. On 20 June, a planned organized attendance at the British Museum will take place followed by the launch of the “MISSING” global awareness campaign. This will include events scheduled around the world and online to mobilize support for the campaign. The colloquy is jointly presented by The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM), The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (ACRPS), and The International Organizing Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles (IOC-A-RPM).
Read the rest of this entry »

Re-examining the controversial status of the ‘Universal Museum’

Posted at 5:38 pm in Elgin Marbles

As part of the colloquy on the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, Tom Flynn is going to look at what the Universal Museum really claims to be – and the many problems with the reasoning behind it.

PR Newswire

Universal Museum Concept & Debate at the Global London Colloquy June 19, 2012
LONDON, June 11, 2012 /PRNewswire/ —

The concept of the Universal Museum is at the heart of current debates about cultural property and nowhere more so than in the case of the Parthenon Marbles being held by the British Museum – arguably the definitive example of a ‘Universal Museum’. It is a subject that will be examined at the an international colloquy on “The Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles” to be held in London 19 & 20 June, to register please visit

As the start of the London Olympics approaches, pressure is mounting on the British Museum to reunify the Parthenon Marbles in what is universally acknowledged as their rightful home – the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, which opened in 2009. Greece’s acute economic plight has merely amplified the need for a cultural gesture that many believe would have an immeasurable impact in kindling a sense of optimism and hope among the Greek people.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 14, 2012

Is the “Universal Museum” the museum concept of the future?

Posted at 12:52 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A lot of effort has been expended in recent years in arguments for & against the idea of the Universal Museum. The fact remains though, that the whole concept only seems to have existed within the last ten years. Certainly, there are no mentions of the phrase in this context, prior to Neil MacGregor becoming director of the British Museum.

Surely, if it was a valid approach in the first place, more would have been heard of it prior to this point?

The fact is, that Universal Museums are self appointed. No other countries have asked them to look after their cultural treasures – and then to refuse to return the later. As such, they have no moral right to hang on to the huge numbers of items that were acquired in very dubious circumstances, carefully omitted from the labels on the artefacts today.

The National

Will the museum of the future be universal or defined by its borders?
Kanishk Tharoor
May 12, 2012

When I was a 10-year-old tourist visiting London’s museums, I had a nationalist episode. It began, somewhat narcissistically, with the coins of Kanishka, the ancient king after whom I and all the world’s Kanishks are named. Something stirred in me. “Why are they kept here and not in India?” I asked my mother (never mind that the historical Kanishka hardly ever set foot in what is now India). I marvelled at the curving sword of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, austere and proud, reduced to forlorn captivity in the display case. “Why is it here?” I trembled. And then I found Tipu Sultan’s tiger, a fierce mechanical beast engineered to ravage a wooden British soldier. That was the final straw. The very symbol of Indian resistance to British conquest now lay caged in London as an eternal reminder of our defeat. Quaking with rage, I approached the nearest security guard. “Give it back!” I yelled. “Give it back!” He refused to oblige me.

But my childish protests augured the changing spirit of the times. A rash of similar demands – more sophisticated and reasoned than my own – prompted a group of agitated museum directors to issue a defensive proclamation in late 2002. Dubbed the “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums”, it united venerable institutions in cities across Europe and North America, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Louvre in Paris to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. The directors responded to what they perceived as a fundamental threat to the existence of their museums: the righteous calls and legal attempts to “repatriate” artefacts.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 23, 2012

Orhan Pamuk’s manifesto looks forward to moving on from antiquated state museums

Posted at 1:06 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

More coverage of Turkish Author, Orhan Pamuk’s museum manifesto, that explains why museums should move on from telling the story of the state that they are in & instead to tell the stories of individuals.


State museums are so antiquated
Orhan Pamuk
Friday 20 April 2012 22.54 BST

Monumental state treasure-houses such as the Louvre or the Met ignore the stories of the individual. Exhibitions should become ever more intimate and local

I love museums and I am not alone in finding that they make me happier with each passing day. I take museums very seriously, and that sometimes leads me to angry, forceful thoughts. But I do not have it in me to speak about museums with anger.
Read the rest of this entry »

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk attempts to re-think the museum

Posted at 12:53 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

To accompany his new book, Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk has released a manifesto for museums – a re-thinking of what the aim of museums should be. It is an interesting contrast to the idea of the Universal Museum put about so much by the British Museum in recent years, as being of paramount importance.

In the end, there can be many different types of museum – each has the right to decide what form they take, but at the same time, they should not see this as having the authority to dictate outside the borders of their funding country, that they have the right to remove artefacts for safekeeping, or to make them part of a grand collection that suits their own principles, despite this being at odds with the views of those who believe they are the rightful owners of the artefacts.

Hurriyet Daily News

Orhan Pamuk issues museum manifesto

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has issued a “manifesto” to explain and accompany his Museum of Innocence, a visual manifestation of aspects of his novel of the same name, which will open in Istanbul at the end of this month. The manifesto was published in daily Taraf before being released to the international media.

Pamuk says he loves museums and has felt very happy in museums in the past. “Because I take museums seriously, I sometimes get angry about them, but I don’t want to speak about museums with anger. There were too few museums in Istanbul in my childhood; most of them were historical structures under protection. Later on, small museums in European cities made me feel that museums could tell the stories of individuals. I never forget that places like the Louvre, the Metropolitan [Museum], Topkapı [Palace], the British Museum and the Prado [hold] great richness for humanity. But I am against the idea that these big monumental treasures should be the models for future museums. Museums should represent humanity… but state-supported museums aim to represent the state, not individuals. This is not a good or an innocent goal,” Pamuk’s manifesto reads.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 29, 2012

Can travelling exhibitions be seen as a real alternative to restitution of artefacts?

Posted at 8:04 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku has forwarded me a response to Neil MacGregor’s assertions that the artefacts should not be returned & instead substituted with travelling exhibitions to help share the artefacts.

From Kwame Opoku via email.

Travelling Exhibition as Alternative to Restitution? Comments on Suggestion by Director of the British Museum.

The Director of the British Museum has indeed a fertile mind that never tires of inventing new defences for the retention of looted artefacts of others in the major museums.

Once it became clear that the infamous Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums. (2002) and its principles were not as effective as the signatories thought, other approaches had to be considered.

One such approach is the “travelling exhibition”. This seems interesting and reasonable until one begins to consider what is being proposed. MacGregor is reported in Elginism to have told an audience at the University of Western Australia that due to globalisation, the concept of “travelling exhibitions” will become more relevant;
Read the rest of this entry »