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British Museum denies that there are any ongoing “secret talks” abot the Elgin Marbles

Despite reports that there are secret talks between Britain & Greece [1] about the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, the British Museum has strongly denied that this is the case.

From:
Art Daily [2]

Monday, August 4, 2003
Marbles will not be returned

The British Museum yesterday categorically rejected a claim that it was to give back the Parthenon marbles for next year´s Olympic Games in Athens. Nor were secret talks going on about their long-term loan to a £30m museum being built on the Acropolis, its trustees insisted.

Last year the Greek government dropped its claim to own the 2,500-year-old sculptures – taken from the Parthenon frieze by Lord Elgin in 1801 – in the hope that the British Museum might one day be persuaded to give them back.

Having for years resisted discussing the issue, the museum´s new director, Neil McGregor, told the Greek minister of culture that, as one of a handful of “universal, world institutions”, the British Museum was the best place for them.

Yesterday, the museum said that although there were discussions about other loans to a cultural Olympiad to coincide with the Games, the marbles were not up for grabs. “The trustees cannot envisage any circumstances under which they could accede to the Greek government´s request for the permanent removal of the sculptures from London,” a spokeswoman said. “Many artefacts within the collection are indeed loaned to other museums every year. However, many loan requests cannot be met. In addition, the trustees do not normally consent to the loan of objects considered to be central to the collection´s purpose.”

From:
Guardian [3]

Museums: ‘No secret talks’ over Marbles
Fiachra Gibbons
Monday August 4, 2003
The Guardian

The British Museum yesterday categorically rejected a claim that it was to give back the Parthenon marbles for next year’s Olympic Games in Athens.

Nor were secret talks going on about their long-term loan to a £30m museum being built on the Acropolis, its trustees insisted.

Last year the Greek government dropped its claim to own the 2,500-year-old sculptures – taken from the Parthenon frieze by Lord Elgin in 1801 – in the hope that the British Museum might one day be persuaded to give them back.

Having for years resisted discussing the issue, the museum’s new director, Neil McGregor, told the Greek minister of culture that, as one of a handful of “universal, world institutions”, the British Museum was the best place for them.

Yesterday, the museum said that although there were discussions about other loans to a cultural Olympiad to coincide with the Games, the marbles were not up for grabs. “The trustees cannot envisage any circumstances under which they could accede to the Greek government’s request for the permanent removal of the sculptures from London,” a spokeswoman said. “Many artefacts within the collection are indeed loaned to other museums every year. However, many loan requests cannot be met. In addition, the trustees do not normally consent to the loan of objects considered to be central to the collection’s purpose.” Fiachra Gibbons

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [4]

Tuesday August 5, 2003
Museum denies Marbles report

The British Museum yesterday firmly denied a report that it had entered talks with Greek officials on the return, as a loan, of its Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon to Athens for the 2004 Olympics.

Eager to get the fifth-century BC works back to Athens on any terms, Greece has repeatedly proposed such an arrangement, offering the London museum a reciprocal loan of significant Greek antiquities. The government has already conceded that, under such a deal, the works abstracted from the Parthenon between 1801-10 by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, would remain in the ownership of the British Museum, to which the collection was presented in 1816 by the British government — which bought the works from Elgin.

“If that is the proposal, it is certainly not one that we would agree with,” museum spokeswoman Hannah Bolton told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

On Sunday, the Sunday Times claimed the museum was engaged in secret talks with Greek officials on a loan which might be implemented under EU supervision. But the museum said the report “seriously misrepresents” the nature of the talks.

“Conversations with Greek colleagues have focused not on the possible movement of the sculptures but on other areas of academic collaboration,” a statement said. “These discussions have also covered the significant loans the British Museum is making of Greek antiquities and European graphic art… to exhibitions to be held next year in association with the Cultural Olympiad in Athens.”

The museum said its trustees “cannot envisage any circumstances” under which it could allow the permanent removal of the Marbles from London to Athens, and “do not normally consent to the loan of objects considered to be central to the collection’s purpose.”

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [4]

Wednesday August 6, 2003
Greece says Marbles talks alive

Brushing aside denials from London, Greece insisted yesterday that it was involved in discussions with the British Museum over the return of the Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon.

Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that since last November, when he met his British counterpart on the possible repatriation of the fifth-century BC works, “there has been a dialogue directly concerning the matter, both with the British Museum and with the British government.”

In an interview with Alpha radio, Venizelos implied that although the museum still tenaciously refuses to send the works to Athens — even as a loan while retaining ownership of the sculptures — the government might be persuaded to agree.

“The matter is really political,” he said. “At the end of the day, the (British) prime minister’s role is always decisive.”

Renewed interest in the Marbles followed a story in this week’s Sunday Times newspaper that claimed the Bloomsbury museum had entered “secret talks” with Greek officials on a possible loan. Athens has proposed either “borrowing” the sculptures for a long time — while offering the British Museum a reciprocal loan — or creating a department of the British Museum within the planned new Acropolis Museum in Makriyianni, under the ancient citadel, where the pieces will be displayed. Unfortunately, there is very little likelihood of the museum being ready by 2004, when Greece would like to display the collection.

The museum flatly denied the story, saying the talks concerned a joint exhibition of other Greek antiquities in Athens, and not the Marbles.

Venizelos, however, differed. “There is a dialogue on cultural cooperation in general, but also on that specific matter (of the Marbles).”

From:
The Times [5]

August 10, 2003
Future of the marbles

I WISH to clarify some issues about the future of the Parthenon sculptures (“Museum in secret talks to return Elgin marbles”, News, last week).

The British Museum is not “in secret talks” negotiating with the Greek authorities about lending the sculptures. The Greek government has acknowledged that the British Museum has proper legal title to them, and no longer disputes ownership. However, it has made two requests for removal of all the sculptures to the new museum being built in Athens to house them. The first request was made by Evangelos Venizelos, the culture minister, last November and the second through a proposal by the Greek delegation to Unesco at a meeting in March this year.

The museum’s trustees have made it clear they cannot negotiate on the basis of these requests. They believe that the world benefits by being able to see and understand the surviving sculptures (roughly half are in Athens, half in London) in two different contexts; as an achievement of ancient Greek culture in Athens, and of world culture in London.

Neil MacGregor
Director, British Museum

Editor’s note: Guido Carducci, of Unesco’s division of cultural heritage, told us that “dialogue is focused on whether the marbles may be exhibited in Athens, probably through a loan”. After our report was published the Greek culture minister confirmed that “a long-term loan to the new Acropolis Museum” had been proposed.