August 12, 2010

The Parthenon Sculptures – A different kind of cultural patrimony

Posted at 12:56 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Michael Kimmelman’s recent comments about the Elgin Marbles in the New York Times have provoked numerous responses – both in other publications & in the letters page of the newspaper.

New York Times

Elgin Marbles: A Different Patrimony
Published: May 11, 2010

Re “Who Draws the Borders of Culture” by Michael Kimmelman [May 9]:

Mr. Kimmelman makes a thoughtful and persuasive case that ancient art contains multiple and shifting meanings and belongs to the world, not the current occupants of the country it came from. I found it odd, however, that he denies that the United States has cultural patrimony and argues that Americans would have difficulty understanding the concept.

It is true that American nationhood is not rooted in claims to an older civilization, but something like American cultural patrimony exists for the things we choose to value as a nation. The artifacts of our cultural patrimony are not artworks but relics from the years of our founding and the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Imagine the reaction Americans would have if a Chinese collector tried to buy the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Kimmelman is right that Americans are happy to send American art and artifacts abroad, but he is looking in the wrong place for the analogy. It is not our art that defines our nationhood, but our political ideals.David Beffert


New York Times

It’s All About Context
Published: May 11, 2010

Few can disagree with Mr. Kimmelman’s conclusion that art “ultimately belongs to everyone and no one.” But the Parthenon marbles are not random pieces that once adorned a building and can now be appreciated in isolation.

The marbles epitomize Classical Greece and its influence on Western civilization. Their separation is a great loss for art.

Michael Polymenis

College Station, Tex.

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