June 25, 2009

A body in London, with its feet in Athens

Posted at 8:51 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

The Parthenon Marbles are not all in one country. They are not even neatly split between countries. As visitors to the New Acropolis Museum will discover, in many places a single piece of sculpture is split arbitrarily (by how it happened to break when it fell from the building at some point in the past). Is there any way that people can argue that this makes sense? If you had a book & the pages of the story were split between two locations, how many people would try to argue that maintaining this status quo rather than reunifying the fragments of the story was the best thing to do?

Global Post

A breast in London, a foot in Athens
New Acropolis museum puts marble dispute in stark relief.
By Nicole Itano – GlobalPost
Published: June 25, 2009 06:46 ET

ATHENS, Greece — Inside the new Parthenon Gallery, atop Athens’ new Acropolis Museum, streaming sunlight illuminates one of the glories of ancient Greece. The goddess Athena, wrought in marble, leaps from her father Zeus’ head, while white horses gallop across the walls.

These are the Parthenon Marbles as they haven’t been seen in more than two centuries. In the black-glass gallery, which sits in the shadow of the Acropolis with the Parthenon in full view, the sculptures are laid out in order, as they would once have been seen on the famous building itself.

But half of the marbles on display are 19th century plaster casts. The originals are far away, in the British Museum.

“We cannot dedicate this magnificent new museum with full hearts,” said Greece’s culture minister, Antonis Samaras. “It is like looking at a family picture and seeing images of loved ones far away or lost to us.”

Greece hopes the opening of the new museum, which was more than 30 years in the making, will be a catalyst for the marbles’ return. They say it shatters one of the British Museum’s main arguments, that Greece had no proper place to display them.

But the British Museum says its position is unchanged.

Katrina Whenham, a spokeswoman, said the marbles are an integral part of the British Museum’s collection and that in London they can be seen in the context of other cultures. About 6 million visitors a year see the marbles held by the British Museum.

In the early 19th century, Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removed the sculptures from the Parthenon and sold them to the British Museum. A historical debate still rages about the legality of his actions.

“The damage done to the building up there is visible to this day,” said Professor Anthony Snodgrass, chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, as he pointed to 5th century BC temple. “This is vandalism even by the lights of 1807.”

Inside the Parthenon Gallery, the juxtaposition of the casts and original marbles in the museum’s possession highlights their separation.

“Here you can see that the breast is in London, and the foot in Athens,” said Dimitrios Pandermalis, president of the museum, stopping in front of a piece of the frieze during a tour of the gallery “We have this mixture that shows both the problem and the separation of these sculptures.”

Greece, and its supporters, also believe they have a moral claim to the marbles. To many Greeks, the Parthenon and its sculptures are a symbol of ancient Greek civilization, and its contribution to the world.

“They are our identity and our pride,” said Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, at the museum’s official opening. “It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles to where they belong.”

Snodgrass said the new museum was a powerful argument for the marbles’ return, but that the British Museum would not change its mind immediately in order to save face.

But he was confident the marbles would eventually return to Greece: “All I would say is that it will be less than a 100 years.”

Macleans (Canada)

Nice museum, but where are the exhibits?
Greece wants Britain to finally hand over the Elgin marbles
World – Written by Michael Petrou on Thursday, June 25, 2009 16:20

If you build it, maybe they really will come.

The protagonist in W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe constructed a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield to attract the ghosts of his dead heroes to play there. Now Greece, too, has built a home for the icons of its past in the hopes that they will return.

On June 21, the new Acropolis Museum will open in Athens. The visually stunning museum sits at the base of the Acropolis and will house artifacts pertaining to the buildings that represent the pinnacle of classical Greek civilization. The museum’s main gallery is reserved for the sculptures that once adorned the Acropolis’s Parthenon temple.

There’s only one problem. About half of those sculptures are in London, and Britain refuses to return them. They’ve been housed at the British Museum for some two centuries, ever since Lord Elgin removed them from the Parthenon under dubious circumstances, when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans, and sold them to the museum.

Greece has been campaigning to get the marbles back for decades. The British have given a variety of reasons to justify keeping the sculptures, including that Greece has never had a proper place to protect and display the treasures. “The new state-of-the-art museum refutes that defence,” Antonis Samaras, Greece’s minister of culture, told Maclean’s. “It just demolishes that charge.”

For Samaras, the Parthenon marbles are more than artifacts. They are an integral part of the Acropolis itself and need to be appreciated “in the unique light and the unique setting” for which they were created. “They represent the height of our achievement as a people, the most cherished symbols of our cultural heritage, which in turn radiated that heritage for the whole Western world,” the minister of culture says. “The Parthenon sculptures narrate a story. They need to be seen together. And this cannot happen as long as half of them are held hostage back in the British Museum.”

Financial Times Deutschland

Business English
New Acropolis museum is summit of achievement
von Kerin Hope

A €130m project is aimed at reviving interest in Greece’s classical heritage
A forklift truck slowly shifts a tall block of carved marble into place in the lobby of the new Acropolis museum. Electric drills buzz as the base is secured, while a worker sweeps up a scatter of white dust. Antonis Samaras, the culture minister, watches closely as the display takes shape. He hopes the opening this month of the €130m museum at the foot of the Acropolis hill in the centre of Athens will spark a revival of interest in Greece’s classical heritage.

“We’ve seen a steady decline in numbers of visitors to museums and archaeological sites the past few years,” he says. “We have to make them accessible, lively places that people want to come to, not just once but often.” The number of visitors to Greece’s 200 state museums fell 27 per cent last year to 1.9m, according to the state statistics office. This compares with an average of more than 3m annually in the mid-1990s.

Mr Samaras’s first move has been to set the entry price to the new Acropolis museum at €1 – the same as a city bus ticket – for the rest of this year, rising to €5 in 2010. “Our policy will be to keep prices significantly lower than at comparable museums abroad,” he says, citing entry prices of €9 and $15 respectively for the Louvre in the Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Dimitris Pandermanlis, a senior archaeologist and president of the state organisation responsible for the construction of the new museum, says the arrangement and labelling of sculptures, from the frieze of the Parthenon temple to the dozens of free-standing pieces in the classical gallery, is “designed so that people can wander around, stop and look, feel they’re engaging directly with the antiquities”.

Creating a contemporary feel

A bookshop, gallery for temporary exhibitions, a restaurant and café and an auditorium for lectures and conferences will all help create a contemporary atmosphere, Prof Pandermanlis says.

Mr Samaras says the success of films such as Troy and 300, which made extensive use of digital special effects, proves the ancient Greeks still have a universal appeal, even though the study of classical languages is no longer widespread, even in Greece. “Digital technology has a big role to play in explaining not just the ancient world but modern Greek history. We’d like to have visitor centres at the main sites that would use virtual reality to recreate scenes from daily life as well as the big battles,” he says.

The state archaeological service has already absorbed more than €200m from European Union structural packages, covering more than 350 projects to restore monuments and renovate regional museums. “The guiding principle was to make more of Greece’s cultural heritage accessible to a generation that has leisure to enjoy it,” says an archaeological service official. The current EU structural package provides €950m of funding for the next five years, of which €100m will cover digital displays, Mr Samaras says.

This summer Greece’s 65 most important ancient sites will be open continuously from 8am to 8pm, following the hiring of additional site guards in spite of the recession. “It’s a quite different experience when you tour a site in cool morning temperatures, or watch the sun setting behind the columns of a temple,” Mr Samaras says.

Steady numbers

However, educational programmes for young visitors are key to ensuring that Greek museums continue to flourish, says Nikos Stampolidis, director of the NJ Goulandris museum of Cycladic art in Athens, a private institution. Visitor numbers at the Cycladic museum have remained steady at around 60,000 a year, thanks to an extensive schools programme run by museum staff, and regular temporary exhibitions of western European art and antiquities, he says.

Prof Stampolidis recently launched an innovative gallery with scenes from the life of an Athenian born in the 5th century BC in a seaside “deme” (district) south of the city. “It’s a challenge to evoke the feeling of antiquity without falling over into kitsch,” he says.

The display, which is focused on artefacts used in childhood, sports activities, household life, warfare and death, includes theatrical lighting and background music. Two accompanying films illustrate the hero’s marriage ceremony and his funeral.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Possibly related articles

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment

We want to hear your views. Be as critical or controversial as you like, but please don't get personal or offensive. Remember this is for feedback and constructive discussion!
Comments may be edited or removed if they do not meet these guidelines. Repeat offenders will be blocked from posting further comments. Any comment deemed libellous by Elginism's editors will be removed.
The commenting system uses some automatic spam detection and occasionally comments do not appear instantly - please do not repost comments if they do not show up straight away