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A home fit for the Parthenon Marbles

Coverage of the talk at RIBA [1] on the New Acropolis Museum. Almost everyone who has seen it is impressed by the museum itself – will this be enough to make the British Museum enter into serious negotiations with Greece on the Marbles?

The Guardian [2]

The New Acropolis Museum: A home fit for the Elgin Marbles?
The soon-to-open museum for the Acropolis sculptures looks fantastic. But will it convince the British Museum to send the Parthenon frieze home?

Last night the president, Dimitrios Pandermalis, and the architect, Bernard Tschumi, of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens were in London to present their plans for the building, which opens sometime in early spring. They gave a clear sense of this impressive-looking museum, which is built in the shadow of the Parthenon atop ruins of late-antique buildings (which can be perceived through the glass floors of the museum’s ground floor). The plan echoes that of the Acropolis itself – the visitor will ascend through the building as if climbing the steep slopes of the hill, passing through halls filled with sculpture from the archaic temple to Athene, before reaching the very apex, where the Parthenon sculptures themselves will be displayed in a large glass-walled hall from which visitors will be able to enjoy wonderful views of Pheidias’s great temple.

Or some of the sculptures. The good-natured, unaggressive and subtle programme of last night’s lecture was to remind the British that this is a building has been designed with the express programme, according to Tschumi, of being “good enough to make the Brits want to give the Elgin Marbles back”. Pandermalis told what he called “a surrealistic little story” involving a complex trans-European jigsaw – of the sculpted heads in Athens that belong to bodies in London; of the carved chest of Poseidon in Athens that fits snugly to a carved torso in the British Museum. The point was veiled – but clear.

The current solution to Athens’s little problem will be to display reproductions of the London parts of the Parthenon frieze alongside its own sections. But the installation is ready to receive the real sculptures (one not so small detail here is that the London parts of the frieze are much thinner than the Athens parts, because of the way that they were sliced off the building for Lord Elgin).

This gentle use of logical argument did seem rather more persuasive than histrionic demands for the Marbles. But even so – they were not looted, they were legally acquired. It looks to me as if Tschumi’s museum is good enough for the Elgin Marbles. But will that be the clinching argument? In this endless story of high politics and grandstanding, I doubt it.

[By the way – there’s a very short section on the Parthenon in my book It’s All Greek To Me, but the really excellent account of the building and it’s reception is by Mary Beard – simply called The Parthenon.]