February 25, 2009

New Acropolis Museum means a new excuse will be needed by the British Museum

Posted at 12:52 pm in Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

Whilst the British Museum regularly likes to imply that the building of the New Acropolis Museum will have no effect on the validity of the campaign to reunify the Parthenon Marbles, most commentators who have seen the building have the opposite opinion.

Stuff (New Zealand)

Ancients modernised at New Acropolis
By NIKKI MacDONALD – The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The British will have to come up with a new excuse to hang on to the Parthenon frieze sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles. With the polished spaces of Athens’ New Acropolis Museum about to open, there can be no suggestion Greece lacks an appropriate stage to show off the ancient marble reliefs.

Conceived 30 years ago, the museum was to have opened before the 2004 Olympic Games, but it is only now nearing completion. The 130 million euro ($325m) building at the foot of the Acropolis, the imposing rocky outcrop bearing the Parthenon temple, is finished. The reception space is open, but the upper galleries remain cordoned off, except to us.

At the top of the wide central staircase, you arrive in an expansive hall marrying ancient and modern: smooth marble floors and polished concrete pillars. Soft light filters through the glass wall, throwing a golden glow on to the statues.

The idea is to keep conditions as close to those of the original Acropolis as possible – sunlight and no glass showcases. If the sunshine becomes too intense, automatic blinds drop to protect the delicate antiquities.

It’s clearly a work in progress. Some statues have not yet been hoisted on to their marble plinths. Others are still stacked in crates in the corners, taped with A4 sheets bearing photos and identification numbers for the artefacts inside.

The museum’s beauty is its simplicity. There’s nothing flashy, just gorgeously airy uncluttered spaces almost 10 times the size of its predecessor on the Acropolis.

The work of Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi, the plans were selected after no fewer than four design competitions.

Sited on third, fourth and seven-century ruins, the museum was controversial from its conception. Tschumi found a way around that by designing a glass floor over much of the site that both protected and exposed the archaeological dig below: a fantastic concept, but a nightmare in practical terms. The excavations took seven years, only to have to be filled in with truckloads of chip for protection during construction. They are being painstakingly uncovered again for the museum’s opening.

There are other winning touches. The building’s upper gallery, which houses the all- important marble relief, matches exactly the dimensions and orientation of the frieze’s old home, the Parthenon. Visitors can also see the Parthenon itself through the glass gallery, and even reflected in the windows from the balcony.

Athens holds only about 40 per cent of the remaining marble sculptures, believed to depict the annual procession to the Acropolis to present a new garment to the goddess Athena. Most of the rest of the collection is housed in the British Museum, having been removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.

The Greek government hopes the new museum will spur Britain to return the antiquities. In the meantime, the Elgin Marbles are represented by plaster casts, their shallow depth and starker white face distinguishing them from the marble originals.

* Nikki Macdonald travelled to Greece courtesy of the Greek National Tourism Organisation.

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