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The New Acropolis Museum
June 20, 2009 3:51 PM   Subscribe

After more than 30 years of competions and planning and eight years of construction, the New Acropolis Museum officially opens today. The museum, designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, provides a dramatic new home for the many historic treasures of the Acropolis, including the marbles of the Parthenon frieze.

Take a tour with BBC's Malcolm Brabant. View some slideshows [1][2][3]. Check out a 2,600 year Google timeline of links. Or perhaps you'd just like to play with the Parthenon frieze.

While the new museum raises hope for the return of the Elgin Marbles, there is no sign that the British Museum is willing to consider this idea.
posted by shoesfullofdust (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
They should enlist the help of the newly minted BNP MEPs. After all it is immigrated art that is taking up spots in the British Museum that could be filled by proper British Art. But then I guess the British lost all their own marbles long ago.
posted by srboisvert at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2009


Building stuff in Greece is such a pain-in-the-ass.
In 1989, Melina Mercouri, who as Minister of Culture inextricably identified her policies with the claim for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum, initiated an international architectural competition. The results of this competition were annulled following the discovery of a large urban settlement on the Makriyianni site dating from Archaic to Early Christian Athens.
I've always liked how everyone goes "oooo! ahhh!" about the Caryatids that you can see next to the Parthenon, and then you go into the museum and find out they are replicas.
posted by smackfu at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2009


The neighbors have a point about the architecture--that building does look totally out of place. Then again, I have vague memories of the Acropolis museum circa 1976, and even my five-year-old self thought it was pretty tiny and cramped.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:01 PM on June 20, 2009


and find out they are replicas.

Hm. Why are they less oooo-aaah worthy for being replicas? Are we interested in the art value or the artifact value? Are they that bad as replicas go?

(I offer no answers, just being tedious.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:08 PM on June 20, 2009


Great post. It's hard for me to understand how the architecture fits in with its surroundings without being there, but the interior looks pretty right on. It seems to be a pretty simple showcasing of the art and that's prefect.

Regarding the Elgin marbles, I'm not seeing here the excuse given by the British Museum about Greece not having proper housing for the artifacts. (I'm sure it's here, just didn't see it.)

It may not happen, but with the opening of this probably more than adequate facility, the British Museum should man up, honor their word, not that it was a promise it was just an implication, and start shipping material. AND they should split the cost of shipment with Greece.
posted by snsranch at 7:01 PM on June 20, 2009


I have a hard time envisaging any circumstance in which Britain would part with the Elgin Marbles.
posted by blucevalo at 9:22 PM on June 20, 2009


In 1989, Melina Mercouri, who as Minister of Culture inextricably identified her policies with the claim for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum

Just so the kids know, this is that Melina Mercouri^.

An exceptional talent, Mercouri was also politically active during the Greek junta, risking assassination by speaking out against the regime. Later she was in the restored government and the Marbles were her top priority during her entire time in office. Her husband-collaborator, director Jules Dassin, tells a great story about begging and begging for a meeting with a British official, who began by asking her officiously to present her argument. Dassin says she leaned forward, with all the considerable bearing she had, and in her husky Greek-accented voice, told the official "They're ours."
posted by dhartung at 9:34 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


and find out they are replicas.

Hm. Why are they less oooo-aaah worthy for being replicas? Are we interested in the art value or the artifact value? Are they that bad as replicas go?


It is clear that the originals have a lot more historicity.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:10 PM on June 20, 2009


The first time I ever went to the British Museum, I emerged from it so angry I was red in the face.

I walked in with a somewhat different mood than I left, naturally. I was very excited to see all the historic treasures from around the world that I'd only seen in textbooks. I had a particular Greek piece of art in mind--a black and orange cup with a drawing of an Olympian (original flavor) done in black to contrast the orange background. It was a very iconic image, and my textbook told me it was very old.

I finally got to the Greek area of the Museum and I excitedly wandered around, looking for that specific cup. I found it, and its neighbor and that one's neighbor and the one across the room from it...there was an entire, lengthy room full of these cups, this very particular style of artwork. And I got really angry.

I didn't get angry because this cup that I thought was unique was in fact somewhat mass-produced. No, I got angry because the British Museum had taken so much (that room just showed the good stuff! I knew there were entire rooms of storage that had inferior examples of that cup) that I didn't see how anything was left in Greece.

The British Museum, as is, is a testament to the negative, graspy, and greedy elements of the British Empire. There must be some people who feel that it is a monument to the wonder and glory of art--but to me, the British Museum represents everything wrong with museums.

I can see--and heartily empathize with--the Greek desire to have the Elgin Marbles back (and perhaps renamed? to something that isn't from the British aristocracy?) in their country of origin. The new Acropolis museum sounds like a great place for them.
posted by librarylis at 11:56 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll just add that the various Greek governments have offered to lend the British museums other artifacts to feel the space: the point for us Greeks is not to repatriate everything: that's a lost cause, as much as I'd like to see the Venus di Milo or the Nike of Samothrace back in Greece from the Louvre. The fact is that the Parthenon the pre-eminent symbol of Greek antiquity; having half of it in London is like breaking up the Eiffel Tower, or the pyramids or the Declaration of Independence.
posted by costas at 1:36 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Elgin Marbles were legally acquired by the British Museum two hundred years ago. Therefore they're owned by the British Museum.

If the Acropolis Museum disputes this, then pick up the phone to a lawyer and sue.

Or, if they think the British Museum has a valid legal claim but they still want possession: have a fund-raising drive and buy the things.

If you want something and you don't have it, there are more options than just "gimme for free" and "cry into ouzo".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:40 AM on June 21, 2009


No joke, TheophileEscargot. When will those hot-tempered types learn proper use of the legal system, eh? The Greeks should probably be thankful they've been kept safe these many years. Except for the little restorational cockups, heh heh—but hey, intentions were good.

(Psst. "Legal." Good one.)
posted by fleacircus at 3:20 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It would certainly be nice if the British Museum were to return the pieces to Greece. But, as far as I can tell (and I'm no lawyer), by keeping them, the museum is not violating any laws of British, Greek, or international codes of law. So the argument of the Greek government more or less amounts to "pretty please, give them back, or we'll cry." While I'd like to see all of the original frieze in one place, I can't blame the British Museum for not giving into such manipulation.

Also, I don't see what gives modern-day Greeks any special claim on those pieces of marble. The argument that just because you are born into a particular culture that everything said culture has ever produced or owned belongs to you seems a bit silly to me. In many ways, the modern-day British have about as much relation to the people who built the Parthenon as the present-day Greeks. I mean, if the original owners of the Parthenon turned up somewhere and asked for their marbles back, that would be one thing. But, just because they were made in what is now the Hellenic Republic, doesn't mean that the current residents of this country have an inalienable claim on them.
posted by epimorph at 4:22 AM on June 21, 2009


The British Museum, as is, is a testament to the negative, graspy, and greedy elements of the British Empire. There must be some people who feel that it is a monument to the wonder and glory of art--but to me, the British Museum represents everything wrong with museums.

Or, ya know, it might be one of the main reasons we still have a lot of that history to actually look at and learn from.

Whilst the world now may be a lot more artifact-friendly, it's easy to forget that wasn't always the case. For a considerable amount of the time that museums such as the BM have existed, your in situ artifacts were just as likely to be blown up, cut up, vandalized, destroyed or defaced for political or religious reasons, acquired for private collections or a whole host of other things as they were to be preserved.

The Historian in me despairs every time I go to the British Museum as well, but it's because I'm reminded of how much of our own history humanity has managed to pointlessly destroy, not because its somehow horrible that not all of that which we have managed to save is still in its original setting.

Anyway, overall, Epimorph has pretty much summed up my own feelings on the marbles.

I will admit though, that there's a little bit of something that can probably best be summed up by this Hellblazer panel about them as well.

It's worth remembering that the whole Marbles thing has emotional undertones on both sides of the argument.
posted by garius at 7:13 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a little confused as to the "greedy, grasping Empire" stuff as well. The Parthenon wasn't levitated into place by ancient mystics: it was built by an aggressive, militaristic, expansionist empire which brutally suppressed rebellions and used vast numbers of slaves.

If you're fundamentally disgusted by brutal empires, you really shouldn't be looking at the Elgin Marbles in the first place.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:14 AM on June 21, 2009


No, I got angry because the British Museum had taken so much (that room just showed the good stuff! I knew there were entire rooms of storage that had inferior examples of that cup) that I didn't see how anything was left in Greece.

Well, that is a question, isn't it? How much is left in Greece?

Certainly in Italy there is plenty of stuff lying around in back rooms and crates that the government is really are not able to care for properly. Would it not be to the Greater Good if bunches of this stuff were sold off to foreign museums and collectors who would be ready willing and able to care for it properly? At what point is national pride not just being dog in the manger?

Something to think about.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:20 AM on June 21, 2009


For a considerable amount of the time that museums such as the BM have existed, your in situ artifacts were just as likely to be blown up, cut up, vandalized, destroyed or defaced for political or religious reasons, acquired for private collections or a whole host of other things as they were to be preserved.

Still the case. Now they have such strict limits on export, where if you file the export request form, it's asking to have your artifact seized with no recompense as a national treasure — to be put in a box in a back-room in Athens. Since that's not viable, people still smuggle stuff out. Of course, a few years ago they cracked down on the museums, since they were a little too visible with their acquisitions. A few curators got in legal trouble. So now the stuff goes directly into private collections. What a victory!
posted by smackfu at 9:27 AM on June 21, 2009


It would certainly be nice if the British Museum were to return the pieces to Greece. But, as far as I can tell (and I'm no lawyer), by keeping them, the museum is not violating any laws of British, Greek, or international codes of law.

Unfortunately correct. Britain seized all these artifacts well before the 1970 UNESCO convention (after which this sort of thing was made illegal for member states). Here is a more heartwarming story of the son of a manuscript collector doing the right thing and returning his father's extensive collection to its countries of origin.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:38 AM on June 21, 2009


Erm, there's a legal claim to the Parthenon marbles: Elgin gained permission by the Ottoman rulers of Greece at the time, which was nothing less of an occupying force (note the many attempts at independence uprisings in the era). What's more ironic is that when the Greek revolutionary war did succeed it did with substantial help from the British who also proclaimed the right of the Greeks to independence. So, two democracies and allies now, both recognise that the Ottoman rule over the Greeks was an occupation (erm, it's not like Britain didn't willingly surrender former colonies to their new ally after the war of Independence, like erm, Corfu) but that recognition does not extent to the most major artifact of Greek antiquity that was chiseled away to decorate HRH Ambassador's home in Scotland.

Sorry, with all due respect to the Brits (and I have lots of it), this is just pitiful: we are not talking about some minor statue that we want back: this is not a question of arguing about property, but heritage. Civilized people should be able to agree on that much.
posted by costas at 1:24 PM on June 21, 2009


Too bad the Greeks won't put them back on the Parthenon. That I could get behind!
posted by smackfu at 2:03 PM on June 21, 2009


Christopher Hitchens on the Acropolis Museum
posted by homunculus at 2:29 PM on June 28, 2009


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