More Thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

“[T]he collection is a miracle”. So writes Michael Kimmelman on the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in the NY Times. He notes:

Ownership remains the main stumbling block. When Britain offered a three-month loan of the marbles to the Acropolis Museum last week on condition that Greece recognizes Britain’s ownership, Mr. Samaras swiftly countered that Britain could borrow any masterpiece it wished from Greece if it relinquished ownership of the Parthenon sculptures. But a loan was out.
Pity. Asked whether the two sides might ever negotiate a way to share the marbles, Mr. Samaras shook his head. “No Greek can sign up for that,” he said.
Elsewhere, museums have begun collaborating, pooling resources, bending old rules. The British Museum, the [Met], the Louvre and other great public collectors of antiquity have good reason to fear a slippery slope if the marbles ever do go back, never mind what the Greeks say.

Pity indeed. Lee Rosenbaum argues today that such a loan would be difficult, More daunting than logistics of shuttling this monumental work back and forth is the issue of trust: The British Museum would need ironclad assurances that once the marbles were in Athens, they would be allowed to leave when the time came for their long-term London sojourn. I keep envisioning Elgin Marble Riots, with distraught Greeks hurling themselves in the path of transport trucks.”  
However one comes down on this issue, it really is true I think that we are all the poorer for the inability of both the Greeks and the British Museum to work together, because somehow and in some form the sculptures should be viewed together, as one unified work of monumental art.

Here is David Gill’s terrific video post on the Parthenon Marbles dispute:

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One thought on “More Thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles”

  1. Yes, it is indeed a pity that the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles are still divided between London and Athens. However, one does not need to have the foresight of a prophet to realize that the offer of a loan for some months from the British Museum, would have to be rejected by the Greeks, as a self-respecting nation.

    It is also a pity that the British leadership and the British Museum have not realized what a unique historic opportunity the opening of the New Acropolis Museum offers and a great opportunity for solving or approaching the issue of restitution of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. They could have made good use of this chance by extending an invitation to the Greeks for a discussion on an eventual return of the Marbles to Athens. Discussions could of course take time but at least they would have indicated their willingness to discuss and would have gained some sympathy in the United Nations, UNESCO and in the rest of the world where their stand in this matter has lost them many friends. Alternatively, they could have kept quite and avoided some of the meaningless pronouncements that have come out recently on this issue.

    It is a pity that some museum directors seem incapable or unwilling to appreciate the national pride of others. The British public, as opposed to the leadership, has always been in favour of returning the Marbles to Athens. Most public polls have indicated this. How long will the British leadership, which boldly proclaims everywhere the principles of democracy, refuse to listen to the voice of its own people?

    It is a pity that the lack of sensitivity of a few creates long-running disputes in cultural matters where there should indeed be none. Consider the attitude of the British Museum in the matter of the Benin Bronzes and it becomes clear that officials there are not interested in avoiding unnecessary disputes. Their explanations or justifications only add fuel to burning passions. (See K. Opoku, WHEN WILL EVERYBODY FINALLY ACCEPT THAT THE BRITISH MUSEUM IS A BRITISH INSTITUTION? COMMENTS ON A LECTURE BY NEIL MACGREGOR.

    The refusal of the British leadership and the senior British Museum officials to attend the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens is probably best left uncommented.

    The Parthenon Marbles will one day return to Athens as the logic of the facts of their removal indicates.

    Kwame Opoku.

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