Dec 3, 2008

"Architecture as Propaganda"

So notes Peter Aspden in a long discussion of the New Acropolis Museum in the Financial Times:


Next spring, visitors will set foot inside Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi’s glass-and-concrete edifice, all sharp edges and skewed angles, and address for themselves one of the the most intractable cultural disputes of modern times. When they travel to the museum’s top floor, they will see marble panels from the famous frieze that used to encircle the Parthenon, the symbol of Athenian democracy that stands like a staid, elderly relative, looking wearily across at the upstart building from its incomparable vantage point on top of the Acropolis a few hundred metres away. 

Only about half of the original panels will be on view, of course. The remainder famously, or infamously, line the walls of the Duveen gallery in London’s British Museum, to which they were transported in the early 19th century by the Scottish aristocrat Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin. 

The Greeks have long wanted their Marbles back, but the building of the new Acropolis Museum finally gives them the physical authority to buttress an argument that has too often relied on shrill sentimentalism and unsubtle jingoism. The museum is a provocation, an enticement, a tease. Tschumi has done everything other than daub slogans on the exterior walls to say to the world at large: “The Parthenon Marbles belong here, next to the building from which they were taken.”

The glass rectangle on top of the building is designed in the same proportions and at the same angle to the Acropolis as the Parthenon itself. It is flooded with natural light, and supported by concrete columns that, again, echo the architectural features of the ancient monument. The frieze looks proudly outward, as it did for centuries on its parent building, rather than brooding inwardly as it does in Bloomsbury. This, be sure of it, is architecture as propaganda. 
It's no accident I think that the entrance and exit of the museum feature archaeological excavations. Setting aside questions of ownership and historical taking, which space seems more appropriate for the display of the objects?  Which space would be more enjoyable or enlightening for the visitor?  Will it only be a matter of time before the Greeks build the necessary consensus for the return of the sculptures?



Greece held a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the voluntary return of a fragment from the Parthenon taken by a German soldier in 1943.  Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis noted "The request for the return of the Parthenon Marbles has exceeded the borders of our country. It has become the request and the vision of the global cultural community". 
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