Thursday, 1 October 2009

The New Acropolis Museum, is Politics Undermining Art?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the New Acropolis Museum for the first time since visiting as part of an early preview last year.

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On the whole the museum is a fantastic achievement, yet I was disappointed at the scale that the political protest surrounding the marbles has been allowed into the galleries, at the expense of the art itself.

This begins with the Caryatids which have been displayed in relation to their original position on the Erechtheion, meaning that a gap is left for the Caryatid removed by Elgin's agents and now displayed in the British Museum. What benefit does this provide? In my opinion, none. It simply distracts the visitor from appreciating the Caryatids which do remain in Greece.

From here the political protest gets stronger. The top floor gallery has been designed to display the sculpture from the Parthenon including the frieze and pediment figures. Here plaster copies replace the pieces of sculpture located in the British Museum and other museums around the world. These copies forming a stark contrast to the original pieces on display.

At a high level this could be seen as acceptable. Until that is you consider the poor quality of the casts which are to the detriment of the visitors ability to appreciate the subject of the individual sculptures. And therefore the visitors understanding of the sculptures as a whole and the scenes that they cumulatively depict.

For me the prime example of politics over art is an original block which remains in Greece. Block III from the western inner frieze depicts a pause in the Panathenaic procession. A horseman stands in front of his steed which is being steadied by the reins by a groom. A fragment comprising of the grooms hand and part of the forearm is in the Munich museum. Even though this fragment is insignificant in relation to the rest of the block it has been replaced by a plaster copy. This copy is a positive eye sore which serves nothing but to distract the visitor from appreciating fully the beauty of the sculpture that does remain.

These poor quality casts are categorically a political statement, as I observed that pieces of original sculpture that have been removed for restoration have been replaced with far higher quality copies.

With the New Acropolis Museum, Greece has a fantastic opportunity to show that they have the ability to conserve, display and promote their heritage properly. But this has been tainted by the decision to bring politics into the galleries, to the detriment of the visitors appreciation of the pieces that remain in Greece and the visitors understanding of the subject as a whole.

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