Friday, December 5, 2014

The British Museum has just lost the Elgin Marbles argument

The British Museum has moved the statue of Illisos from his plinth in the Duveen Gallery to St. Petersburg for a celebration of Russian art collection at the Hermitage. "This loan is welcome — in that it gives the game away" says Geoffrey Robertson ('The British Museum has just lost the Elgin Marbles argument', Independent Friday 5 December 2014):
This raises two issues: first, why give a propaganda windfall to President Putin at a time when his breaches of international law can only be deterred by sanctions that are beginning to bite? Second, if a part of the Marbles can now been seen for the next two months by visiting St. Petersburg, why should all surviving pieces of the greatest art in world history not be seen, reunited at the Acropolis Museum under a blue attic sky and in the shadow of the Parthenon? [...] the event will be a cultural triumph for the man who a few years ago, closed down the British Council in St. Petersburg and had its Director arrested.[...] In the case of Russia, still fomenting war in eastern Ukraine, isolating sanctions are the only realistic way that Europe can respond in an effort to save lives. In this context, and at this time, the action by Neil MacGregor and his Trustees might seem not merely naïve, but irresponsible.
Neil MacGregor was heard to say as he posed for photographers whilst surveying Illisos in its new location: “It looks much better than it does in London”.
Indeed it does. In London it is located in the Duveen Gallery where half the extant Marbles sit under white light as if in a morgue. This was at the insistence of Lord Duveen, a crooked art dealer who made his money by shady dealings with the Nazis and who insisted in 1938 on scouring some of the friezes, permanently damaging them. If the River God looks so much better at the Hermitage, how much better would he look – along with all the other statues captured by Lord Elgin – back with his counterparts in the New Acropolis Museum?
The Museum, having loaned this piece to Russia now "cannot sensibly or morally refuse the mediation offered by UNESCO, to which the British government has been asked to respond by 31 March next year".

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