Friday, June 26, 2009

Lamenting Lost Marbles.

Twelves years in the planning and execution, the Acropolis Museum officially opened 20 June 2009. Crouching 300 yards from the Parthenon's slender bones like a skewed stack of glass boxes, the $180 million museum provides a setting for some of the best surviving works of classical sculpture that once adorned the Acropolis. With about 150,000 square feet of exhibition space, it holds more than 4,000 ancient works, many of them never displayed before due to lack of space in the cramped old museum that sat atop the Acropolis hill.

The larger issue that was fueled by the opening of the Acropolis Museum, is of "the Marbles." Only about half of the original marble panels from the famous frieze that used to encircle the Parthenon are on view. 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, hence called, "The Elgin Marbles." A cogent point of view on the whole issue of the "looted" marbles is nicely articulated by Greek blogger Pinelope.

If you enjoy reading well written architectural descriptions, we think Nicolai Ouroussoff, the New York Times architecture and design critic, provides some of the very best. He's description of the Acropolis Museum reflects the beauty and imagery of great architectural writing. Here's a snip from his review of the building designed by Swiss-born architect, Bernard Tschumi:
The genius lies in how the room snaps disparate sculptural and architectural fragments into their proper context. You first enter the south side of the gallery, where the museum’s friezes and metopes will be seen against the chalky backdrop of the rooftops of Athens. As you turn a corner, the Parthenon comes into full view; the ancient temple hovers through huge windows to your right. The eastern facade of the Parthenon and the sculptures that once adorned it unite in your imagination, allowing you to picture the temple as it was in Periclean Athens. Eventually you descend through a sequence of smaller galleries, where the glories of the High Classical period gradually give way to Roman copies of Greek antiquities. The Parthenon fades from view.
Reviews of this building, generally, conclude that the design of it reveals the importance of the return of the Marbles to their rightful country. We're sure this debate will continue for some time.

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