Ethics reading Elgin Marbles - Where Gods Yearn for...

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10/28/2007 08:34 AM Where Gods Yearn for Long-Lost Treasures - New York Times Page 1 of 3 October 28, 2007 Where Gods Yearn for Long-Lost Treasures By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF NO sane architect, one can assume, would want to invite comparisons between his building and the Parthenon. So it comes as little surprise that the New Acropolis Museum, which stands at the foot of one of the great achievements of human history, is a quiet work, especially by the standards of its flamboyant Swiss-born architect, Bernard Tschumi . But in mastering his ego, Mr. Tschumi pulled off an impressive accomplishment: a building that is both an enlightening meditation on the Parthenon and a mesmerizing work in its own right. I can’t remember seeing a design that is so eloquent about another work of architecture. When this museum in Athens opens next year, hundreds of marble sculptures from the old Acropolis museum alongside the Parthenon will finally reside in a place that can properly care for them. Missing, however, will be more than half of the surviving Parthenon sculptures, the Elgin Marbles, so called since they were carted off to London by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century. Britain’s government maintains that they legally belong to the British Museum and insists that they will never be returned. The Greeks naturally argue that they belong in Athens. Until now my sympathies tended to lie with the British. Most of the world’s great museum collections have some kind of dubious deals in their pasts. Why bother untangling thousands of years of imperialist history? Wise men avert their eyes and move on. But by fusing sculpture, architecture and the ancient landscape into a forceful visual narrative, the New Acropolis Museum delivers a revelation that trumps the tired arguments and incessant flag waving by both sides. It’s impossible to stand in the top-floor galleries, in full view of the Parthenon’s ravaged, sun- bleached frame, without craving the marbles’ return. The museum’s rhetorical power may surprise people who have followed the project over the last six years.
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