Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Inside the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum was opened in 2009, but it took a visit by Jan Brüggemeier to Athens in August 8/9, 2013 to enter with him for the first time the museum.

Jan Brüggermeier co-ordinated heritageradio within the framework of the HERMES project, and one of the online journals was about museums. It had the intrigueing question as title: whether they were merely digging in the past? He made that experience while interviewing the director of Buchenwald who pointed out to him that while archaeologists would look only at certain items, artists were prepared to examine even the rubbish dump of the concentration camp, and whatever they found, they managed to reconstruct all sorts of stories about life in the camp. The items included tooth brushes, home made stamps, tiny sculptures etc. Thus while the overall HERMES project focused on how to protect cultural heritage by use of new media, these cultural reflections within heritageradio took one more towards working with artists who have other abilities to tell stories.

Given then the overall question, what will happen to the story of the Parthenon marbles and the Acropolis altogether, something has to be said about the decision to take down the sculptures and reliefs from the Acropolis. The museum does show an impressive video how this was managed by using cranes to let the sculptures descend in wooden crates. Thus experiences can be made by entering the new Acropolis museum to see not only where all these items have been placed now but to be suddenly close up and yet in quite another space: the museal one.

Yet walking through this museum differs greatly from walking atop of the Acropolis. The latter is by comparison a poetic and a historical ground. And there is always that one higher point, a kind of tower at the very corner. This is where the Greek flag flies. That spot reminds as to what happened when German troops entered Athens in 1941, for they replaced it with the Swastika flag. It was there till one night two climbed up the Acropolis to put back in place the Greek flag. That was the signal of resistance. Today one of these two men is sitting in the Greek parliament as member of the Syriza party, the party of the opposition and representative of the historical Left in Greece.

Any visitor would intuitively connect at the top of the Acropolis with both the Ancient and recent past. That element of immediacy and dialogue with the past is missing inside a museum. The latter risks to place these marbles into a much more artificial environment than what they were designed for originally. It seems, therefore, by comparison secondary how the museum answers the question but in what specific order are the sculptures displayed, for it will be anyhow only a pretension at some kind of reconstruction of the Parthenon itself. Rather it seems as if this question is drowned in the many footsteps of people rushing through these halls, if only to pause in what seems to be the most favorite hall, namely the canteen like cafe. Latest by then the trail is lost of the prime question which such a museum should evoke, for what brought about this combination of edifice and incredible sculptures with both still outstanding today when scanning man's history?

To come back about the removal of the sculptures from atop of the Acropolis, some people filled with superstitution said beware not to take these sacred items down from there. They were afraid by removing them, something terrible would happen. While no one really listened to these warnings, still, the fact that Greece has slithered into deep economic crisis since 2009 may not be a coincidence after all.

The Acropolis itself is connected to an ill fated decision by Pericles who decided to seize the treasury of the Aegean and mainland Polis states, and take it instead to Athens, or more precisely what was first a common treasure became atop of the Acropolis the possession of only Athens. This evoked anger, jealousy and fear of the growing power of the city. It lead directly to the Peloponnesian war. Without much ado, people back then did not listen either to the voice of 'reason' (M. Foucault). Thus they entered the Peloponnesian War (431 - 404 BC) although they had been warned out of it would emerge only losers.

What will happen to these sculptures inside the confines of a modernist design of a museum, is, therefore, not merely a question as to whether or not now they shall be better preserved and protected than if kept atop the Acropolis. Rather crucial is what impact will have all these interventions on interpretations of the remaining cultural artefacts and what stories shall be told in near future about the Acropolis and Parthenon?

A lot depends upon what kind of space is given to the sculptures. This includes how are they arranged and whether or not the visitors are given a chance to contemplate their individual values while no real attempt shall be made to reconstruct the whole. With many parts missing, or else in other museums, including the British Museum, a different kind of imaginative sensitivity is needed to connect and to mediate between existing parts on display and what was afterall a life when the Acropolis was used by Ancient Greeks.

However, the design of the museum itself is haunted by controversy. Given the fact that the architectural competition for the Acropolis museum went through three different attempts, and because the final decision went to a design promising a concept which is adjusted to the demands of mass tourism, it meant as admitted by one of the jurors on the selection committee a continuity of kitsch. This juror justified the decision taken by the fact that the Ancient Greeks were also not very far away from kitsch themselves. As if this could rationalise the reduced demand made for such a building, the poor quality thereof reflects itself a loss in cultural quality.

Indeed the design of the building was perceived already deeply flawed when viewed from the outside. It has a huge but negative impact upon the surrounding area. And once inside, it shows how this lack of sensitivity is intensified by being completely alienated from the immediate surroundings safe for the large windows which allow a glance over to the Acropolis.

The impact of the entire building upon the surrounding area is so negative because its sharp corners and massive volume makes it look as if a huge tanker has ran aground amidst all the small houses in the vicinity. This effect of alienation cannot be silenced even by being in direct vicinity of the Acropolis. Rather the massive scale proves but one point of the post modern world, namely the loss of the art of proportions. Vincent Van Gogh named the latter as the highest form of all arts, and here the building itself fails miserable by all standards when it comes to use of space. 

Consequently the Acropolis museum is far removed from the lessons of Ancient Greek Art. It demonstrates precisely in terms of not keeping a sense of proportions how space is wasted very much like our road system which consumes so much space and leaves a lot in its negative shade. The Ancient Greek artists which created the Acropolis applied the law of proportions as it was derived, philosophically speaking, from a true measure, namely man himself or 'anthropos'. That is completely missing in contemporary times.

The controversies surrounding the selection of the design of the museum to be finally built was known to heritageradio and reflected upon. So it was interesting to go with Jan Brüggemeier to the very object of interest at that time (2003 - 2006), in order to see what the museum really looks like not from outside, but inside.


                Jan Brüggemeier

Already once before I had been inside, but then for a meeting in the cafe, or rather in a large canteen with a platform for visitors to go outside, in order to take a look up to the Acropolis. The visionary effect is diminished by the bad architectural design. It is an aggressive building. The platform is pointed, sharp and without a real sense for the surrounding landscape. Inside there are many empty spaces, negative ones, not used, without meaning and lost. How different to rest in between pillars in the shade when compared to this kind of dismal spatial complex. 

The museum attempts to impress by having a glass floor in order to see the archaelogical findings below. The entrance hall is impressive but just an effect. Meant was to take the visitor through the different layers of archaeological history e.g. from the primitive and archaic times to the classical era when the Acropolis was built. But in such a surrounding it is doubtful if any visitor can get a real sense of orientation.


    Main exhibition hall

The reconstruction of the past is impossible, says Habermas. On the other hand Manolis Korres who is supervising the restitution of the Acropolis and in particular of the Parthenon would say like everything else in archaelogy, it is a question to what space the imagination has to make that vital link between not only the present and that past, but also between the parts left as reminder of something which was a whole a long time ago. Definitely some kind of imaginary dialogue is needed to complete what is a visible evidence of past achievements by artists, people and an entire polis. They achieved then something so visionary that the eyes of a sculpture looks still today another 2000 years or more ahead!



           Koren in colour - display

Evidence has it that all the sculptures were coloured but to reconstruct those colours is nearly impossible as the Ancient Greeks knew plants and chemicals in a way that no one seems to have rediscovered quite the same technique to be able to produce likewise similar tones and qualities of colour.




Visitors looking at what remains of the pediment


As for the Parthenon frieze, here more things need to be said before the full weight of cultural history can be understood and narrated. The frieze can be seen on the third floor and encompasses a scale 1 to 1. In that way any visitor can obtain an impression of the size of the Parthenon and what it would mean to walk inside the outer corridor around the entire building.









Horses + Human voices - what else can be heard in a tamed, wild life? A poetic thought might seek this kind of reflection: what resonates in man's mind, if not contemplation and thoughts enough to see beyond any immediate reflection as to what reality can be like once what is imaged becomes real and thereby transforms inner and outer reflections in this amazing light coming from and touching this eternal sky of blue like the sea.





The search for the lost sense of proportions

"The Parthenon frieze is the low-relief pentelic marble sculpture created to adorn the upper part of the Parthenon’s naos. It was sculpted between c. 443 and 438 BC,[1] most likely under the direction of Pheidias. Of the 524 feet (160 m) of the original frieze, 420 feet (130 m) survives—some 80 percent.[2] The rest is known only from the drawings made by French artist Jacques Carrey in 1674, thirteen years before the Venetian bombardment that ruined the temple.

At present, the majority of the frieze is at the British Museum in London (forming the major part of the Elgin Marbles); the largest proportion of the rest is in Athens, and the remainder of fragments shared between six other institutions.[3] Casts of the frieze may be found in the Beazley archive at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, at the Spurlock Museum in Urbana, in the Skulpturhalle at Basel and elsewhere.[4]"

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenon_Frieze

A lot needs to be said about the Parthenon Marbles. Ever since Melina Mercouri started her campaign, the Greek Ministry of Culture and other agencies have joined in this effort to have them returned. Alecos Alavanos took up Melina's call after she died in 1994 and made a proposal to the European Parliament, as well as to the Fifth Seminar, Cultural Action for Europe, held in Athens in 1994 (see third plenary session).

With the Olympic Games in sight for 2004, it was thought once the demand of the British Museum has been met, namely to have a museum constructed in which the marbles could be kept since the air of Athens was a threat to this cultural heritage, then they would be returned. Had the opening of the Acropolis museum coincided with the Olympic Games, then certainly world attention would have put a lot of pressure on the British Museum. But the museum was not ready by then.

As a matter of fact, it was opened only in 2009 and by that time this opportunity of having world opinion and interest behind Greece was squandered as much else. Since 2009 Greece has been plunged into a deep economic crisis even though tourists keep coming and when in Athens they do visit fore mostly the Acropolis museum located at the foot of the Acropolis.

View of the Acropolis from inside the museum at one end

and then another view at the other end of the museum and the reconstructed Parthenon

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