Yesterday we visited Athens’ new Acropolis Museum. Not a beautiful building from the outside, but a terrific display space and plainly designed as an argument for the return of those parts of the frieze appropriated by Lord Elgin and now held in London. The argument is made through a demonstration of the power of context. There is the stunning effect of a mass of small objects and large fragments brought together – singly or even in handfuls, they would be mere curiosities, but assembled they give the impression of a particular time and location. There are the clear views of the Acropolis and Parthenon from the museum’s windows, and of the museum from the Acropolis. There is the construction of the museum above an exposed archaeological site – it sits up on round concrete pillars above the walls, foundations, cisterns and tile floors of an ancient neighborhood, much of which can be seen through glass floors of the museum building. Tours of the site are promised for sometime in the near future.
Even the two nearest stations on Athens’ new subway serve as small galleries for materials excavated during construction. (This boast that archeology can be a positive benefit of underground railway construction was a source of some embarrassment to Simona, my Roman, who grew up in a city in which layers of history are the perennial excuse for not finishing the Metro.)
Altogether, it screams the poverty of showing the marbles in Bloomsbury. The new museum has been built extra large, should the Marbles ever come its way.