11.15.2014

The Elgin Marbles ...

I've expressed repeatedly that they are the Parthenon Sculptures not the Elgin Marbles. And that I am for a loan of the ones in London, Paris etc to Athens.

Obviously after Neil MacGregor's messy loan of the Cyrus Cylinder (found in Iraq) to Iran, a loan which had to be extended allegedly because of issues about 'returning' the Cylinder, my views changed further.

If Iran is a good enough place to the British Museum to loan iconic items, why is our EU partner Greece not good enough? Iran sponsors terrorists, but Greece does not. We did not have to break off diplomatic relations with Greece, and in fact on every imaginable comparison one can make, Greece is an ideal loan partner, Iran is best avoided.




This made me more determined that Britain should loan the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. Unlike museum directors, I am often wrong, but I believe in learning from our mistakes, so I thought "how can we suggest a loan that it is hard for even misanthrope like MacGregor to turn down? and how can we prevent silly claims that Greece will be as dishonest as Iran and refuse to return the loan?"

So in January 2013 whilst giving a talk at the Wallace Collection I explained how I thought a reciprocal loan proposal would be ideal and how it could work. The Duveen Gallery would be empty and the space could be filled by annual exhibitions of Greek cultural treasures that act as ambassadors of Greek culture, whilst also showing visitors to the museum that the space is not 'empty' because they have been given a chance to see even more valuable material.

We can all argue about whether or not what Lord Elgin did was right at the time, but that was two centuries ago, and what is important is how we move forward.

The problem with Neil MacGregor is that he is neither as popular nor as bright as his very good PR team would like people to think (see the letter he claims doesn't exist here and here).

The Greek PM and Mrs Clooney made a very good presentation of the proposal to exchange loans, and MacGregor has answered it with nonsense. I don't know if he meant to be insulting when he claimed the people who built the Parthenon were not Greek; I think he has a history of regurgitating the research of others which he does not understand, and he does not understand that although Athens was a separate State from Sparta and Macedonia at the time ("ancient Greek" was not a country!), they all considered themselves to be Greek, unified by language and religion, and allowed as Greeks to take part in the Panhellenic Olympic Games. The Parthenon was built by the Athenians, and funded by the treasury of the Delian League, and although some cities that funded the League were not in what is now the modern state of Greece, that does not mean that they would want some modern malacha to claim they were not Greek. Was Byzantion annoyed their funds went to pay for an Athenian trophy? Probably! But they would still have agreed with the judges at Olympia who decided who was Greek and who was not, and those judges ruled that the Athenians were Greek. Fortunately snakes are not Greek.

I have already in the past expressed to the Trustees of the British Museum how awful I think MacGregor is. Oddly when I pointed out that the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum had not offered him the job of director as claimed, he 'clarified' to say he had pulled out of the running.

Mr MacGregor seems to have done many undergraduate courses, but clearly is not educated enough to even pretend to have the slightest respect for anyone that does not allow him to bully them around. Whilst that man is at the British Museum, there is not the slightest chance of making any progress because he will continue to deny that Venizelos officially asked for a loan on behalf of the Greek people, and will continue to deny everything that he doesn't like.

So what should be done?

A few years ago the Chinese asked why Korean art was so much better appreciated in the West than the many great cultures of China. I explained that it was simple. The official policy of Korea is to fund beautiful galleries in important museums abroad, and lend works to fill gaps in the collections so that their culture is fully appreciated abroad. Many museums have Korean galleries, and if you sit down in one, you will see that tours of Koreans visiting the museum will regularly come in to those galleries, and smile at the way their art is well displayed and appreciated.

I've suggested to a couple of governments that this might be a good plan to use in a different way; reward museums that return looted materials smoothly by offering them future loans. Some are trying it, and I hope that this will be the way forward.

Turkey has also used the 'stick' part of the 'carrot and stick' approach. When museums were causing problems and refusing to return looted items, they refused to lend the museums any works of art. Italy cancelled the archaeological permits of a whole country's archaeologists because the major museum in that country was still regularly buying items on the art market without a provenance, and which turned out to be looted.

It's time for Greece to get tough with a museum director that has regularly shown his contempt for Greece and the Greek people. If they won't even consider discussing a loan to Greece, why should Greece continue to lend items to the British Museum?

Stop lending to the British Museum.