Quick Talk: With the Head of the Acropolis Museum Project

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Dimitrios Pandermalis is the president of the New Acropolis Museum Project. (Until the museum opens, there’s no one with the title of director.) Last week he gave me a tour of the new building. Then we sat down for a conversation about the new museum, the Elgin Marbles and whether the British should be persuaded to send them back to Greece. I’ll post this conversation in two parts.

LACAYO: When did the government of Greece begin to think about a new museum?

PANDERMALIS: This goes back thirty years to 1976. The final effort started in 2000.

LACAYO: When you first began to talk to [architect] Bernard Tschumi about your ideas for the museum, did you say to him: “We want you to orient the building so that it will allow visitors to look directly on the Parthenon?”

PANDERMALIS: We said first of all that we have on the site an archeological excavation, and you have to protect that. And we want you to present the excavation like a huge exhibit. And then secondly that the Parthenon should be visible. This was very important to us.

LACAYO: Was the museum also thought of from the start as a means to express the desire to reunite the Parthenon marbles?

PANDERMALIS: There were two motivations. One was to present the materials of the Acropolis in an appropriate way. The other was to present the Parthenon marbles in a way that made that problem [that they're divided between Athens and London] visible.

LACAYO: In the top floor gallery where the Parthenon frieze and the metopes will be installed, you plan to display copies of the pieces of the that are still in London alongside the originals that you possess in Athens.

PANDERMALIS: The copies will be in a somewhat different color and covered with a mesh. And on some of the plaster copies we can put original fragments of the marbles that we have in Athens — for instance, the head of one of the riders — to demonstrate the fragmentation of the monument.

LACAYO: Would you also like to get back the small pieces of the Parthenon that are in places other than London, the ones in Copenhagen and the Vatican, for instance, or the fragments of the frieze and metope at the Louvre?

PANDERMALIS: Yes, the government has made efforts also to get these pieces. But the main thing is London.

LACAYO: How many visitors do you expect annually?

PANDERMALIS: More than two million. Today the Acropolis gets about one and a half million. And we believe the new museum will attract more.

LACAYO: Will there be an admission charge? The British Museum is free.

PANDERMALIS: That is still being decided, but we are thinking about a ticket covering the metro, the museum and the site [the Acropolis]. [A ticket to the site of the Acropolis is currently twelve euros.]

LACAYO: Earlier this year Greece suggested to the British Museum that the Museum might lend the Elgin Marbles to Greece for the opening of the new museum. The British response then was what it has been for some time — that it was not possible even to consider such a thing until Greece formallly recognizes that the Elgin Marbles are the lawful property of the Trustees of the British Museum. Why not just agree to that as a first step?

PANDERMALIS: On that particular question only the minister of culture is authorized to give answer. But I can tell you it’s a part of a complicated dialogue.

LACAYO: Have you proposed a loan show again to the British Museum?

PANDERMALIS: I have had informal talks with the British Museum. I think there is a possibility for cooperation, and on the basis of that cooperation we can also talk about the marbles.

LACAYO: So when you say cooperation, do you mean cooperation first on works other than the marbles?

PANDERMALIS: Cooperation is focused on the marbles, but it also means exchanges for temporary exhibitions in London and things like that. In terms of 21st century cultural policy, it’s more possible now to do things through talks than in earlier centuries. We can really discuss the problem, to decide how to reunify the monument and discuss possible solutions. With the new museum I think we have a new basis to start these talks.

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