On Sunday Michael
Kimmelman penned a strange article
on the disputed rights over the so called
Elgin Marbles, a series of marble sculptures taken from the
to reside in the British Museum. Greece wants them back and with
that country suddenly in the news it is clear this was an opportunistic story. Fine, except
it's an obscuring move and a bit clubby in its complicitness with the status
quo (whether it is relevant to today's shifting context or not).
What's wrong with his conveniently relativistic article isn't the relativism
(par for the course in museum ethics today)... it's the "convenience"
of his non arguments. By hedging both sides as a kind of relativistic stalemate
he's not really reporting on the issue or critiquing it for that matter (as
chief art critic of the NYT's I hold him to a high standard). The comments pretty much hand it to him
My issue with the article is that the British Museum's claim on the marbles
(the old "that's the way we did it then" argument) isn't gaining any additional
moral strength with time, while Greece's
(their history is their economy and their political glue... and quite simply they care more). Thus, barring some unforeseen prosperity for Greece
in the next 100 years it's the equivalent of refusing to help ones parent's
with some symbolic request.
What's more the argument that since repatriating the marbles will not fully
heal the wound is ridiculous... nobody makes such claims for rape victims. It's
a question of justice and the British Museum should be happy they were able
to display the works for as long as they have. Ultimately repatriating the marbles
turns an ethical page, acknowledging that today even a movie as stupid as Avatar
is ultimately may be ethically up to date than the British Museum. Eventually
the British museum will lose this battle, not because Greece is right but because
the British Museum is clearly on the wrong end of a shifting cultural consciousness...
one which doesn't use the past to justify present injustices. The Greeks have
it hard and will continue to, but if the British somehow see their own stock
sinking (ala British Petroleum), look for them to repatriate the marbles as
an olive branch if there is need for a little PR polishing.
This isn't new news... what is disturbing is is that the chief
critic of the NYT's (who is on extended travelogue)
would seize the opportunity
to attract eyeballs (and broaden the paper's profile in Europe) without presenting
a sense that somehow this situation seems to be generating increased pressure
every year and the effect that could have on the outcome. Since this is essentially about rocks let's contemplate the way
earthquakes occur and what is likely to happen in this situation.
Whoa, I completely agree with you here. It almost feels old fashioned to admit it. And if you've spent any time in Greece, the return of the marbles is so... obvious. But Kimmelman's articles since he's been in Europe have been kind of odd.
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