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Monday 05.10.10

« artist + participant opportunities | Main | Tyler Green moves to Art Info »

Kimmelman plays with marbles, loses the high ground

Photo: Kallistos

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 Parthenon 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 certainly is (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.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on May 10, 2010 at 13:24 | Comments (1)


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.

Posted by: eva [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 10, 2010 07:12 PM

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