The Elgin Marbles
Unable to sleep recenty I did the sensible thing and websurfed my way onto the website of the Prime Minister’s Office. It started out as a sensible trip to sign the petition to allow artists to bequeath their resale rights (which you can see and sign here) and rapidly descended into an eye opening trip through the psyches of my fellow countrymen and women.
Curious to see what art-related petitions were out there I did a quick search for ‘art’ and found a petition to keep the Elgin Marbles in the country with a meagre two signatures while one to repatriate them had 253 (one being a Mr Elgin).
The question of what to do about the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles is something that comes up every now and again and I even talked about it in an interview I had for a MA in Museum Studies (I believe at the time I was passionately in favour of repatriation wherever possible). If you wanted to know more about the specifics the British Museum has an informative – although by no means unbiased – section on them on its website including a Trustee statement and list of common misconceptions.
For my part, the more I read about it all the more I think that the most important thing is that as many people as possible get to see part of a shared cultural heritage. This view is one also being loudly trumpeted by the British Museum who feel that seeing the Marbles in the context of the rest of its collection is vital. At 4am I came up with the perfect solution: we would simply redistribute them across the rest of the world keeping a few in the UK and sending the the others to museums with large contextualising collections. Hurrah!
The cold light of day informs me that this plan relies on the British Museum not feeling that while maximising cultural exposure is all very well, the extra tourism revenue is also rather handy AND everyone not minding when diplomatic relations between Greece and the UK break down utterly as we not only refuse to return “what we stole” (successive Greek governments have refused to recognise the British Museum’s legal ownership of the Marbles) but then send them even further away from Athens.There were other issues but I think those were the big two.
A pox on diplomacy!