Two odd events that captured my attention for some reason.
- The monorail crash at Disney World. I have no idea why, but this struck me as a sure sign of End Times. Well, let's just say Disney engendered in this ancient child a sort of confidence in their utter competence I struggle to find a comparison to. While I was saddened by the crash in DC, this one shook my sense of world order.
- The Elgin Marbles. I have been to the British Museum a few times and seen these magnificent sculptures each time. It was hard not to marvel at the utter chtuzpah of some British snob deciding on his own to abscond with another county's art, but those were vastly different times. But when you think about it, aren't all museums collections of... ummm, loot?
As curators all over the world will see it, those who call for the permanent return of the Parthenon sculptures from London are arguing for international museums to be emptied. Many other collections have a more dubious provenance than the marbles—think of the British Museum’s Benin bronzes, seized in a punitive raid in Nigeria; of the Pergamon altar removed from Turkey and now in Berlin; of Chinese treasures carried off during the Boxer rebellion and again during the civil war; of hundreds of works in Russian museums that were snatched from their owners in the Bolshevik revolution.
You cannot go very far in righting those wrongs without entangling the world’s museums in a Gordian knot of restitution claims. That is why, in December 2002, 18 of the world’s leading directors—from the Louvre to the Hermitage and from the Metropolitan Museum to the Getty Museum—argued for a quid pro quo. The Munich declaration, as it is called, asserts that today’s ethical standards cannot be applied to yesterday’s acquisitions; but in return it acknowledges that encyclopedic museums have a special duty to put world culture on display.
This has led to a new level of co-operation between museums over training, curating, restoration and loans. Thousands of works are now lent each year between museums on every continent. Who thought that China’s Palace Museum and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan would hold a joint show in Taipei, as they plan to in October, reuniting Qing-dynasty works that have been separated ever since they were borne away from Beijing by the retreating Nationalist forces in 1948? The British Museum was not party to the Munich declaration, but it seems to embrace its spirit. During the Olympic games in China in 2008 it sent the Discobolus, the discus-thrower of Myron, to Shanghai where 5,000 people queued each day to see it. It will soon lend the Rosetta stone, the cornerstone of written language, to Egypt for the opening of the Giza museum. On the day the new Acropolis Museum was opened, the British Museum’s director was in Riyadh, to arrange loans for an exhibition on the haj in London in 2011. [More]
It strikes me as a good way forward.
[BTW, if you go to see them (highly recommended) the name is pronounced with a hard "g". Brits will correct you.]