Having built this new museum for the Elgin Marbles, the Greeks have managed to rustle up one or two British journalists credulous or naïve enough to write articles calling for their return. But if anyone thinks the building is ever going to house anything other than the plaster casts that are on display there
now, they are hopelessly out of touch with reality. There is virtually no chance that the director or trustees of the British Museum, now or in the future, will comply with this outlandish demand.
Thus writes the Telegraph's outspoken art critic Richard Dorment. "The Greeks should erect a statue of Lord Elgin near the Parthenon to express their nation's gratitude to him for saving the Marbles", he says "instead of whining about events that happened more than two centuries ago, perhaps the Greek ambassador should formally thank Britain for displaying the marbles in those beautiful galleries at the British Museum".
He ends predictably: "Let the new museum stand as a monument to the futility of cultural nationalism — in this case trying to claim back something that by now belongs to the whole world". [Well, the British Museum at any rate, and of course the Torygraph never expresses any nationalistic sentiments of its own does it?].
The Parthenon marbles are a case which shows that any "antiquity" can be made "portable" if you cut it into suitably sized pieces. Like all "portable antiquities", they do not make full sense when individual "displayable" bits are taken out of the context of the rest of the assemblage. The overused term "cultural nationalism" does not seem to have much sense here. In fact, one might reflect that it does not ever have much sense when applied to the removal of material from a country when it is self-evident that this is reducing to a significant degree the size and scope of the resource of such material available for study, collection and display within that country. Is trying to reduce or even reverse the process in itself "nationalism"? James Cuno and no-questions-asked collectors would prefer people to think it was, I wonder whether they could give us a more precise definition of what they mean by the use of the term. Probably not.