Thursday 6 May 2010

"Effect of Vandalism Democratising"

Discussing the Parthenon Marbles in a crowded gallery in drizzly London, Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic of The New York Times likens the scattering of bits of the Parthenon by collectors to:
the way that countless altars and other works of art have been split up and dispersed among private collectors and museums here and there. To the Greeks the Parthenon marbles may be a singular cause, but they’re like plenty of other works that have been broken up and disseminated. The effect of this vandalism on the education and enlightenment of people in all the various places where the dismembered works have landed has been in many ways democratizing.
Pure imperialism, the effects of this vandalism and the scattering of its debris on the education and enlightenment of people in all the various places where works and sites have been dismembered has not been at all "democratizing". It has robbed them of a chance to understand the past of their own land. They have been robbed of this chance by the foreigners who base their "rights" to take this stuff on arguments of power, and financial clout rather than morals.

I looked very hard last time I was in the British Museum to find the teacher's pack in Greek for the day parties from Athens primary schools that had come to London in their thousands to take advantage of the fact that entry to the BM is "free" and there they can see what the British public has so nicely made available for them to see of the monuments of their town. As part of the lesson in imperialist democratisation, they can all go then to the McDonalds as its almost like the one at home, before getting back on the coach for the trip home.

Kimmelman (whose views on a related topic were discussed earlier on this blog) is clearly encaptured by Cuno's neo-imperialist arguments and suggests that culture has no real owners, and asks - he thinks rhetorically - " Who Draws the Borders of Culture?". The answer is that we all do, the disjected bits and pieces thieved from sites and monuments by the richer and more politically influential stay where they are while the majority opinion is that they can (actually that they are not bothered whether they do or not). If however the majority opinion swings to the view that this is immoral, then the dismembered stuff should go where the majority opinion says it should.

While the media like the New York Times keep trotting out the arguments that set one type of nationalism ("Our Nation the Conqueror With a Cultural Mission in the World") against another ("This is the heritage of the past of this land"), then the issues will be fudged and public opinion is divided. This is very much in the interests of the collectors, but less so in the interests of the sites and monuments which are dismembered and scattered in the form of collectable fragments.

Vignette: School trips only for some.

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