Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Could a Contract Sort This Mess Out?

In light of this week’s contracts discussion, this article stood out to me even further. The original article grabbed my attention for a snarky reference to George Clooney’s new wife Amal Alamuddin, but also for the age old debate on the Elgin Marbles.

A brief update to those less in the know: Lord Elgin took the “marbles” aka the statuary on the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. He claims he had the permission of the Ottoman Empire who was ruling over Greece at the time. (Don’t mention those dark times of Ottoman rule and the things they authorized to a Greek. It is still a sore subject. My US-born grandmother told us we were not allowed to marry a Turk.) The Greeks claim the pieces were looted by Elgin much like other pieces the world over that were taken by the imperialist British Empire. Since the 1980’s, the Greek government has been fighting for their return citing the lack of proof that it was a legal transaction and the return of other pieces looted to other countries. The difference being those returned pieces were not nearly as famous as the Elgin Marbles nor dominating a major room inside the British Museum. It must be said that the Greeks have made an excellent PR move with the star lawyer who has represented equally unlucky clients.

It comes down to a he said-she said exchange. The British, especially the Telegraph, claim that the pieces would have been destroyed, lost or damaged if they had stayed in Greece so they did the world a favor in the end by taking them into their protective custody. I cannot help but wonder if somewhere lost in the depths of paperwork in some Turkish storage facility is said agreement with the Ottomans or if the Greeks do have a right because they were in fact looted. Are Lord Elgin’s diaries outlining his heist hidden somewhere in England’s vaults? Was it conversation that was had between whatever Ottoman leader was in charge of Athens and Lord Elgin? We will never know, but time will tell on this fight. I look forward to watching.

This is one Greek who would like the statuary returned to Greece. Though I’m not sure if the Greeks are ready for them right now. Maybe they need a fresh young arts manager to handle this…. (ehm ME! ehm)

I’d like to put it to a vote to all who comment. Who has legal right as far as we are aware to the Parthenon Statues: the Greeks or the British?

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One comment on “Could a Contract Sort This Mess Out?

  1. carolynsupinka18
    October 31, 2014

    Thanks for this article, Helene! I had never heard of this conflict. It’s really interesting. I’m in favor of the statutes being returned…”they could have ended up in the footings of some Athens kebab stand”…..yikes! This seems not so much ‘he said, she said’ as much as ‘we ‘saved’ it, so we get to keep it.’ This reminds me of this past summer, when I read an article about the the auction of Hopi masks in Europe: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-native-american-hopi-sacred-mask-auction-paris-20140627-story.html
    An organization worked to buy many of the masks to return them to their tribes! I wonder what other ways cultural activists have used to recover lost art? It would be interesting if the Greek government took the route you suggested, and were able to recover something like a ‘contract’ (or lack thereof) between them and the Ottoman Empire.

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