It’s too soon to “review” the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, because it’s still a work-in-progress: Construction continues and few objects have been installed, except on the ground floor, where relatively minor but instructive archaeological finds unearthed during excavation for the museum are ingeniously and attractively arrayed in an educational gallery targeted to children.
Still, Bernard Tschumi‘s architecture is almost ready for its close-up, so a CultureGrrl photo essay is in order.
My impressions, like those of several commentators who made a previous press trip, were mostly favorable. But I was conducted on a quick, crowded tour, without much time to experience and contemplate the interiors, so these are first takes. A museum without its objects is just a shell. How the impressively monumental spaces will work as exhibition galleries is still an open question. How the bathrooms work as plumbing spaces is, however, already known. Let’s just say: They’d better be a work-in-progress!
Speaking of the installation of objects—I received a cryptic note from someone intimately involved in creating the new museum, thanking me for my “thoughtful” criticism of the plan to install faithful copies of the missing Parthenon marbles alongside authentic slabs and suggesting that a change might still be possible: “We are working on it!”
What a relief! (Pun intended…of course.)
Here’s what I saw:
But as I moved from the street to the glass walkway in the left foreground of the above picture, I was giddily skimming over the remnants of the ancient structures that were discovered and preserved by the excavators. Suddenly, all skepticism was vanquished by a museum experience quite unlike any other. Museum visitors will also be able to descend to the ruins and walk among them.
Continuing our tour: Things do appear even more disjointed as you walk around the exterior of the new building. I’m still not won over by that concrete lattice at the base. And I wonder what the neighbors thought about this alien creature that landed in their midst:
Below is the educational gallery on the main floor, with a large array of objects found during the excavation, arranged to illustrate various themes: “Time for Prayer,” “What’s for Dinner?” and that ancient Greek favorite, “When Men Got Together.” (Let’s not go there.)
Approaching those stairs, you magically float over more finds, revealed beneath polka-dotted glass (below). I found the pattern on the glass annoying, until I realized it was probably there to calm acrophobic visitors with some visual assurance that the floor was indeed solid. A high-heeled companion assured me that the surface felt stiletto-friendly:
At the top of the stairs, Dimitris Pandermalis, president of the Organization
for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum, began walking us through the gallery spaces, addressing us in front of the few original Acropolis sculptures already unpacked, cleaned and on view. The iconic Moschophoros statue, 570 B.C., of the patriot Romvos offering a sacrificial calf can be glimpsed behind and just to the left of Pandermalis, looking much whiter than I remember from my previous Athens sojourn:
Who will be its director, though, once it finally does open? On this, I got the same answer from Pandermalis as I had from Alexander Mantis, director of the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of the Acropolis:
It’s a political decision.