Soft Targets and No-Win Dilemmas: Response to Dimitris Plantzos
Snodgrass, Anthony, Antiquity
Most of the opposition directed at the new Acropolis Museum (herafter NAM), both before and since its opening in June 2009, has turned out to be politically motivated, mainly from the Left in Greece, mainly from the Right in Britain (the Daily Telegraph called it 'a hideous visitor centre in modern Athens' before it was even built [Wilson 2006]). Dimitris Plantzos comes at the museum from a different angle, but he too is determinedly on the attack. A first sign of this is his total silence about the protection and exhibition of the archaeological site underlying the museum, one of its major positive (and innovatory) features.
His opening salvo is anyway aimed not at the NAM at all but at the Acropolis itself and its long-running restoration programme. Recent progress made with this huge project (work on the Propylaia drawing to a close in 2010, the Parthenon itself kept scaffolding-free for a spell in the summer) has impressed even the British Museum, which has been hosting a presentation on it. Plantzos, concerned here as elsewhere to emphasise the scale of modern interventionism, can only say of the restored stonework that 'a significant percentage.., is newly cut', to the point of generating 'make-believe remains'. This is a grossly overblown claim, and he illustrates it, oddly, by showing (his fig. 2) the modern replacements for the sculptures. For the Greek authorities, these pose a classic no-win dilemma: leave the originals in place and get abused for neglect; replace them, and attract this kind of gibe.
From the architectural profession, the NAM has won a chorus of praise and, wisely, Plantzos does not engage (much) with this aspect. But his claim that the museum is 'half-asphyxiated by its surroundings, the filthy, untidy Athenian polykatoikies' is supported by a much-foreshortened photograph (his fig. 4) which entirely supresses the attractive plantings of grass and olives that ring the building.
His real target, though, is a museological one: the displays inside. They are 'context-free', 'unmediated', with 'wall texts ... kept to an absolute minimum': their claim to 'talk directly to the viewer' is cover for an authoritarian, monosemantic promotion exercise, a reactionary discourse. This is supported by 'bureaucratic archaeological scientism': when background information/s provided, it uses stuffy technical jargon or commits a translation howler. From a sophisticated or specialist viewpoint these points may look valid enough. Bur Plantzos is not entitled to subsume, under his critique, the needs of the wide and heterogeneous clientele for whom the museum's designers knew they had to cater, and for whom 'masterpieces' is a word that can be used without Plantzos' inverted commas. Some of his discourse is just as far over the heads of the general public as is any talk of the 'raking geison'.
As it turns out, it is the same (world) public who, by voting with their feet, have shown that they do not feel patronised or excluded by this presentation, and have repeatedly singled out this very directness for praise. …