Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The visit of an Athenian to the New Acropolis museum

my visit to the new acropolis museum

As a city-dweller of modern Athens who has been hearing about and awaited the new museum for decades, I did not chose to go in the first week of its opening but I have waited a while for just the right time. After all the initial opening reserved for politicians and lucky people with VIP passes, then came the heards of Athens socialites (class B that is, because they too couldn't get VIP passes), with curious citizens, and bewildered tourists. I say bewildered because unless you had the priviledge of the VIPs arriving in Limos, you would probably be walking out of the metro station and puzzled as to where the entrance is due to the lack of signs. So right now the hype is almost over, the gates have opened for a while now, the visitors know pretty much where it is and how to get there and it the time is right to look at the acropolis museum in more perspective. So I said 'I'ts time to pay a visit!' and what have the flavors been?

Well mine have been good and bad, although on the whole good.

I must say that on arrival, I too, fell for what seems to be the Museum joke or something. When you come out of the 'Acropolis metro station', you can't miss the sight of the huge building. However as you approach it, the question of 'How do I get in?' inevitably arrises. So after a few laps around the huge block and meeting other puzzled visitors with the same question, map in hand, you finally bump into the main gate and then you know you're there.

The management of the museum seems to have overcome alot of the old-school tattyness associated with all other previous ancient sites and museums around Greece and the public sector in general. That is, that the technology in ticketing upon entrance is upto date, the personnel actually have smily faces and don't grunt at you - (surpise huh?) the lighting, the presentation equipment, and even the gift shop is upto the 21st century - an amazement for all of us who remember the old Athens airport (LOL, true vintage) and who have painfully attatched in our minds the concept of travel and tourism in Greece with kitch ouzo bottles in various shapes, scary fridge magnets, and miniature perfume balms in hideous Greek-style vases. So if that's the idea you (justifiably) have of Greece, then prepare for something lightyears ahead.
To their credit, it is strikingly apparent that management have also made the extra-ordinary decision of charging a 1 euro entrance fee for the rest of 2009 and maintain extreemely reasonable prices in the food areas of the museum. Thus, a cup of esspresso is charged about 1.60 e, if I remember correctly, and this is probably the cheapest cup of coffee you'll find in Athens. Not bad, considering that the view up there is one of the best!
Roman and other ruins below the museum site. these are visible throughout the museum through glass floors.

Next to the main point, the sculptures, we have 2 main types hosted in the museum. The first is the freizes that originally decorated the upper fringe of the Parthenon (some are casts of the originals awaiting for their replacement with the originals, which were 'borrowed' by our humble european neighbours, the British, but lets not get into that). The amazing thing, I hadn't realized, even having heard so much about the museum, before getting the chance to actually go there, is that ithe top floor is designed to look like an enclosure of the actual Parthenon itself. What do I mean? Well, the decorative Parthenon marbles which are a fabulous unmatched work of sculpture showing an ancient procession in the 'panathenaia' festivities, which however maintain their excact relative position to the monument and are positioned such that you can walk around the life-size display/installation which is a rectangle, the size of the Parthenon itself. This sounds quite straightforward and an obvious way of presentation, however when seeing the actual Parthenon next to you, through the glass windows, with the same orientation (North,South) the result is senstional.
the acropolis museum, athens
To the left the freizes in perfect parallel to the monument behind

The second type of marbles are 3-dimensional statues associated to or found the sacred hill of the Acropolis. (Unlike the ones mentionned above, which are relief engravings and not entirely 3D). These are the same ones as the ones previously hosted on the minute museum which used to be up on the acropolis hill. They're beautiful. They're sensational. The setting? hmmm average if you ask me. They have been scattered around a gigantic hall in order to resemble the way they may have been placed on the hill in ancient times, most of them offerings from individual famillies to the gods. The hall is impressively large and the way they are set, does allow you to see the statues from all angles. However as an appreciator of sculpture I believe that the clutter is annoying. I beleive that each statue isn't given enough space to breath and therfore not given justice. Each piece of work is a masterpiece and therefore a degree of isolation could have perhaps reduced the distractions and encourage viewers to study each piece in further depth and to take them more seriously.
Finally the building. Hmmmmm mmm.
Well as I said in the beginning of writing, I am an Athenian who has been hearing of this to-be museum since my childhood as if it were science fiction. So the fact that it has finally been accomplished is an 8th wonder in itself! After bickering over the location for years, then running several architectural competitions for the design, then scrapping them, then running more, all in endless beaurocratic turmoil and red-tape, I am glad that THERE IS a building, and my crititique is secondary.
But here it is..
The upper level almost completely clad in glass is great, the glass flooring which allows you to see the ruins below the museum is wonderful, but to be blatently honest, I simply CANNOT get over that cold-looking aluminium-like metal jacket the outer walls are made of. It's like an industrial building gone arty in its second life. I understand that this may be the concept of Art halls around the world and that the industrial look is fine for a building in London that has been converted from a factory alongside the Thames for example... but for the life of me, somebody explain, why make a brand new building look like a factory? Furthermore, what connection is there between this urban industrial twist and the culture of the marbles it represents?
acropolis museum metal
Airoplane carrier or futuristic sardine can? The metal plates are already a little battered and knocked around at the seams, I hate to think what they will look like in 10 years time.

Having got that off my chest I think I'm going to go there right now. Its 4pm, on a sunny September day and the museum roof garden is simply the nicest place for brunch in town. Anyone care for a cheese platter with me?

1 comment:

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