Friday, October 17, 2008

Singular Antiquity 6: Gazi on Greek Museums (1900-1909)

Between 1900 and 1909, the Greek state built 16 provincial museums in Ancient Corinth, Thera, Chalkis, Mykonos, Nauplion, Delphi, Cheroneia, Delos, Thebes, Herakleion, Lykosoura, Corfu, Tegea, Thermon, Volos and Argostolion. This stunning amount of activity (a rate of three new museums per year) succeeded in distributing archaeological learning throughout the country but, more importantly, established a professional model of management, administration and display. Gazi analyzes the museological principals that emerged during this period in, “‘Artfully Classified’ and ‘Appropriately Placed’: Notes on the Display of Antiquities in Early Twentieth-Century Greece,” in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008), pp. 67-77.

The museums had some variation; for instance, nine were built in urban centers and seven within or nearby archaeological sites. Yet, they achieved homogeneity in their underlying curatorial principles. An important achievement was to move beyond the strictly repository character of earlier museums and to codify chronological and typological classifications. Common tendencies involved packing as many objects as possible in one space and creating formal connections within media. In short, they followed the strict taxonomic character of museum display in the “age of archaeological flamboyance” (1870-1914). As Gazi points out, the majority of Greek curators had studied in Europe, mostly in Germany. Their dependency on neoclassical models of display is, thus, obvious.

The one exception in curatorial practices came about through a British collaboration. In displaying the finds from Ritsona in the museum of Thebes, Antonios Keramopoulos consulted with the site’s excavators. Percy Ure and Ronald Barrows believed that the contents of individual graves should be displayed in their entirety in order to provide a coherent representation of the society’s burial practice. Gazi credits this new contextual model to Paolo Orsi, who excavated cemeteries in Sicily, but it also reflects a larger debate on archaeological method (Mortimer Wheeler, stratigraphy, etc.) The Ritsona counter-example makes the reader curious to learn more about the history of museum culture in Italy, Britain, France and the United States. Gazi does a great job documenting the 16 Greek museums, but does not include any comparative examples outside of Greece. A discussion of museum practices in Europe would be greatly welcome, rather than assuming that the model was monolithic. Sculptures from the Temple of Aphaia in Aegina and sculptures from the Temple of Bassae, for instance, were displayed differently in the Munich Glyptotech and in the British Museum respectively.

Gazi also discusses Greek intellectual culture ca. 1900 and new notions of history that emerged through Paparregopoulos, Dragoumis, Palamas and other Demoticists. The archaeologist, “a national intellectual,” was caught between two competing models: classical purism versus historical inclusiveness (i.e. the incorporation of post-classical periods in the national identity). The 20th century ushered in the age of ambivalence towards antiquities, in contrast to the age of subservience preceded it. Gazi observes that the curators of the Greek museums were behind the times, stuck in the age of subservience. This might be one of Gazi’s most interesting conclusions with powerful repercussions. The institutionalization of the Greek museum as a palace of taxonomy removed the classical archaeologist from the forefront of intellectual debate. Perhaps at this juncture, 1900-1909, the Greek archaeologist ceased being an intellectual and became a bureaucrat.

Gazi refers to some great secondary literature, such as P. Kitromilides, “From Subservience to Ambivalence: Modern Greek Attitudes toward the Classics,” in The Impact of Classical Greece on European and Classical Identities, ed. M. Haagsma et al. (Amsterdam, 2003), pp. 47-53. She also reminds us to reconsider the role of the archaeologist as public intellectual in literary life and reread seminal literary texts, like Andreas Karkavitsas, The Archaeologist (1904) and Kostis Palamas, Dodecalogue of the Gypsy (1907) and The King’s Flute (1910).

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

1 comment:

David Gill said...

In this same period (i.e. up to 1914) former students of the British School at Athens were to develop careers in museums in Britain, North America and Canada. BSA students also helped to prepare catalogues for the Sparta Museum and the Acropolis Museum.

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