This paper has attempted an examination of the exhibition environment in the major two museums that between them share most of the surviving architectural elements of the Parthenon. The historical conditions that led to the dispersion of the sculptures have also been briefly examined, as well as the changing attitudes towards ancient art and architecture. The 18th century Enlightenment in Western Europe brought about a radical revision of perceptions of art. This process led to the transformation of artistic collections to museums. A systematization of knowledge was accompanied by the introduction of classification. And then the Romantic Movement of the early 19th century introduced the idea of the autonomy of form and the work of art. In this line an adoration of artistic and architectural relics became widespread. Ruins of all kinds were revered in their own right and completely out of context. Or rather they were introduced in another context, related to the situation of the viewer.
When Le Corbusier praised Phidias for the simplicity of form of the Parthenon, he was judging by his own standards of the Industrial Age. Praise for that simplicity should rather go to Morosini and Elgin. But in this view the absence of style became a style itself.
The Parthenon marbles in the British Museum are exhibited as a collection of masterpieces. The question of context receives little attention. The sculptures are supposed to be viewed and admired in their present ruined condition against a neutral environment. The viewer would contemplate about the rise and decline of civilizations and the temporality of human existence.
The current attitudes in archaeology and history however would not miss the opportunity to explain to the viewer the actual conditions of the societies that created them, and thus gain a better insight and understanding of the human past. Recent trends in exhibition organization tend to emphasize context in relation to exhibits. The New Acropolis Museum in Athens goes some way in this direction by placing its exhibits in an abstract kind of replica Parthenon and providing some video information about the monument’s history. This however consists of a “hardware” solution, whereby architect and curators give a single (articulate or not) interpretation of the exhibited material. Alternative theories about the buildings coloration cannot be addressed in the museum. Similarly the 5th century BC situation has been chosen as the supreme one, and little information about previous or subsequent phases of the site is provided. The history of the monument and of the dispersion of its relics might warrant an exhibition in their own right.
The present paper attempts to introduce a 3D projection methodology in order to address these issues without physically intervening with the precious relics. A series of experiments was conducted, starting with general projection exercises, involving both still images and animations and leading to more specific experimentations with the proposed scheme. Some of the experiments provided encouraging results, like experiment No 4, 7 and 8, in which still images and single-layer animations were projected on 3D objects. Others, like No 6, where a visually complex animation was projected gave more ambiguous results. Clearly more work is needed to adapt this application to a complex museum environment.
With the new proposal, the artwork, the marbles, are being viewed through a new medium. With the video, a new dimensionality is being added to the exhibits, that of time. Time here stands as the present which reflects the time of the visitor. No one argues to place the marbles back on the Parthenon. The Parthenon was built for a specific reason by a past society, which shared an ideology, a religion and common symbolisms. These however are not familiar to the present viewer, who tends to see them out of context as aesthetic works of art. The new familiar medium may induce him to comprehend aspects of the original context and to identify similarities and differences with his own context.
For the purposes of this study, the BM’s Duveen Gallery was chosen because of its rich collection and its relative neutrality as a background. The same methodology can be applied at the NAM and other museums. The involvement of the actual original sculpture in these projections might well prove spectacular and trigger the public’s interest. In any case the issue of context might well give an educational stimulus to the exhibition. The marbles eventually may or may not return to Greece, but in any case the possibility of them being viewed in historical, geographical and situational context will greatly enhance common understanding of a formative period in human history and true appreciation of its social, religious and creational expressions. In context.