LOS ANGELES, CA – The Acropolis Museum of Athens is a combination of modernist architecture and archaeological treasures. Its director, Dimitrios Pandermalis, during his recent visit in Los Angeles made a presentation about the Museum’s remarkable architectural and cultural impact.
His April lecture “Architecture for the Ages: The New Acropolis Museum of Athens with Dimitrios Pandermalis” was co-presented by the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, and the Hammer Museum, where the event took place.
Hammer Director of Public Programs Claudia Bestor told The National Herald that the museum was very happy to collaborate with the UCLA SNF Center to bring “the brilliant Dr. Pandermalis to Los Angeles. It is always rewarding to see our audience engage with important issues like repatriating artifacts and presenting archaeological excavations within the museum.”
First opening to the public in 2009, the Acropolis Museum exhibits nearly 4000 objects in an area of 14000 square meters. A long and difficult road to completion from its 2003 conception was made easier by Pandermalis, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Elected to chair the organization for the Museum’s construction, he was successful in hiring an architectural firm for the project, where three previous attempts had failed. Bernard Tschumi was the chosen architect.
John K. Papadopoulos Professor of Archaeology & Classics at UCLA, who is one of the four faculty members currently involved in building the UCLA SNF Center, had invited Prof. Pandermalis and the architect of the Museum Bernard Tschumi almost ten years ago before the Acropolis Museum opened, to Los Angeles for a lecture. “Pandermalis spoke to an audience of over 350 people at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, the best attended lecture in the history of the Institute,” Papadopoulos told TNH. So this time, “when we were looking for a senior scholar to present a lecture in the series of the UCLA SNF Center, we thought it would be a great idea to invite Professor Pandermalis once more.” The Center’s Acting Director, Sharon Gerstel, reached out to the Hammer to co-host this important event.
THE ACROPOLIS MUSEUM
Key to Pandermalis’ success in bringing the Museum to life was his experience as founder of the Archaeological Museum of Dion. Initially Director of the University’s Archaeological Excavations at Dion, he proceeded to convert the area into an extensive archaeological park, resulting in turn to his overseeing the building of the Dion Museum.
In discussing the Acropolis Museum, Pandermalis said “the hallmark was and remains
its openness and accessibility to the viewing public. The decision to exhibit its sculptural masterpieces freestanding in the galleries removed from showcases and in full view from all sides was very risky but it was based on those principles.”
Another element he highlighted, one of the Museum’s unique features, is the ground-level glass flooring that allows visitors to observe in real time the ongoing excavation and preservation.
Another aspect of his presentation was the process of transferring statues – up to 2600 years old and weighing up to 2.5 tons – from the Parthenon and other temples from the old Acropolis Museum (which was almost right next to the Parthenon on the summit of the Sacred Rock) to the new one. They had to be carefully packaged and lowered by 165-foot shock-absorbing cranes, as the provided footage vividly portrayed.
Always looking for ways to expand the Museum’s audience and cultural reach, Pandermalis two years ago introduced the Museum’s temporary exhibitions in order to present archaeological finds from other regions of Greece. The first was about the Sanctuary of the Great Gods of Samothrace, presented on a large screen; the second was the Oracle of Dodona, with videos and constructed impressions of the courtyard of the Oracle and the small sanctuary of Zeus Naios; and the most recent one is “Eleusis: The Great Mysteries,” which allows visitors to walk through a gallery that has the form of the Eleusinian Telesterion and presents the most important artifacts from the excavation in Eleusis (the original telesterion, built by Parthenon architect Iktinos, was large enough to hold thousands of people).
The cultural outreach extends beyond the Greek borders, as on the occasion of Cultural Exchanges between Greece and China in 2017, the Museum hosted an exhibit with two masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum.
Pandermalis said that “the Palace Museum of Beijing expressed strong interest in hosting several Greek exhibits, starting with the Treasures of Antikythera Shipwreck, and for the first time plans to exhibit internationally a section of the Forbidden City, in our museum.”
SUCCESS AND AFFORDABILITY
Remaining sensitive to the impact on Greeks of the country’s ongoing financial crisis, the Museum charges just five euros for admission, with reduced rates for students and seniors. “We made a conscious decision to maintain a low entrance fee because we did not want the Greek citizens to feel that they could not afford it in times of great financial strains, Pandermalis told TNH. “Almost half of the visitors do not pay to enter the museum. We have a very effective management style and in its nine years in operation I am very proud to say that we have not needed a public subsidy.”
The Museum received international attention when President Obama visited in 2016. Pandermalis referred to him as “an impressive intellectual person. He had deep knowledge of the Greek history and was curious to examine Greek lettering from Ancient Greece. He was well aware of our efforts to repatriate the Elgin Marbles and he understands that the British are not correct with their continued refusal to send the Marbles back to Greece.”
UCLA SNF Center ALSO EXPANDING
The UCLA SNF Center is still in the process of raising matching funds and creating a world-class center of learning on the West Coast for all aspects of Hellenic culture and the teaching of Modern Greek at UCLA. Papadopoulos told TNH that “I am delighted to report that UCLA has already hired Dr. Simos Zenios, a Harvard-trained Modern Greek expert from Cyprus to begin teaching courses in Modern Greek language and culture in the 2018-2019 academic year.”
The Center will also focus on bringing Greek students and scholars to UCLA for conferences, lectures, and academic exchanges.