There will be a reimagining of the Parthenon” as part of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) Architecture Commission for 2022. Australian architects have been invited to create a site-specific work for the NGV Garden.
Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang’s Temple of Boom, will play with what the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) calls the “apex symbol of Western civilisation, democracy and perfection.”
The Parthenon model will be painted by Melbourne-based artists, who draw inspiration from the colours that defined the original building over two-thousand years ago.
Ewan McEoin Senior Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture, at the NGV highlights the process.
“This is a series of architecture commissions that we run every year, it’s a competition, the first stage of the competition is anonymous and the second stage we get down to five teams and what we’re looking for is projects,” McEoin told Neos Kosmos.
He says that a “scale reproduction of the Parthenon will be built, and then we’ll select urban contemporary artists to paint the structure.”
McEoin is adamant “it is not a disorganised free-for-all – as I have seen suggested in some texts.”
The NGV wants to imbue “architecture as a cultural conversation,” like those instigated by the Parthenon from 500BCE.
“It’s a social discourse, we’ve had projects that looked at Indigenous histories, we’ve had projects that looked at suburbia.”
“What the architects are proposing – the rendering – and what we have now which goes with the image, is not actually what will eventuate.”
Meanings and purposes of buildings change, “sometimes fast and sometimes slow”, says McEoin.
The Parthenon began as a temple to the goddess of wisdom, Athena in 500BCE. Athenian statesman, Pericles is attributed with ordering the construction of the Parthenon.
He had to convince the citizens of Athens to pay for it, but they did not want their fat wallets thinned for a fancy new building. This may be considered the first public work, negotiated by citizens in a democracy.
Pericles threatened to pay for the construction with his own coin, only then did the citizens agreed to use their taxes to contribute. They did want to allow Pericles any aggrandisement. It was the first democracy after all.
The Parthenon provided employment only for citizens – artists, architects, and craftsmen (and it was men) – not slaves.
Under Ottoman colonialism 1453-1823, the Parthenon was repurposed as a mosque. In 1687 the Ottomans had fortified themselves in the Acropolis and used the Parthenon as an armoury.
“We want to try to understand how buildings change in meaning, and the architects were interested in talking about how architecture changes over time.”
The Venetians carried out a siege and bombarded it relentlessly for eight days. They did more damage to the building than anyone had since the sack of Athens by the Germanic tribes in 267CE.
McEoin wants to be respectfully to the Parthenon and the Greeks in the reimagining. “We know it was ablaze with colour and the architects have gone back into archival material and have explored renderings of what the Parthenon looked like – with the beautiful mosaics and colour.”
The Athenian state paid artists as individuals, they signed their names, and the whole structure was considered public property. Like the archon of Athens 500BCE the NGV is also “selecting artists who are leading practitioners, to paint it,” says McEoin.
He will ensure that there are also Greek Australian artists involved.
“The conversation is in part about beauty, and the artist were selecting are very visually dynamic.”
McEoin says that the commissioned artists include “those who are doing large scale kind floral work, to work that’s about perspective and layering.”
The Parthenon was a human scale temple in honour of citizens and the polis – not a homage to god-like emperors, or pharaohs.
It was and is a space owned by citizens. Something not missed by McEoin, who likens it to the NGV. “Like the NGV it is a people’s building, and we want everyone to be engaged.”
The lead curator wants engagement with its Hellenic past and the Greeks of Melbourne.
“We have done a series of briefings, so the artists are aware of the significance of the temple and its role in the foundation of Hellenic civilisation.”
“We want to make sure that we work with members of the Greek community and that we programme around that.”
McEoin sees forums and dialogue, not unlike those held in the surrounds of the Parthenon by Athenian citizens, and philosophers Socrates, Aristotle, and later Paul. It was the first citizens’ space.
For the Charlamagne’s post-Roman west and later, the Anglosphere, the Parthenon is the apotheosis of ‘western’ civilisation. It is replicated across Washington DC, London, Melbourne, Vienna, and many of the ‘west’s’ capitals.
However, those Greeks who built the Parthenon had their gaze on the south and the east, not the west. Civilisations of not were, Persian, Egyptian, Ethiopean, Assyrian, not the Saxons.
“Yes, it has been co-opted by British and western culture” says McEoin.