Professor Brings Exhibit on Acropolis


Brett Simison

Middlebury, VT - Middlebury College Director of the Arts Pieter Broucke.

By YVETTE YINUO SHI, Arts & Sciences Editor

With the start of J-term, the Middlebury College Museum of Art has brought a brand new exhibition to campus, titled “Untouched by Time: The Athenian Acropolis from Pericles to Parr.” On Jan. 13, Professor of History of Art and Architecture Pieter Broucke, who also serves as the Director of the Arts and the curator of this exhibition, gave a virtual tour of the intriguing collection at the Dance Theater.

What makes the exhibition unique, according to Broucke, is that every art work included comes from the holdings of Middlebury itself — including those from the museum, libraries and local private collections.

“It’s a very specialized topic, and yet it’s all done with material from here,” Broucke said. “And it’s not just that we have all the material, there is actually some very good-quality material.”

Besides the content itself, the time period covered by the works of art — three centuries — shows yet again the thought put into curating the exhibition. The exhibition is divided into six sections in chronological order, each focusing on a different theme. According to the exhibition note, the wide-ranging art works “bear testimony to the enduring fascination with the Athenian Acropolis that persists to this day.”

The first part, called “Early Travelers,” documents the growing recognition of Ancient Greece being the “true fountainhead” of Western civilization through publications, drawings and paintings by early antiquarians, including volumes of  James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens, the very first study of the Greek remains that was published in 1762.

The second section, “Classical Antiquities in Early Photography,” highlights the role of newly-invented photography in perceiving the Ancient Acropolis, featuring a number of important photographs, including the very first photo ever taken at Didyma by French photographer Joseph-Philibert de Prangey. Another notable photographer, William Stillman, took a series of unusual photos of the Acropolis.

“He [Stillman] believed that it is important that…you have to stand right in front of them, as a way of getting an objective view of the monument,” Broucke explained.

The third section, “Greetings from Athens,” focuses on the rise of tourism in Greece. The invention of the snapshot camera enabled tourists to take their own photos, one of which Broucke acquired himself from “an old store along Route 7.” He dated the photo to sometime between 1894 and 1902 because of the condition of the building, and happily pointed out that the box of the Kodak Camera is in fact right in the frame.

The fourth part, “Pure Creation of the Mind,” is in fact a survey of the Modernist architects and artists on the Acropolis and includes a stunning photograph taken by Edward Steichen of Isadora Duncan, known as the mother of modern dance, who poses in front of the Parthenon portico. Also included is artist Le Corbusier’s publication, Vers une architecture (Towards an Architecture), which unconventionally compares photos ancient Greek buildings to modern cars.

The fifth section, “The Acropolis Restoration Project,” consists mainly of Socratis Mavrommatis’ photographs that record the “heroic undertaking” of the revolutionary and huge restoration project from 1975 to 2002. The project took shape largely because of a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report saying that the Acropolis was in bad shape as a result of pollution, a great amount of foot traffic from tourists and other factors.

Finally, “The Acropolis, Globalization, and Mass Tourism” shows how “the Acropolis continues to inspire.” It includes a copy of the front cover of The Economist of April 2010, which was ironically titled, “Acropolis Now,” speaking to the Greek financial crisis. There is also British photographer Martin Parr’s almost entertaining photo of two tour groups in front of the Acropolis in 1991.

“Here, the Parthenon is … providing the excuse or backdrop,” Broucke said. “And if you look carefully, there is no one person paying attention to that majestic building or the understanding behind it.”

He added that, while for many tourists visiting the Acropolis may be “checking off the bucket list,” seeing the remains was at least for him an incredibly moving experience.

The exhibition intends to highlight the idea that the Acropolis has moved beyond representing Ancient Athens.

“It has become the iconic monument associated with Greece as a modern nation state. On a loftier level, it marks the birthplace of Western civilization and serves as the global symbol of democracy,” reads one museum label.

Another “first” of the exhibition is that there will be an online version of the entire display, which Broucke considers to be very important for archiving. This is also only feasible because the College now owns all the works of art.