Restoring the Restorations

Nike TempleRestorations of monuments to their original form are not only a difficult task—as any archeologist or art restorer will certainly confirm you of—but also a point of dispute. Consider for example the following sign about the restorations of the temple of Athena Nike (pictured above) that caught my attention when I last visited the Acropolis last year.

The Restoration of the Temple of Athena NikeCurrent restorers accuse a previous generation of restorers of damaging the monument. It maybe true that, as technology advances, restorers are given better tools to restore or preserve a work of art but along with technological progress comes change of the aesthetic sensibilities that inform those restorations. Because of the latter, and it maybe less obvious, the “authentic form” to which an artifact has been restored has more to do with the cultural sensibilities and ideologies of the time of its restoration than with the supposedly ancient thing itself.

Bayart has nicely pointed this out in his book The Illusion of Cultural Identity, in which he writes:

Authenticity is not established by the immanent properties of the phenomenon or object under consideration. It results from the perspective, full of desire and judgments, that is brought to bear on the past, in the eminently contemporary context in which one is situated…we must always analyse the genesis of the character of authenticity that we accord to a cultural practice or product. (78-9)

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