George Louis the original Mad Man, a New York American of Greek heritage now in his 80s, goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every Sunday to "inspire breakthrough conceptual thinking."
The Met's Classical Greek, Cypriot and Byzantine collections are overwhelming. Visitors from all over the world, from across America enter the Met and the first port of call is Classical Greece, a step up it's the Byzantium, step to the side and its Jewish, then Roman and Egyptian and so on. The African, Asian and Islamic collections are as impressive, but for the purpose of this opinion piece I will emphasize Hellenic culture.
The Met is a global cultural institution that views Hellenic art and culture as bases for the great republic, America and in turn the 'west'. Yet, does the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) or other equally serious collecting institutions in Australia?
Wealthy Greek patrons fund the Met's collections, like the Jaharis family that funded the Byzantine art. So, where are the wealthy Greek patrons' names at the National Gallery of Victoria, or other cultural institutions in Australia?
Last year the Stamoulis family's Hellenic Museum announced its partnership with the Benaki Museum in Greece, the oldest privately founded museum in Greece. The relationship between Melbourne's Hellenic Museum and the Benaki is natural. Both are private and both seek to promote a diversity of Hellenic art. The challenge facing the Hellenic Museum will be to ensure that more than just Greek Australians view these programs.
The museum also announced it will present the Elliniko Theatro's Socrates Now, an amazing play. Again, who will see this work and why is it not presented in the Malthouse or the Melbourne Theatre Company, or the Arts Centre? Who will see this play? One hopes it's not just Greek Australians. Socrates, his death and his impact, has universal importance.
It is excellent to see wealthy Greek Australians promoting Hellenic culture my criticism is not of the Stamoulis and other families of substance, nor of the Hellenic Museum of Victoria. My question is why isn't that patronage expressed in Australia's mainstream collecting and cultural institutions?
Has the Hellenic Museum secured sufficient non-Greek audiences or mainstream media to fill the gap of Hellenic art in mainstream institutions? Or, can it? Clearly these are continuing challenges for this collecting institution.
I believe that government arts funding still see the Hellenic Museum as a community museum. This may change as the new leadership of the Hellenic Museum seems to be more adept at navigating arts and cultural funding.
The first time the Hellenic Museum secured funding from the government it was from its multicultural affairs coffers and it was for a program celebrating the 60 years of Assisted Passage for Greeks to Australia, an ersatz community pop program, which seems to have been thrust onto to museum.
One hopes that the Hellenic Museum is not the apotheosis of a cultural ghetto; a museum for some Greeks, at the edge of the city. Melbourne is one of the world's largest Greek speaking cities and one would assume that more action would have been taken by advocates, community leaders, patrons and politicians of Greek heritage to ensure that the community's ancient and contemporary arts central to this city's cultural and arts life.
I dream of seeing Greek Australian patrons' names emblazoned across the marquee of the National Gallery of Victoria, and other major arts institutions, just like the names of Greek patrons at the Met in New York City.
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