(NEW YORK) — George Clooney has backed away from his statement that it would be the “right thing to do” for Britain to return the historic Elgin Marbles to Greece, and now says the idea is worth an “open discussion.”
Clooney, who is starring in Monuments Men, stirred up the long-simmering controversy over the artwork that came from Athens’ Parthenon with a statement last week that Britain should send the collection back to Greece.
The Elgin Marbles refer to the collection of sculptures, inscriptions and architectural features acquired by Earl Elgin during the 19th century. They are housed in the British Museum in London, and Greece has been asking for them to be returned.
The dispute over the artwork is part of a broader international debate over whether historical artifacts taken from countries and now housed in museums should be returned to their home nations.
Actor Bill Murray backed up his co-star Clooney at a press conference Tuesday by joking that although the Elgin Marbles “have had a nice stay” in London, the city is “getting crowded and there’s plenty of room back in Greece.” He stated that “England could take the lead on this kind of thing, letting art go back to where it came from.”
Clooney said that “the Vatican had returned parts of the Elgin Marbles” and so “had the Getty” (museum), and that it was worth having “an open discussion” about it.
These comments came as Clooney was promoting Monuments Men, a new film in which Clooney directs and stars alongside Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and Matt Damon.
The movie is based on a true story about an Allied military unit dedicated to recovering art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. They recovered millions of dollars of artwork.
The Nazis looted and damaged art on a scale unprecedented in history, and art curators from America and across Europe have fought to rescue millions of missing, hidden and stolen treasures.
Adolf Hitler retained an ambition to build the world’s finest museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria, that he planned to call the Führermuseum. He hoped to stock it with the greatest works of art from across the globe.
Nobody was available to comment from the British museum. However, a specialist in European sculptures, Danny Katz, told ABC News that the Elgin Marbles should stay put. Katz stated that “they are world works of art” and that “they belong to the world.” Katz also argued that “they would not exist today if they were left where they were.”
The issue Clooney raised has far-reaching implications. The Getty museum in California, for example, has been through antique disputes with Greece over looted art works.
The museum told ABC News that this “has been an ongoing issue going on for decades.” In 2012 they returned two artifacts to Greece, one being a carved relief depicting the female form and the other a tablet recording a religious character dating back to the 5th-century BC.
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Arwa Damon, Waffa Munayyer and Bryony Jones, CNN
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Emanuella Grinberg, CNN