Court kills ‘legally safe’ art museum

Athens finally lost the chance of acquiring one of the most impressive art collections in the world yesterday, following a high court decision against the use of state-owned land for the Basil and Eliza Goulandris Foundation’s modern art museum. Ending a 10-year saga, the Council of State ruled that the 1.2-hectare plot in the Rizareio Park, between the War Museum and the National Art Gallery in central Athens, had been illegally ceded to the Foundation by a ministerial decision in 1999 – at the time presented as «legally safe» by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos. In response to appeals by local residents, the Greek branch of ICOMOS (the International Committee on Monuments and Sites) and the Association of Greek Town Planners, the court found the grant illegal as it lacked town-planning permission. The foundation had agreed to donate its collection of 158 works by masters such as El Greco, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Rodin, Modigliani, de Chirico, Nicholson and Toulouse-Lautrec to the museum to be built on the lot. It was to have been housed in a building built at the cost of the foundation to plans by I.M. Pei, the Chinese-American architect, who designed the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre. The museum would have been state-controlled. There was no response yesterday from the foundation, but it is highly unlikely that the museum will be built elsewhere in Athens. In 1992, the government had provided land on nearby Rigillis Street, but the discovery on the plot in 1996 of remains identified with the ancient Lyceum of Aristotle put paid to the project. The subsequent offer of a waterlogged hole beside the War Museum was turned down by the foundation.

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