After years of neglect, renewed interest brings threats of court action

Passas and his wife were on good terms with the colonels’ dictatorship (of 1967-74). Its leaders promised to build them a neoclassical-style building to house the artworks in their home in Kypseli. Judging from accounts from visitors to the three-story home, it did not appear to contain priceless objects, as was said at the time, but things that Passas had collected according to his personal taste. However, many of the pieces, such as the jewelry and the ivory, were certainly very valuable. During the dictatorship, construction began on a building near the Evelpidon Officers’ Academy but was never finished. Although the junta promoted the plan for a museum for the Passas collection as a major cultural event, the building work stopped after the skeleton went up. And that is how it remained for a number of years until it was eventually demolished. The collector and his wife both died during the 1980s, their dream unfulfilled. In 1984, a foundation was set up titled «The New Museum of European and Eastern Art» for the purpose of protecting the collection but could not exhibit it for want of funds. According to the law, it is under the auspices of the Culture and Finance ministries. The objects stayed where they were for many years, without being cataloged or even guarded. Many were damaged in the 1999 earthquake, while a few years ago the building was burgled and several valuable pieces were removed. For many years, the building had neither any power supply nor burglar alarm. Last summer, following a request by the Economy and Finance Ministry, the Central Archaeological Council, after debating the future of the collection, decided that 190 ancient artifacts would go on loan to the National Archaeological Museum and the remainder to the Byzantine Museum for restoration work and for their exhibition, with the approval of the board of the Passas Foundation. The Benaki Museum, meanwhile, invoked legislation, according to which, in the event that the foundation was dissolved, its property was to be donated to the museum. It has taken recourse to the Ombudsman’s office and the Culture Ministry calling for the situation to be clarified. «The foundation in question was never dissolved and therefore its property should not end up in the Benaki Museum,» said the director of the Byzantine Museum, Dimitris Constantios. «The objects are now in our restoration studios, as many of them were in poor condition. When we entered the Passas house last summer, we photographed and cataloged them.» According to the catalog, the collection consists of 167 reproductions of European art, 97 examples of European pottery and about 600 Asian works of art, ceramics and other objects. There is no jewelry, although witnesses say the collector had several good pieces. At a press conference shortly, Constantios will present the part of the collection that is to be shown in an exhibition this summer titled «European Ceramics in the Time of Mozart» as part of the celebrations to mark 250 years since the composer’s birth. Other exhibitions are to follow. Nikolaos Zoroyiannidis, chairman of the board of the Passas Foundation, believes that the decision to loan the collection to the Byzantine Museum for 20 years was the right one. «The foundation is still functioning, so there is no need for the Benaki to invoke the particular legislation. In 1997, we sent a document to the Benaki Museum asking them for assistance but they never replied. We met with the same indifference everywhere we turned, both from the state and private sector. The objects were at risk of theft and damage. Now they will be restored by the Byzantine Museum where they can be stored and exhibited in appropriate conditions. In the future we we hope to be able to rent out the Passas home to earn some revenue.» The Benaki’s director, Angelos Delivorrias, expressed great dissatisfaction with developments. «These matters cannot depend on the fate of a document that the board of the foundation claims to have sent to us,» he told Kathimerini. «The museum will not let matters rest there and we will take recourse to the justice system.»

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