The Parthenon was built in Athens at the instigation of Pericles, under the supervision of the sculptor Phidias, between 447 and 38 BCE. The structure is ten meters high by seventy meters long and thirty meters wide. The temple was conceived to house a colossal gold statue of Athena, as well as the Delian League’s treasury and the city’s silver reserves—in the event of a Persian attack, these precious metals could be melted down and made into new coins to finance war. Transformed into a Christian church in the Middle Ages, then into a mosque during the Renaissance, the deconsecrated Parthenon of the modern period became a symbol of democracy and of Western cultural supremacy.
Marta Minujín, born in Buenos Aires in 1943, seized this aesthetic and political archetype of democracy for her own situation: corrupted by a “national Catholic” dictatorship that reigned in Argentina up until 1983, she put the democratic ideal back into circulation at the moment when the military junta fell. Her artistic project was part of her series “La caída de los mitos universals” or “The Fall of Universal Myths,” which appropriated monumental icons to replicate them, break them up into pieces, and redistribute them into the public realm. In a certain way, the artist gives back to these symbols—reified and confiscated by institutionalization or capitalization—their status as offerings. For El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books, 1983), 25,000 books, taken from cellars where they had been locked up by the military, covered a scale replica of the Greek edifice; built out of metal tubes and elevated to one side, this Parthenon was placed in a public square in the southern part of Buenos Aires.
Minujín’s monuments to democracy and to education through art revive the ceremonies of archaic societies—contrary to the banning of books by the junta’s army and different from the privatization of public property that, through speculating on the debt of the state, encourages the suppression of public-sector services and creates social shortages. In her mass-participation projects, Minujín rediscovers the initial value of a collective treasure; she melts shared capital back down into cultural currency without remainder. She lays down the verticality of public edifices that embody confiscated cultural knowledge and a hidebound heritage. She dilapidates the fortune these myths represent. By literally tilting these symbols, Minujín not only gives new meaning to these monuments, she offers them a new sensuality.