The director of the British Museum has hit back in a row with former trustee Sir Antony Gormley. Writing in The Times, Hartwig Fischer said the London museum is progressing with plans to 'give a new and powerful presence to the museum's collections from all parts of the globe'.

Sir Antony told the British Archaeology magazine the museum should be 'rebuilt' Africa at its core, drop its 'obsession with the classical world' and return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. He said objects from different regions and points in history should be displayed together to highlight connections between them.

But Fischer has rejected calls to reduce the museum's European collection and insisted work is already underway to modernise exhibits with a strong presence from all areas of the world. Fischer said: 

'Sir Antony Gormley is right to say that the British Museum should be modernised and the display of the connection renewed. This is precisely the plan that we have been developing since my appointment as director in 2016, and is one of the many reasons I do not accept his view that some of the museum's objects should be removed from the collection. Our work will give a new and powerful presence to the museum's collections from all parts of the globe, including the Pacific and the Americas, and give greater prominence to Africa. Changes at the museum will make it easier to understand the connections between different cultures, both ancient and modern, and restore the fabric of our wonderful historic building.'

The work will 'take some years to complete' as it is a 'large and complex exercise', Fischer added.

'The pandemic may have temporarily closed the museum to the public but we are continuing to make progress with the construction of our research and storage centre in Reading and with our plans for the redisplay of the galleries in Bloomsbury.'

On the Elgin Marbles, which the museum says were acquired legitimately in the 19th century and Greece says were looted, he said: 

'I would be happy to return [them] because I think the present galleries are not a particularly inspiring place.'