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Locals Remain Lukewarm on Guggenheim’s Helsinki Grab

by Mostafa Heddaya on July 15, 2014

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Guggenheim Helsinki site context map (image via Guggenheim Helsinki proposal)

An extensive report in the New York Times today dives into the Guggenheim’s longstanding bid for a franchise in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, detailing the rocky reception to the project since it was first proposed in 2011.

Though initially rejected in 2012, a revised 2013 proposal by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation set the cost for the Helsinki institution at an estimated $177 million, and has pitted the city’s “pro-business supporters seeking the wealth and attention that comes with an international brand” against “Social Democrats and other left-of-center party members who are skeptical about shouldering the costs,” the Times writes.

The New York–based Guggenheim nonprofit, which claims in the article to receive “a dozen” franchise requests annually from municipalities worldwide, once intended to charge the Finns a $30 million licensing fee. The Times notes that this fee was the basis for a vote against the project by the Helsinki city council in 2012, but the body reconsidered its verdict upon receipt of an updated proposal, “reserving” the possible development site, pictured above, in January 2014.

To avoid the criticism associated with a use of public funds to license the name, the Guggenheim’s current proposal seeks to form a private partnership to accept funds for the licensing fee from donors; it is unclear in the Times article what the new licensing fee is. The Louvre charged the government of Abu Dhabi €400 million ($520 million in 2007) for the use of its brand: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The Guggenheim launched a design competition for the Helsinki branch in June, and the entries will be considered by an 11-member jury later this year. The Times article notes that the local press has been less than forgiving of the Guggenheim’s Richard Armstrong’s overtures, with a video of his snap at a Finnish reporter in June “spread[ing] widely on the Internet, provoking accusations of arrogance.” The Times continues:

“I was jet-lagged — I’m human,” Mr. Armstrong said later in a telephone interview. Today, though, he still shies away from discussing alternatives to Finnish funding: “That’s a wife-beater question, so I am not going to answer,” he said, adding: “We all have conditional situations that can develop in the future. I’m not sure how productive it is to be paralyzed by those fears.”

But such fears are hardly unrealistic. A majority of citizens objected to the plan in newspaper polls in 2012, per the Times, and the city already contains an independent art museum. Furthermore, most completed Guggenheim satellite projects have shuttered: of the Guggenheim Las VegasGuggenheim Hermitage (also in Las Vegas), Guggenheim SohoDeutsche Guggenheim, and Guggenheim Bilbao, only the last remains; a Giuliani-approved, Frank Gehry–designed plan for a downtown Guggenheim on the East River was also abandoned by the museum in 2002.

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