Guggenheim Might Go to Finland, But Probably Won’t

Those rascally members of the Finland Guggenheim team (image from

Even after the reviled imperialist Thom Krens regime ended at the venerable Guggenheim, the museum is still trying to push its brand with new art outposts abroad. Yeah, the Guggenheim Bilbao was a surprise architectural and economic success, but it’s not a given that the same windfalls will come to every international Guggenheim post. Add to that the fact that most planned Guggenheim outposts have fallen through. So really, a Helsinki option is in the works? Why don’t I feel good about this?

The New York Times reports that Finland has kicked off a $2.5 million consulting commission for the Guggenheim to explore the possibilities of a branch in Helsinki, with added aid from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. New real estate around the city’s waterfront have lead to a renewed interest in creating a cultural institution worthy of a growing nation. Janne Gallen-Kallela-Siren, director of the Helsinki Art Museum, notes that, “New winds are in the air, and artists in many ways are the drivers of change. They deserve the right infrastructure.” What a refreshing attitude! Maybe this plan is more about the artists than the economic benefit they bring?

Another positive sign is the lack of a starchitect vision attached to the project. Hey, even Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has Frank Gehry! But Gug Helsinki? Nothing yet, not even a lousy Zaha Hadid rendering. Anyway, let’s go through the data points and check out the chances for Finland to host our biggest national art franchise outside of Jeff Koons:

  • The enticing press photo for the Finland project shows a jazzed bunch of museum types playing with snow balls in the crisp Finnish air. Museum people don’t get outside enough, so this is a major benefit. Diagnosis: plus 2 points, for both lungs.
  • Modern Art Notes’ Tyler Green has already suggested the opening of a Guggenheim Punxsutawney in a post lampooning Helsinki’s chances at a real Guggenheim museum. Diagnosis: minus 5 points, for awesome blogger snark and hockey jokes I don’t get.
  • Finland has no weird hangups like not liking art of naked ladies, unlike Abu Dhabi. This makes the possibilities of actually having good exhibition program just a little better than at the Middle Eastern Gug. Diagnosis: plus 2 points, for “transparency”.
  • Lack of a starchitect means lack of high expectations for the project, means lack of undue media attention, means maybe it might actually happen!? Diagnosis: plus 1 point, because minus 1 ego.
  • Museum outposts are the new destination biennials. Soon, they will be everywhere, and your hometown will likely have one for every Starbucks. Diagnosis: minus 99.9, for every percentage point of biennials that are boring.

Prognosis: minus 107.9, i.e. won’t happen in the next decade.

[UPDATE] Commenter Roju notes below the possibility that Helsinki will close the branches of its own Helsinki Art Museum if the Guggenheim goes through, consolidating a growing independently-minded art community into “the McDonalds” of art museums. It would be a huge blow for the Finnish art community if local art organization and institutions were abandoned to make room for the outpost of a foreign museum, branding or not. We’re trying to get in touch with the museum to confirm these statements, so stay tune for more news.

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