News

Guggenheim Might Go to Finland, But Probably Won’t

by Kyle Chayka on January 19, 2011

Those rascally members of the Finland Guggenheim team (image from NYTimes.com)

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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  • Roju

    Deputy Mayor Haatainen says if there’s going to be Guggenheim, the city hall will close down all the three premisses of excellent and original Helsinki Art Museum: Tennispalatsi, Kluuvi Gallery and Meilahti Art Museum. This would have quite devastating effects on finnish art world, especially to young artists as well as city’s collection of art, that has been growing thoughtfully and steadily the last decades or like maybe a century. Instead, we’d have the Starbucks of art galleries.

    • http://twitter.com/chaykak Kyle Chayka

      Thanks for the info, Roju. We’re trying to check into this more, if you have any other information or people to contact, could you please email Kyle [at] Hyperallergic.com? That would be such a hit for the art community to lose home-grown museums for a foreign branch.

  • Den Hickey

    Just what art always needed… to be a worldwide set of franchises. Yes, folks, your nation’s art capital can be one of the first in on the ground floor of a McGuggenheim or a McLouvre in which you can store all your McKoonses, McHirsts, and McWarhols. If you want to make your McGuggenheim really flashy, trendy, and hip you can buy the McObey expansion pack or something from an LA or NY based Art McCollective!

  • Pingback: My sister lives in Espoo is ignorant of Starbucks | Jees Helsinki Jees()

  • Tommy Kaj Lindgren

    The statement about closing the Tennispalatsi and Meilahti museums is unverified (at best) – and if there would be overlaps with the “Helsinki Guggenheim” why would there be a need for several museums with the same kind of profile? I don’t see the point of crying over where to see a Pixar/Antony Corbjin/Yoko Ono exhibition – in Helsinki Art Museum (these have been earlier “main production” exhibitions there) or the Guggenheim (where these could actually be done in a bigger scope, methinks.)

    Anyway, the “exploration of possibilities in Helsinki” seems to be just that: a study, that MIGHT result in a proposal for a modest museum, in reclaimed spaces / in a new building / nowhere – there is nothing pinned down so far. Except the crying out of the NIMBYs, that is the one thing you can always rely on.

    An addition to you pros / cons list: proximity to Russia – big plus – ability to reach the st.Petersburg market (a new high speed train connection has just opened) without actually having to try to build anything over there – which would most certainly mean shoveling money and ambition in a bottomless sinkhole of corruption.

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