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Helsinki’s Tennis Palace Art Museum (image from taidemuseo.fi)

Through Finnish television, newspaper and blog media outlets, statements have arisen from Finnish museum and government administration that the construction of a Finland Guggenheim, the subject of a current feasibility study, may be funded by the decommissioning and closing of Helsinki’s own local art museums.

Hyperallergic commenter Roju first pointed out the possibility that Helsinki’s city government will close down museums to offset the cost of the Guggenheim in our post on the Guggenheim’s feasibility study, noting that the city’s Tennispalatsi, Kluuvi Gallery and Meilahti Art Museum were all on the list of possibly sacrifices. Roju pointed us to the source of the statements.

An editorial from Finnish leftist newspaper Kansan Uutiset dated January 19 2011 cites an article from Demari, a Finnish socialist newspaper, in a statement on the Guggenheim’s possible impact on Helsinki:

Apulaiskaupunginjohtaja Tuula Haatainen (sd.) uskoo, että museorakentaminen voidaan rahoittaa, kun Helsingin taidemuseo luopuu Tennispalatsin, Meilahden ja Kluuvin gallerian tiloista (Demari 19.1.).

[Helsinki] Deputy Mayor Tuula Haatainen believes that construction of the [Guggenheim] museum may be financed by the closing of Helsinki Art Museum’s Tennispalatsi, Kluuvi and Meilahti gallery spaces (Demari 19.1.).

Helsinki’s Meilahti Art Museum (image from taidemuseo.fi)

All three are branches of the greater Helsinki Art Museum. The Tennispalatsi Art Museum is located in an architecturally significant recreational center built in 1937 that was once used for tennis and basketball games. The Kluuvi gallery “focuses on experimental and non-commercial works of Finnish artists,” and is also managed by the city. The Meilahti Art Museum “organizes changing exhibitions of Finnish and foreign art of different eras as well as exhibitions based on its own collections,” and is housed in a building designed by architect Tero Aaltonen in 1976.

Haatainen’s statement is also referenced in a news clip on the Finnish Nelonen network, specifically at 1:35 in this video. Shots of the Tennispalatsi Art Museum, one victim of the possible closings, run in the background. In the same television clip, Guggenheim Director Richard Armstrong cites “financial capability” as one of the reasons that Helsinki might be an appropriate site for a Guggenheim branch. Does closing local art museums really count as financial capability for the Guggenheim?

In the Helsingin Sanomat International Edition, Saska Saarikoski pens an op-ed that outlines some of the issues the Guggenheim raises, and responds to its place among Finland other art institutions. Despite the fact that Saarikoski believes the Guggenheim is worth considering, it’s not worth risking Helsinki’s own museums:

I do not believe that the Guggenheim Museum should be spoken of in the context of other arts edifices. The Guggenheim is an investment in Helsinki’s economy and future — and that is how it should be judged. If the calculations indicate that it is worth locating a Guggenheim Museum here, then it should be built, and the money for it should not be siphoned away from the arts. Those companies that stand to benefit from the museum should be brought in to pay the bills, and the wealthy can have their shot at getting into the history books. But if the Foundation’s calculations end up showing red ink, there is absolutely no sense in building a museum based purely on arts values.

English-language Finnish blog Jees Helsinki Jees quotes another Helsingin Sanomat article from January 27 that clearly outlines the economics of the Guggenheim’s $2.5 million feasibility study in relation to Helsinki’s art community (translations are by the blog’s author):

Guggenheim-museon suunnitteluun käytettävä 2,5 miljoonaa dollaria eli nykykursseilla noin 1,8 miljoonaa euroa on Suomen pienissä taiderahoissa valtava rahasumma. Palkkiolla olisi voinut ostaa kaikki ne teokset, joita Suomen taidemuseot hankkivat kokoelmiinsa vuonna 2009.

The 2,5 million dollars or about 1,8 million Euros for planning [translator’s note — actually a feasibility study] is, in the context of Finland’s small arts funding, an enormous amount of money … The fee would have covered the purchase of all the works acquired by Finland’s art museums for their collections in 2009.

This is a side of the Guggenheim franchising that hasn’t been brought to light before. In the case of Finland and Helsinki, it is clear that the government is choosing to support an international museum brand over the possibility of developing already existing local museums. Beyond the questionable decision to spend the equivalent of over a year’s worth of acquisition money for Finland museums on a feasibility study for the Guggenheim, it is clear that a Helsinki Guggenheim branch is simply not worth the sacrifice of closing three of the city’s local museums.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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