Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, “Art in the City,” the winning proposal for the Guggenheim Helsiniki Competition (© Moreau Kusunoki Architectes / Guggenheim)

Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, “Art in the City,” the winning proposal for the Guggenheim Helsiniki Competition (© Moreau Kusunoki Architectes / Guggenheim)

Controversy has again overtaken the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, this time because of its renewed — and for a group of vocal, concerned citizens — unwelcome efforts to expand its museum franchises into Helsinki, Finland. The situation has come to a head now because, according to Lee Rosenbaum, the full 85-member Helsinki City Council will vote on Wednesday whether to approve or deny a plan put forward by the Foundation to construct a franchise outpost in the Finnish capital at a projected cost of 130 million euros, with an annual operating budget of 11.6 million euros. Helsinki residents are concerned the city will be seduced into building a private museum mostly funded by public monies. An online petition claims that the project would cost Finnish citizens over 100 million Euros, which includes 98 Million Euros for the building and plot improvement, 35 Million Euros in loans guaranteed by the city, 1.3 Million in annual grants from the Ministry of Education and Culture, and 0.9 Million in annual maintenance costs.

A graphic on the anti-Guggenheim Helsinki petition site (via the No Guggenheim in Helsinki petition)

However, Guggenheim Helsinki via its corporate website, disputes these figures, instead claiming that the City would only be responsible for 80 million Euro for construction costs, and projecting for the next twenty years, Helsinki would only be responsible for 41% of the total for building and maintenance. The corporation goes on to claim that the project would bring 400 jobs to the city, plus increases in tourism would allegedly result in a bump of 2.6 million euros for the metropolitan area. More, the Guggenheim Helsinki site claims that they have secured the investment of several of the largest Finnish companies in the tourism industry including: the Eckerö Line, Finnair, Tallink Silja, Taxi Helsinki, and the Finland and Viking Lines.

This is not the first time the Guggenheim has proposed this museum. It tried before in 2012 and was rebuffed by citizens who mobilized to protest the project which then had sought to have the city completely fund the venture. People then objected to several aspects of the proposal, which have not abated: the social injustice issues exasperated by labor practices at Guggenheim’s Abu Dhabi franchise site, the selling of status (as opposed to critical thinking), and ultimately to the idea of exploiting citizens to construct a museum for private profiteering. The argument has been made that the Guggenheim Foundation is mass marketing a universal commodity (contemporary art) for local audiences, which is essentially a neoliberal version of cultural colonialism.

Last week, the Helsinki City Board voted 8-7 to revive the project, and now it stands to the entire board and the people of Helsinki to decide what they will do with the choice before them.

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Seph Rodney

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a senior critic for Hyperallergic and has written for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and other publications. He is featured on the podcast The...