Finns Fight Proposed Guggenheim Franchise in Helsinki

Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry
Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Following an announcement earlier this month that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation will work with the municipal government of Helsinki on a design competition to create a local branch of the Guggenheim Museum, residents of the Finnish capital are up in arms. While politicians in support of the project argue the establishment of a “world-class global brand” would boost both tourism and credibility within the international art community, art-savvy locals would like to see a more creative approach.

“It represents a supreme lack of imagination,” Jörn Donner, Finnish politician, actor, and director told the Telegraph. As more and more global brands like Starbucks and Burger King move in, Finns feel protective of their country’s local character and unique identity, and the proposed establishment of a Guggenheim is an affront to that.

Additionally, the plan would place a major strain on taxpayers dollars, given that Helsinki would essentially be subsidizing the Guggenheim Foundation, an American institution. Tiina Erkintalo, executive director of Checkpoint Helsinki, articulated the local community’s misgivings thusly: “Not only would we use public money at a time of economic hardship and cuts in arts spending to finance the Americans, but we would then have to pay the Guggenheim a substantial annual sum each year to lease their ‘brand.’” Filling a big museum with an ongoing series of big shows could be a drain on the local economy, and may also present local artists and organizations with funding barriers for their own projects.

This isn’t the Guggenheim’s first attempt at conquering Helsinki. In early 2011, mayor Jussi Pajunen spent a reported £1.6 million ($2.7 million) of public funds on a feasibility study for a Guggenheim branch located on Helsinki’s South Harbour—a project that was ultimately scrapped by the city government on the grounds of high cost, falling just one vote short. The plan proposed a €140 million ($1.9 million), 129,000-square-foot museum. A contest scouting design proposals for a second shot at a Helsinki Guggenheim was recently announced.


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