Since I wrote last about the proposition of the Guggenheim Museum coming to Helsinki a lot has happened. I had a good look at the background of the Guggenheim ventures since Bilbao, the type of museum envisaged and didn’t like what I saw. But also I didn’t really think it would happen, at a time of budget cuts and austerity I didn’t think that the city would have the financial muscle to build it. But I was wrong on a few fundamental assumptions.1
For mainly those reasons the Guggenheim coming to Helsinki looks like a distinct possibility. So with the council about to vote on the subject in April it’s worth taking another look at the proposal on the table. Those of you who want a detailed look at the proposal can have a look at the official report here. OK so what will GHelsinki offer us lets check the for column.
It will have about 4,000 sqm of exhibition space (ahead of Kiasma at 3,300). It will boast a super new building on the South Harbour on perhaps the most contentious and prestigious unbuilt site in Finland. It wants to incorporate Finnish Design and Architecture to bring it to the much increased tourist traffic it hopes to attract to Helsinki. In fact it believes it can pull in as many tourists as Scandinavian rivals like Louisianna in Denmark and Moderna Museet in Stockholm boosting the tourist economy for Helsinki greatly.
With the Berlin Guggenheim closing the Guggenheim would have with Helsinki, only Bilbao and Venice in Europe, that starts to look like a focused and differentiated offering, which should be able to pull touring organised exhibitions of the highest standard, and be able to bring in some local flavour.
Helsinki will have to pay for the museum and subsidise the whole thing but then they do for many arts projects anyway and this may just benefit the economy more. It should also add to the Finland Brand which the government has been actively trying to grow over the last few years.
Now for the against column. Well the financial cost is still open, all the risk with the City and the Guggenheim report of increased tourist figures is hardly an unbiased source and the calculations have an unclear pedigree. GHelsinki steps on the toes of both Kiasma and Emma in Espoo precisely because it is not big enough so it risks not being able to differentiate itself properly.
Even though the Berlin Guggenheim is out GHelsinki will definetly be little brother to both Venice and Bilbao. Indeed Bilbao will insist on getting all the major exhibitions first.
Finnish Design and Architecture were put together for a big museum proposal on this very same site ( Armi Center) but they didn’t want to come, will they want to come and be part of GHelsinki, kicking and screaming I’d say. The proposal is being sold purely on the back of it’s brand, financial and tourist selling points, what about the art? What about Finnish art? Is a global brand stronger or weaker because of its differences? Would Amsterdam swap the Rijks museum for a Guggenheim?
Now it’s totally proper for a city council to pursue programmes to strengthen their own city, attract new jobs, and money for the next generation and for a growing and thriving city. Indeed that’s what they are about. In taking GHelsinki they hope to increase tourism, the Helsinki brand and probably to help redevelop South Harbour which has a history of failed projects but so much potential.2
GHelsinki won’t be homegrown but will provide a welcome sharp shock to the tourist industry, Indeed purely as an investment GHelsinki looks feasable and perhaps a good bet even with all the caveats. Indeed I’ll revise my thoughts somewhat about the current proposal. I think it will work quite well in the limited way it is set out. As a good economic and tourist proposition I think it can have moderate even good success. But that falls some way short of a full endorsement.
Democratic Defacit & Building on Dreams
The article Landing-site for Franchised Culture in Domus3 by Sampo Ruoppila and Panu Lehtovuori in one of the best pieces of criticsm of the new GHelsinki highlights the Democratic defacit of the commisioning process, and it may be a reason that while support for GHelsinki started strongly it has been on the wane.
It also points to a deeper problem which is not immediately apparent but fundamental I think. The proposal is of the take it or leave it type, the location is fixed and the things it wishes to subsume into itself laid out without a hint of contribution from those organisations it wishes to subsume. GHelsinki smells of the Cookie cutter approach to city building. Big tourist site requiring overblown Architecture and big promises. No alternative Guggenheim type of museum or site or remit has been seriously considered. Instead Bilbao junior, with a pinch of Finnish all-spice.
But we do have alternatives read my last post or the Domus article. We also have great presidences already here. In a great blogpost Ulla-Maria talks about the startup culture in Finland and how it started from almost nothing a few years ago to becoming a lively vibrant place, with the potential to contribute an ever increasing amount to the economic and cultural success of the country.
Finland can build from the bottom up. It can produce home-grown value, and I’m convinced not just in IT but in art as well. Finland is quite big for example in outsider art. A home-grown Gallery proposal for the city may be harder to do, and start much more quietly for all concerned than a big Guggenheim inspired bang but it would be more sustainable, more long lasting and even in the end the gain may be much greater.
I’m not opposing GHelsinki because it is a bad proposal or bad idea. Indeed I think it will probably work in a limited way as I said already. No, I oppose it because we can do better, and we should be trying to.
I believe we’ll get a decision by the city in April, acceptance of the proposal may well come down to a close look at the financial viability of the proposal. Jussi Salonranta has a Finnish Helsinki Guggenheim FAQ page on Facebook he’s for the development but has brought together a good FAQ page.
- It will be smaller than I thought cutting the cost from prohibitive to reachable. It clearly has the support of some of Finland’s top art players like Carl Gustaf Ehrnrooth who is both Finnish and on the Board of the Guggenheim. Two name just two things I missed first time around. [↩]
- The South Harbour competition while well run appears to me, before they have announced a winner to have not been that successful in producing a good masterplan, I haven’t found a better one among the competitiors than the original ALA masterplan the city developed a few years ago. We’ll see what the jury find out of the proposals. [↩]
- Has anyone else noticed by the way that Domus has become the Magazine for Architetcural Content and critisim if you are not just looking for some cut n’ paste website [↩]