6 / 2014 - gösta, guggenheim, art museum

This year private art museums have been topical in Finland: Serlachius Museum Gösta's Pavilion was opened in Mänttä, Amos Andersson Art Museum is planning new premises in the centre of Helsinki, and the small Didrichsen Art Museum renovated its premises originally designed by Viljo Revell and reopened with an Edvard Munch exhibition. In the Finnish media, however, all this has been eclipsed by Guggenheim Helsinki. The issue presents the six competition finalists, with comments by a cityscape architect, the architect of the winning entry for the Helsinki Central Library, and two professors. The Guggenheim discussion continues also on a more general level. Art critics Heikki Kastemaa and Otso Kantokorpi, and researcher of urban culture Anja Kervanto Nevanlinna share ideas on the project as well as on surplus art and elitism. Rafaela Seppälä, Chair of the Guggenheim Helsinkiin association, on the other hand, writes in her column: "Building a museum should not be about egos, it should be about the flow of creativity in our society." The interplay of contemporary art, museum and space is looked at from another perspective in an article discussing Olafus Eliasson's art.

Gösta's Pavilion brings new aspects to the Finnish tradition of wood construction. Already in the competition phase the idea of the Barcelona-based architect team was based on the use of wood, and a qualified local office was found to take care of the implementation phase design. The feature and reviewes of the new museum are given space in the issue. The roots of the story of Gösta's Pavilion go as far back as the late 19th century when Gösta Serlachius made his first art acquisitions. In her article, Head of Collections, Tarja Talvitie writes about the industrialist's hobby of collecting art and the seed of his collection. Cultural journalist Minna Joenniemi talks about the town of Mänttä awakening to be a city for art.


The public discussion on Guggenheim Helsinki has been voluminous in the Finnish media. Two art critics, Heikki Kastemaa and Otso Kantokorpi, and researcher of urban history and European city culture, Anja Kervanto Nevanlinna were invited to continue the discussion. Kantokorpi's text may be found here below.

Guggenheim, surplus art and elitism
Otso Kantokorpi

Such enormous volumes of text have already been written about the Guggenheim Helsinki project that there is enough to fuel more than one master’s thesis. Debatants have become entrenched, and a certain combat fatigue may be sensed; indeed, I myself wrote my first Guggenheim piece almost four years ago (‘Turhan museon kaipuu’ [Yearning for a museum no one needs], Ilkka 26 Jan 2011).

The public debate has not been entirely fruitful. Participants seem to evaluate the motivations underlying their opponents’ counter-arguments chiefly on the basis of on their own prejudices. For example, accusations of anti-American attitudes have been thrown around throughout the debate. I would claim, however, that the people in Finnish arts circles who are looking askance at the Guggenheim project would be just as fervently up in arms if it were the Louvre that was trying to establish a branch at Eteläranta. In Abu Dhabi, as it happens, Guggenheim and the Louvre are competing for the same site.

There has been scarcely any discussion of the contents of the future museum – or exhibition hall, truth be told – and this has been a source of puzzlement for some time now. I myself do not consider this a relevant issue. I do not believe that anyone doubts the ability of the organisation running the possible future Guggenheim Helsinki to organise exhibitions of a high quality and interest.

What is more essential is to consider what kind of institutions we wish to employ to develop our arts scene. Is ‘wow architecture’ even interesting any more, and is it something that is needed to house art? And even more important than that is the issue of whether ownership is a relevant thing in art. In the increasingly elitist art world, private money has long been gaining power, and after a long period of bourgeois patronage we are reverting to a world of Renaissance patrons where money, through soft censorship, dictates the rules of art. The boards of directors of the major museums are filling up with millionaires, even billionaires. They tend also to be art collectors. A generous donation is often repaid with an exhibition organised featuring the collections of the wealthy donor. A case in point is Greek business tycoon Dimitri Daskalopoulos, who is on the board of directors of the Guggenheim Foundation and whose artworks were displayed at an extensive exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in 2011. I am sure that the works on display included very good art, but I for one would not like to see an exhibition whose theme is that the works displayed are owned by a particular individual. I would rather see professionally curated exhibitions on challenging and innovative themes.

More and more art is created all the time, and unfortunately it also accumulates. Art is very rarely disposed of at recycling plants. The collections of any given museum reach a saturation point at some stage, and many works may be fated to remain unseen for long periods of time. Such works are an untapped resource. In an era of productivity demands and performance management, it is obvious that organisations that have become bloated and no longer generate a satisfactory return on investment – as indeed is the case with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, according to its tax returns – must put their cultural capital to more productive use. There is an incredible amount of surplus art around, besides brand values that hold a great deal of fascination for politicians.

As I noted above, I have no doubt that Guggenheim Helsinki would exhibit international art of a high quality. The opponents of the Guggenheim project are often accused of nationalism. There is absolutely no reason for this. Our entire arts sector certainly loves and desires international art of a high quality. It is somehow too easily forgotten that such art is and has been available in Finnish museums all the time; one need only take a closer look at the programmes of, say, the National Gallery, the Amos Anderson Art Museum, EMMA in Espoo, the Pori Art Museum and the Sara Hildén Art Museum. Works have even been borrowed from the Guggenheim from time to time.

While some artworks no doubt gain eternal life in museums, another way to look at it is that art embraced by institutions dies. Solid, well-established institutions have a tendency to dissociate art from life, to the detriment of art. Emergent art is always somewhere else than in the hegemonic building where established art ends up and eventually becomes “residual”, as cultural scholar Raymond Williams would have said. Guggenheim is already teetering on the border between hegemonic and residual. What we should look for and support is the emergent. This could even be justified with return projections, to return to the jargon of the financial world. ark

The jury of the Guggenheim Helsinki competition went through a record-breaking 1715 entries to find six finalists. The editor asked for first impression comments from four architects: Henna Helander, Chief Architect of the Helsinki City Building Control Department; Panu Lehtovuori, Professor of Urban Design; Antti Nousjoki, partner of ALA Architects; and Pirjo Sanaksenaho, Professor of Building Design.

Konsthall Tornedalen art gallery
architect Anssi Lassila
address Risudden 150, Hedenäset, Sweden
gross area 1 800 m2
estimated completion 2016

Designing a museum is always a defining moment for any architectural talent because you are designing something lasting, something that can brand a city and that will serve as a showcase for the soul of our society – art.

The temptation for architects is great to showcase their own vision of space, to create a landmark building that can leave the art in its shadow. Well known examples are Helsinki’s Kiasma by Steven Holl, Copenhagen’s Arken by Soren Robert Lund or Amsterdam’s new Stedjelik Museum by Benthem Crowel architects.

The tricky thing is that you are designing a space for art, which comes in an endless and ever changing variety of mediums – painted canvases to holograms to soundscapes to waterfalls and mountains of steel. The building is a canvas for the art of the contemporary artist and must adapt like a chameleon. Some architects such as Gluckman & Maynar with the Mori Arts Center in Tokyo, have made it their trademark to showcase the art making the architecture elegantly discreet. Renzo Piano’s Beyeler Foundation museum in Basel is also of this school. These buildings will transform with any art that is thrown at them. This is also what you find in older classical museum buildings such as the Ateneum in Helsinki and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. They stand the test of time.

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao with its great Richard Serra hall and Jeff Koons puppy, and Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s ARoS museum in Aarhus with its amazing Olafur Eliasson rainbow installation are unusual examples of spectacular museums where the building and the art are truly enhanced by each other and yet there are sufficiently silent spaces inside for other artists to express themselves fully and freely.

The architectural space serves as a muse for the artist encouraging him or her to express their craft, like the Sistine Chapel served Michelangelo to create one of his greatest masterpieces or the Frank Lloyd Wright Guggenheim building in New York served James Turrell for the Roden Crater project.

In this digital age where images and social media are competing for everyone’s attention, museum architecture has one more very important task. It should act as an inspiration to visitors – an invitation to experience the adventure of art – something exceptional, exciting and possibly life changing. This will provide a regular flow of visitors to the museum, the success of the shows and museum programs inside and sufficient trade for the museum shops, cafes and restaurants. This is the lifeblood that enables museums to exist and thrive in pursuing their mission and anchors them in the heart of the public.

Building a museum should not be about egos, it should be about the flow of creativity in our society. Then all the stars will shine brightly in the sky. ark

Rafaela Seppälä
is Chairman of the Guggenheim Helsinkiin association.


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