Gugglegum mistaken for ambition

Many who seek respectability in our town are doing their utmost to argue that their views on bringing the Guggenheim or “Guggis” to Helsinki are the result of careful reflection rather than jerkings of knee.

“We aren’t for/against on principle”, people seems to be shouting. “We are bringing a fresh and ambitious perspective to a tired and humble city…” Er, this style of rhetoric usually from supporters of the scheme.

Equating ambition with brashness is not new in political rhetoric, but it still irks. Particularly when it is applied to our fair Helsinki. A hair-raising example was a column published by The Usual  on 25.10.2011. In gooey globules of rhetoric it sang to The Usual’s hymn sheet of utterly, bizarrely sycophantic praises. Of the Guggenheim.

No wonder those of us who some months ago still had time for possibly sensible arguments in favour are increasingly against. Writing on his (Finnish-language) blog, the prolific art critic Otso Kantokorpi has collected an impressive array of online sources (in English). They do not add up to an endorsement of Mr. Gallen-Kallela-Siren’s dreams (soon to be articulated at a second-hand bookshop near you.)

The standard arguments apply. That’s to say, economic ones.

Alas, Helsinki’s city councillors are not reading this avalanche of information, which Kantokorpi keeps updating at breathless speed. (He informs us, for instance, of the architects already in the loop. This bunch make Prince Charles’ and Leon Krier’s New Urbanism look almost gritty!)

If our councillors were keeping up with this story, they would appreciate that the G operates more like a business than a charitable foundation. And they’d realise that Guggenheim Bilbao was but the very visible tip of an  iceberg worth of investments  in the entire region. Alas, rather than the hundreds of millions that were used to create the “Bilbao effect” today we only see the “effect” itself.

Careful critics such as D. Ponzini may talk of archistarships posing as urban policy, of said billions [sic] poured into shore up the McGuggenheim. But not too many are listening in Helsinki.

Helsinki’s political types not even stop to consider why we have never heard of any Guggenheim but the New York and Bilbao’s. Why does nobody know about Guggenheim Berlin or, goodness me, Abu Dhabi? Why they would want Helsinki to join this list of franchised non-entities is unclear?!

And more to the point, how dare The Usual write such drivel about this cheapened brand?!

Do they not realise, as Green politico Tuomas Rantanen said on Yle TV’s Strada, that the Guggenheim brand is not worth the millions being asked for? Shame the councillors aren’t doing their homework.

The really depressing thing isn’t the ample evidence for why we should question this “solution” to the Helsinki Art Museum’s undeniable problems. The really depressing thing is that we’ve seen this before. It seems that small cities like Helsinki are prone – in a serial fashion – to believing the suave, smooth-talking salesmen who tell them that the future is theirs if only they sign on the dotted line for this or that global brand to beautify their town.

Remember Kaarin Taipale’s brilliant analysis, Cities for Sale, of how Helsinki GAVE away money to the multinational JC Decaux, thinking it was dressing itself up in a hipper garb?

Oh, and while I’m on a rant: apparently (and I can’t remember where in the mesh of blogs on this madness I stumbled on it) the current G’s leadership have said they’re interested in some bit of Helsinki that has land and water.

Here’s one bit in Munkkisaari/Hernesaari. Not sure whether the heliport expansion in the pipeline there would enhance or detract from Helsinki’s efforts to suck in international (Russian?!) art lovers with the help of some Gugglegum.

(Oh, and another over-priced, has-been brand, with life-sucking properties for city streets will land near you soon too. Starducks.)



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5 responses to “Gugglegum mistaken for ambition

  1. Hello, I most certainly hope you’ll come to the bookshop to present your views to Mr.Gallen-Kallela-Sirén this evening. That’s why the event will be held. A debate is necessary. Kindly, Ian Bourgeot

  2. JeesHelsinki

    Dear Ian,
    I am, alas, otherwise engaged. But I do hope that the handful of folks who occasionally stumble across my blog might be inspired to join you. He is a great speaker – I bet you’ll have an interesting evening.
    Oh, and thanks for your great work at the bookshop!
    Yours, Jees

  3. Now that a Library Competition has been announced surely Helsinki should concentrate on that and forget the Guggenheim? What do you think?

  4. Totally agree, for what it’s worth. As you point out, the Guggenheim effect was really a state-sponsored public-private heavy infrastructure investment over decades incl. new subways, ports etc. in Bilbao. The Gugg, impressive as that particular one is actually, was merely icing on the cake. We don’t want to buy a vat of icing, particularly at that price. Secondly, the Guggenheim effect lessens in potency with each subsequent Guggenheim of course, so we must be close to diminishing returns by now, as your noting of the invisible non-NYC/Bilbao franchises points out.

  5. JeesHelsinki

    Folks, Finnish-readers that is, see Arkkivahti at for the editorial in the latest AU by Rainer Mahlamäki. He certainly tries to avoid any hint of taking an extreme view. If I understand it correctly, Mahlmaki is wondering what it would mean if the Guggenheim were invited to fill another gap in Finland’s state coffers. That would be the hole where the funds for an extention of the Architecture and Design museums should be. Indeed, what would it feel like if architecture and design in this country were packaged up so tightly in the embrace of an internationally franchised brand?
    Then again, what would it be if we had a culture minister who was paying a bit more attention to the vast amounts of hard work and fabulous rewards in the most demanding art forms, music-making, say.
    (Lewis – as ever, note has been taken of the library point. We’re working on it! JHJ)

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