That G-report: 200 pages of buzzwords like “deep”

The Guggenheim Foundation’s feasibility study for Helsinki is out. Its 200 pages, unsurprisingly vacuous and expensively produced as they may be, should be of interest to anyone who loves Helsinki. (Yawn – there would be better things to do…)

The G. Foundation and its Helsinki friends want the franchise here. And they have the South Harbour very much in their sights (photo below). So what are the motives, impacts and willingness to take risks (on their own behalf? on ours?) of this international institution? The report (executive summary at least) reads so much like the standard bull***t bingo that’s filled planning and urban governance bumph for 30 years, it’s hard to know.

The report’s producers apparently “worked diligently … to understand how a G Museum could benefit Finland”. There is no “center of gravity” in Helsinki’s art scene, it continues. The G thinks it can help plug this gap by offering to try to attract more tourists and expand the art market.

Ah yes. This is the world that’s been made in the last 30 years: here judgements on urban and art issues are debated in business/financial terms; the needs of tourists trump everyone else’s; luxury cars sell better than ever even as crisis reigns!

In these circumstances, perhaps it’s not that surprising that so many are so willing to sell Helsinki’s family silver (the South Harbour plus the city’s limited art funding). The Usual mostly plays cheer-leader, but the uber-respectable  Suomen Kuvalehti asked about the risks two days ago, noting that the deadline imposed on the city for deciding (February 15th!!) is far too tight. In the same rag the veteran film maker and politician Jörn Donner noted almost a year ago that the scheme is part of an unwise megalomania among decision makers.

More recently then. What are folks saying? A lot. Many are stunned (by the proposed site, the timetable, the risks, the impact on museum staff and, perhaps, visual artists). Waiting for the news to be digested, our friend Arkkivahti confines herself to very few words indeed – arrrrggggggg being the most operative one.

In a clip on YLE, artist Silja Rantanen picks up some important themes from the report. It is problematic from a moral and political point of view, she notes. It means public Finnish money bolstering US-based business.

She also does not like the way Helsinki is represented to the report’s American audience: the text is imperialist, based on a stereotype of Helsinki from the Cold War era. A G “museum” on this basis, she suggested, would turn Finnish art into an ethnographic curiosity. It might provide a set of walls for pretty random travelling artworks when what Finns deserve (our interpretation here) is stewardship, including further development, of something much more precious and locally meaningful. Rantanen sees cultural imperialism also in the way that the G offers its know-how to the Finnish (underpaid, overqualified and variously motivated) museum staff.

Indeed, although the G. report includes the deep word “deep[ly]” about twenty times, it doesn’t offer anything “solid”. Instead it promises consultation, expertise, “new ideas” [sic] …

Without the massive injection of more substantive resources, the so-called Bilbao effect that those finger-pointers above are hoping for, is never going to happen (as I noted earlier here).

Elsewhere? Angry anti-elite postings against the plans, as you’d expect, online. Interestingly, some [not “many”, Ed.] Finnish artists and gallery people (said elite?) seem quite happy with the G. concept. They talk about art as if it were for the art market.

Has neoliberalism’s love of riches sunk into those folks like a hot knife into butter? That old Fifi/Adbusters image is rather suggestive. (Helsinki slang lesson: fyrkka = money).

p.s. I muse on the possibility that living next door to the Soviet Union has left many otherwise intelligent Finns blind to salient features of left and right politics – including the possibility that the community/communism has a lot going for it, and that Finland’s proverbial equality is fast disappearing into a black hole of cosseting the already rich. Provocative thoughts from the USA here.


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