Kiasma and the Guggenheim

Commissioned by the City of Helsinki, the Guggenheim feasibility study recommends the establishment of a new Guggenheim museum in Helsinki. With architecture and design as its mainstays, the new museum would also present visual art, both modern and contemporary.

The authors of the study have a broad-based museum concept as their goal, one that does not currently exist in Helsinki. However, we already have our national specialist museums: the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Design Museum, as well as the Finnish National Gallery, which is the national central art museum and comprises the Kiasma, Ateneum and Sinebrychoff art museums.

How would Kiasma, its operations, funding and audiences be affected by the new museum? How would other museums be affected and the field of culture in general?

Kiasma has a high profile and mission of its own, and these would remain important even after the construction of a new Guggenheim in Helsinki. As a national museum of contemporary art, Kiasma is dedicated to promoting the status of Finnish contemporary art. The basic pillars of Kiasma’s operations are its collection, changing exhibitions and the performance arts presented in the Kiasma Theatre. Although the collection dates back to the 1960s, Kiasma’s exhibition programme is primarily focused on the latest visual and performance arts.

Unlike the local Guggenheim museums in various parts of the world, Kiasma as a rule produces its own exhibitions. The viewpoints and themes of the exhibitions are chosen on the basis of issues that are important and topical in Finland. Although the main emphasis of our operations is on Finnish art, it is equally important to present international art in a Finnish context, side by side with Finnish art. Tourists visiting Kiasma are treated to unique Finnish art and to international art presented from a Finnish viewpoint, not exhibitions that tour several museums.

Kiasma is a centre for visual culture whose programme is broader than that of traditional museums. The programme serves particularly well the museum’s largest audience, young people. Kiasma as a museum is a favourite among youngsters and young adults: 65 per cent of our visitors are under 35. This is a considerable achievement in the museum sector, where the average age of visitors is generally much higher. Kiasma will continue to reinforce its special status as a young people’s museum in the future.

One of the most important issues at the moment is the funding of the envisaged Guggenheim museum. The project must not jeopardise the status or funding of Kiasma or other cultural institutions. I would urge that the Finnish Government refrain from funding the proposed museum, and that its funding will be secured in other ways. If the Government has ’extra’ funds for museums, they should in the first place be channelled to existing national cultural institutions whose function is to maintain our cultural heritage – such operating resources have been significantly reduced in the past few years. For example, the operating funds of Kiasma are today about one million less than ten years ago, 0.9 million euro. The sum is only slightly more than the projected Government funding for the Guggenheim, 0.7 million euro.

From Kiasma’s perspective, the Guggenheim project should be implemented in such a way that it will not further reduce the already diminished funds for Kiasma or other actors in this field. If the launch of the project for the new museum entails weakening the status of functioning cultural institutions and cutting their funding, it would significantly narrow the field of Finnish art and endanger the diversity of art on offer to the public.

The annual admissions to the new museum are estimated to be 500,000, of which 200,000 would be tourists from abroad. The first exhibition in Kiasma in 1998 drew 350,000 visitors, and the Picasso exhibition in the Ateneum Art museum had 315,000 visitors in 2009. These are record figures – for example, the opening exhibition of the EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern art had 64,000 visitors. The estimate in the Guggenheim study seems in fact quite optimistic. New visitors are evidently expected from the direction of St Petersburg, for example.

At best, the new museum could complement the existing supply of exhibitions in Helsinki. It could also create synergy and bring new audiences to the city, which would benefit everyone. Increasing volumes of cultural tourism brought by the new museum could bring new visitors also to other museums, increase interest in visual culture and thereby also increase general knowledge in this area.

Only now, when the study is completed, can the proposal for a new museum be discussed and evaluated. It is to be hoped that enough time will be reserved for this discussion, and that it would be open to diverse and different viewpoints.


Osallistuu nykytaiteen näköalapaikalta taidemaailman linjauksiin. Kulttuuri=pääoma.