The Guggenheim Museum Helsinki Plan as a Media Debate

Maaria E Linko


In connection with today’s competition between cities to portray an alluring image of economic and cultural success, the City of Helsinki and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation put forward a plan to establish a Guggenheim museum in Helsinki, Finland. Following the plan’s release, a heated public debate emerged in the media. The present article analyzes this debate as a mediatized conflict and aims to show in what ways the debate on the Guggenheim report affected the decision-making process concerning the Helsinki Guggenheim museum. This debate is analyzed within the framework of current discussions on the culture-led development of cities, by applying a methodological tool inspired by Luc Boltanski’s and Laurent Thévenot’s theory of critical judgement to analyze the various justifications that the different actors used during the debate. Further, the article interprets why the museum plan was rejected in the first deliberation. It was found that the distance between different actors grew so wide that it could not be reconciled, especially with the effect of social media. Because the City did not encourage a discussion and communication with the art world was neglected at first, during the debate it proved impossible to convince the art world of the benefits a Guggenheim might bring to other art institutions or artists.  Guggenheim Helsinki was planned for a small capital in northern Europe, and yet it is linked to current European politics affected by nationalistic ideology and the question of preserving local cultures in the face of a globally shared culture.  The article ends with a discussion on what can be learned from the failure of the Guggenheim Helsinki. 


museums; Guggenheim; museum policy; museum investments; mediatization; museum debate; city branding; urban regeneration; flagship cultural project; flagship buildings

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Copyright (c) 2020 Maaria E Linko

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Museum and Society

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