January 15, 2014 - 2:03 PM
Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén, a major architect of a plan to bring a Guggenheim Museum to his native Helsinki, speaks in the Albright-Knox auditorium in August, 2013. Photo by Robert Kirkham / The Buffalo News
The Finnish media is reporting that a controversial plan to build an outpost of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki, spearheaded by Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén before his arrival in Buffalo last year, has been revived by the Helsinki City Council.
The Helsinki Times reports that the council voted on Monday to reserve a plot of land on the city's waterfront for the possible future construction of the museum. The council also gave the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation permission to conduct an architectural competition for the proposed building, according to Reuters.
The competition, a key step on the way to the construction of any museum and generally perceived as a vote of confidence that a project will come to fruition, is expected to be completed by 2015. Last summer, according to Finnish culture and sport minister Paavo Arhinmäki, the Guggenhim Foundation launched a a months-long public relations campaign aimed at reviving the project after its 2012 defeat in the city council.
It appears that campaign has paid off. According to the Helsinki Times, members of the country's Green League party, which switched its 2012 vote for the project to "no" at the last minute, changed their allegiance once again during Monday's vote. The 2012 vote, the newspaper reporter, has not yet officially been overturned.
This is a surprising development, given that the council narrowly voted in May, 2012 not to approve the project, which was expected to require hundreds of millions of dollars of public investment. That vote came after many months of intense debate and controversy in Finland over the project's cost and its effect on the artistic ecology of Helsinki.
Last summer, after a complaint from an anonymous Finnish citizen, the government issued a report criticizing Sirén for his close personal and professional ties to a Guggenhim Foundation board member. The report called Sirén's dual involvement with the public and private aspects of the project "reprehensible."
Sirén, who some considered to be a candidate for the proposed museum's directorship, left his job as director of the Helsinki Art Museum in early 2013 to take the top job at the Albright-Knox. In an interview with The News about the Guggenheim controversy last summer, Sirén said he had put the debate behind him.
But the question now arises whether Sirén, who left his native Helsinki after the failure of project he had championed for years, may be tempted to toss his hat into the Guggenheim ring once again. I've emailed Sirén to ask what his thoughts on the new project are, and I will update this entry if and when he responds.
UPDATE: In an email statement, Sirén dismissed the idea that his move to the Albright-Knox had anything to do with the stalling of the Guggenheim project. He also criticized reporting on the process, though he did not specify any particular errors or inaccuracies.
“Let me be clear," he wrote. "My decision to return to the United States, which is my cultural and intellectual home, had nothing to do with the Guggenheim Helsinki project. I wish my colleagues in Helsinki every success with it. Reporting to date on the subject has been riddled with inaccuracies, misstatements, and errors in translation, and I do not intend to comment on the project any further. I am very happy in my position as director of the Albright-Knox, and embrace wholeheartedly all the exciting possibilities and challenges the position entails. My family and I have made Buffalo and the region of Western New York our home. We love this enchanting place of sun, snow, and rich cultural history, and have no plans of moving anywhere.”