Museums United Kingdom

Mayor of London courts Guggenheim

Boris Johnson approaches New York foundation to help create "world-class cultural quarter" in Olympic park

Mayor Boris Johnson looks over London's Olympic Park

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has started discussions with the Guggenheim Foundation about setting up a gallery on the city’s 2012 Olympic site. The mayor’s office is interested in the New York-based museum foundation becoming a key partner in a major new cultural quarter in east London.

In February, The Art Newspaper reported on the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) ambitious plans to set up a new building for temporary exhibitions and permanent collection galleries in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. University College London is also planning an adjacent design school and cultural centre.

The new cultural quarter is going ahead under the working name E20, a reference to the new postal code for the former Olympic site. The area lies between the Olympic stadium and the Westfield shopping centre, in a part of east London in need of regeneration. The V&A hopes that its building might be opened in around 2020, possibly attracting more than one million visitors a year.

Johnson has said, “We are in talks with other global cultural brands, as we will need at least one more cultural institution to achieve the critical mass and very high visitor numbers the site deserves”.

The mayor’s office is now in discussions with the Guggenheim, although talks are at an early stage and nothing has yet been agreed. The idea is for an exhibition centre in which the Guggenheim would present Modern and contemporary works from its collection and its own travelling exhibitions.

Eleanor Goldhar, the deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, gave a terse response to The Art Newspaper: “At the moment, the Guggenheim has no engagement in this project”.

The Guggenheim is the first truly international museum organisation. Its New York home opened on Fifth Avenue in 1959, and it began expanding in 1980, when the collection of Solomon Guggenheim’s niece, Peggy, went on display in her palazzo in Venice. A major leap was made with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in northern Spain in 1997, in a dramatic structure designed by Frank Gehry. Since then, projects have faltered, such as the Deutsche Guggenheim that opened in 1997 in Berlin, originally run in conjunction with Deutsche Bank; that partnership ended in February 2013 (Deutsche Bank continues to run the space as a kunsthalle). In 2001, the Guggenheim set up an exhibition centre and a separate museum with the Hermitage in Las Vegas, but these closed in 2003 and 2008. Some never got beyond the planning stage, such as proposed outposts in Rio de Janeiro, Guadalajara, Taichung and Vilnius; and some are still in the pipeline, such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, whose opening has been delayed until 2017.

The only other project currently under consideration is in Helsinki. A 2011 plan proved controversial, partly because of the expense: €130m in capital costs, to be paid by the Finnish and Helsinki governments, plus an annual licence fee totalling $30m over 20 years. However, in January 2014, the city reserved a harbourside site for the proposed museum, and an architectural competition will be held, after which the city will decide on whether to proceed with the project.

There remains uncertainty over the London idea, however, in view of the chequered history of the organisation’s other international ventures. But the Guggenheim has undoubtedly had a major impact on regenerating Bilbao, making this example very attractive for London.

A Guggenheim East London would presumably involve a paying large licencing fee to the Guggenheim, for the use of its collection and name. The capital costs of a landmark building could well exceed £100m. However, London’s sheer size and its Olympic legacy resources means that the mayor might just pull it off.

A spokesman for Johnson’s office is unwilling to confirm the talks with the Guggenheim, but says: “The Mayor is working with the [Olympic] London Legacy Development Corporation to progress a world-class cultural quarter. Exploratory discussions with a range of parties are being conducted which remain commercially confidential until a time when further public announcements can be made.”

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Comments

28 Feb 14
18:41 CET

PETER HUESTIS, WASHINGTON, DC

Isn't there a point where one can say, "London has enough art museums"?

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