2005-03-18

Guggenheim East

Will we see a Guggenheim museum in Asia?

Discussions had been going on for two years here between the Guggenheim and the city of Taichung in Taiwan to build just that. Taichung boasts fine restaurants and night clubs, balmy weather, wide streets, and popular shopping centers. Its leisure offerings, though, have been more of the Atlantic City variety than the Manhattan kind. Jason Hu, the city's mayor, has been eager to establish a different tone and polish the city's image. The possibility of adding a Guggenheim museum to the city's cultural offerings gave his plans a big boost.

Negotiations came to naught, though, when city officials remained concerned that the museum represented a crippling long-term financial liability. Government officials in Taiwan still hope to open a world-class arts museum in Taichung regardless of the loss of the Guggenheim.

The museum, for its part, remains committed to the idea of international expansion.In an article for Bloomberg, William Pesek Jr discusses how the idea of building an Asian outpost of the Guggenheim is gaining traction in Hong Kong and other cities. Skepticism remains, though, about whether the recent economic benefits brought by a museum in Bilbao, Spain, can be repeated. A vibrant arts scene does bring economic benefits to a city, Pesek notes. But the benefits of an art museum do not lend themselves to cost-benefit predictions of the short-term, number-crunching sort you might use when considering a new office tower.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. At the end of last year the Guggenheim's chairman and chief benefactor resigned in protest over the museum's plans to become an international brand. Already it appears that adding a Guggenheim to a city's skyline may not be the upscale gesture it once was. Eyebrows are raising now over reports that Singapore hopes to combine a Guggenheim museum with a casino.


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