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Guggenheim in Vilnius? Maybe Not.

Planned museum in Vilnius, Lithuania
Photo: Zaha Hadid Architects

Yesterday, in announcing that the planned Zaha Hadid-designed museum in Vilnius (above) had just gotten a green light from the Lithuanian government, many news organizations were reporting something similar to what the NY Times published, drawing upon a report from Agence France-Presse:

The museum will build its own collection and display art from the Hermitage and the Guggenheim.

The Times and AFP also said the new museum was a joint project of Lithuania, the Guggenheim and the State Hermitage Museum.

All of this surprised me, because I had thought that the imminent departure of Tom Krens from the directorship of the Guggenheim Foundation would mean, among other things, a scaling back of the Guggenheim’s global ambitions (aside from Abu Dhabi) and a rededication to the core mission.

So I checked with Guggenheim’s deputy director for external affairs, Eleanor Goldhar, who said:

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation will complete the Vilnius feasibility study this summer. Until the study is complete, there are no further details available about the extent of the Foundation’s future involvement in the project. This story originated with Vilnius, not with us. We have no comment on any aspect of their story.

Goldhar also noted that the agreement for the Guggenheim to conduct the feasibility study for the project was signed on July 9 and the work was begun in September, considerably before the February 2008 announcement of Krens’ planned departure.
The study was commissioned by the recently established Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center in Vilnius (focusing on the art and films by Mekas and his friend and artistic
collaborator, George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus art movement). The center would have 2,000 square meters of space in the new museum.

An article in this month’s ARTnews, “Viva Vilnius” (not online at this writing), by the magazine’s editor and publisher, Milton Esterow, got it right, by quoting Arturas Zuokas, former mayor of the city and the prime mover behind the project. Zuokas said:

We’d like to see it similar to the Guggenheim Bilbao, only a little different. The Hermitage would be the leading partner. WE HOPE [emphasis added] the Guggenheim will become the main manager of the project.

Zuokas added that the museum’s 13,000-14,000 square meters of space would include: “2,000 square meters for the Hermitage collection and its contemporary art programs; 2,000 square meters for exhbitions, including what WE HOPE [emphasis added] will be Guggenheim exhibitions; and 300 to 400 square meters for a Litvak Center for Jewish Culture.”

That’s lots of wishful thinking.

As for the Litvaks, Agence France-Presse reported this, in its article on the museum project;

Lithuania was home to a thriving Jewish community of nearly 220,000 before World War II, 95 percent of whom perished during the Nazi occupation of the country.

an ArtsJournal blog