HELSINKI—Markus Kåhre is championing Checkpoint Helsinki not just for art, but for the city. His goal is to invigorate the Finnish capital by bringing in new, contemporary art to attract interest and visitors, while also putting the city on the map as a breeding ground for fresh talent and artistic masterpieces.
Kåhre is a nationally acclaimed, Helsinki-based sculptor with a passion for his city’s art scene. He is one of the driving forces behind the Checkpoint Helsinki bid for new art. In addition to his own work, which was awarded the Finnish Ars Fennica award for visual art in 2007, Kåhre teaches at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. His current schedule consists of meeting with his artistic peers to develop and promote the Checkpoint Helsinki museum proposal and overseeing his students’ final projects in a variety of visual media.
Checkpoint Helsinki is an artist-drafted proposal to establish a new contemporary art museum-factory to create, show, and sell new work and talent within Helsinki and the world. The emphasis is to blend an art factory with a gallery, in order to “find out what’s happening in the world and then take it here, produce it here,” Kåhre says.
Essentially, the purpose of this potential museum would be to seek out fresh, new art – whether it be paintings, sculptures, orchestras or dance troupes – and ask the artists to work in the factory’s studios and showcase the final product when completed. Kåhre explains one of the benefits to the proposed work-and-display model is the freedom to show work as it is finished, rather than waiting to compile a themed exhibition like traditional museums, such as the Guggenheim, do.
The Checkpoint Helsinki proposal was initially born out of opposition to the Guggenheim foundation’s intent to set up shop in Helsinki. Since then, Checkpoint Helsinki has evolved as an artistic possibility in its own right.
Many artists disagreed with the possibility of the international art brand moving into their city, with concerns ranging from the loss of visitors to other Helsinki museums and galleries, to an inefficient use of city money. A 20-year license for the Guggenheim name would set the city of Helsinki back 30 million euros, according to the foundation’s city evaluation report. The proposed museum would not possess its own collection, but would rather host exhibitions cycling through the international chain’s other locations.
According to Kåhre, the international museum brand simply has no value for Helsinki. “It’s just not interesting,” he says flatly. This basic reason was the starting point for Checkpoint Helsinki – as Kåhre sees it, the city could do something boring or something intriguing with its budget. Instead of spending millions of euros on a tired collection many people have already seen, Checkpoint Helsinki advocates funding new work from talent around the world. The priority is on immediacy, not on star power, Kåhre says.
The general sentiment of Checkpoint Helsinki supporters is the investment could be spent more wisely. “We have to pay a lot just to have the brand,” Kåhre says, indicating the large sum of money could be used for much more without the global brand.
Checkpoint Helsinki’s artistic offerings would go beyond those of the Guggenheim. “We would like to have a space to do things with theatre, with film, dance, music, whatever they like,” Kåhre says passionately. “The starting point is visual art, but visual art is going in every direction.”
The aversion to the global Guggenheim brand stems from a distaste for recycled, stale art – one only has to look at the failed examples of Guggenheim ventures around the world to see it’s not the best choice for a city. Instead, the idea for Checkpoint Helsinki “is really to make a museum that really focuses on finding new things all over the world,” Kåhre says. This value for fresh work is the opposite of the Guggenheim, which tends to stick to time-honoured classics and known favourites.
Kåhre says he set the ball in motion for Checkpoint Helsinki, but can’t claim ownership of the idea. He says it was only a matter of time before one of his peers crafted an alternate, more effective, way to spend city money and attract visitors. Now the idea is supported by around 350 artists, including the former head of Kiasma, the contemporary art museum in Helsinki. The proposal has also garnered the support of several municipal politicians, including members from the Social Democratic Party.
At the moment, the potential plan for a Finnish branch of the Guggenheim is defunct – at least for now. Despite gaining the support of the mayor, Jussi Pajunen, Helsinki’s city board formally voted against the proposal, axing it before it reached city council. According to Kåhre, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Guggenheim is gone for good – elections will be held in the fall, and he suspects some campaigns may try to resurrect the possibility of the international art giant.
Details of the Checkpoint Helsinki proposal are still vague and open to discussion, Kåhre says. “Guggenheim was very closed, the discussion around it – we want to keep it really open.”