Fri, Jul 18, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Museum for masses mooted in Taichung

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Models of a design for the prospective Guggenheim Museum.

COURTESY OF TAICHUNG CITY COUNCIL

"Culture is a good business," said Jason Hu (胡志強), Taichung mayor, explaining why he proposed and strongly supports the establishment of NT$6-billion Guggenheim Museum in Taichung at a press conference earlier in the week.

To carry out a feasibility study for the museum's first Asian branch, the CEO of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Thomas Krens, his team, and American architect Zaha Hadid, arrived in Taiwan on their third visit.

If Taichung City Council passes the NT$3 billion budget and the other NT$3 billion Hu expects to get from the central government, and if the assessment has a favorable result next month, the "movable" and "organic" structure Hadid designed for the museum will soon appear on the 5,600m2 parcel of land in the seventh redistribution area in the newly-developed part of Taichung City.

"[The construction of the museum] is an important key for us to get connected with international culture," Hu said.

Hu proposed 12 sites in Taichung during Krens' first visit to Taiwan last year. The chosen site will integrate the National Opera House and the Taichung City Administration Center to become a "Guggenheim Garden Special Zone," which will occupy 20 hectares and cost NT$12.4 billion to build.

Having branches in Venice, Berlin, Bilbao, Las Vagas and New York, the Guggenheim Musum, Krens said, now needs an Asian branch to increase cultural interaction with the region -- which will be good for the museum chain as a whole.

Like its Spanish counterpart in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Taichung will organize a significant portion of Asian contemporary art. Scholars from Hong Kong, Korea and China will help position the content of this institute to be relevant to a local and regional audience.

In the wake of its widely reported financial difficulties (the operation of its Bilbao and Les Vagas branches have been faltering), there are doubts, however, whether the new branch will survive and turn a profit.

"The Guggenheim Museum, like other similar cultural institutions, relies on tourism. The combination of September 11 and the general economy over the last two year has clearly affected tourist participation. Guggenheim reacted to the situation quickly by reducing staff and adjusting our programming," Krens said.

"The results were that we've got a lot of criticism for that but, on the other hand, we finished the year 2002 with a break-even budget, while, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York ended up in deficit."

McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm working for Guggenheim on the Taichung project, said that museums in Taiwan already attract a worldwide audience.

The top three museums, led by Taipei Fine Arts Museum, attract over 1 million visitors respectively. Among the annual 2.7 million visitors to Taiwan, Japanese visitors number 50,000 in Taichung. The number of Chinese visitors are expected to rise considerably as the regulations regarding Chinese tourism in Taiwan gradually relax.

As McKinsey's domestic market research shows, spectacular architecture is the Guggenheim Museum's biggest attraction. Zaha Hadid's "fluid" building, where movable ceilings and galleries provided greater possibility in arranging exhibitions and performances, while an open dome acts as an intersection for the roads around the museum, is the first of its kind in the country.

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