Hasn’t the Guggenheim heard that the world has changed? At a time of waning American empire and feeble global capitalism, the New York museum is flying a solitary flag of expansion. Its franchises around the world, from Berlin to – coming soon – Abu Dhabi, have earned it an image as the Starbucks of museums. Now yet another is to be created, in a nature reserve in northern Spain, and you may well ask: has the Guggenheim stretched its collections and curatorial imagination too thin?
The oldest “extension” of the original Manhattan museum is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. This is simply the great collector and patron’s home: it makes sense to see Guggenheim’s paintings by Pollock, Ernst and Magritte in the palazzo where she lived. The way her superb collection of modern art stimulated the Venice Biennale must have fuelled the Guggenheims’ later global ambitions. Frank Gehry’s 1990s Guggenheim in Bilbao set a new standard for museum design and he is also building the Abu Dhabi branch. The Berlin outlet, by contrast, is an architecturally reserved showcase for new art near the Brandenburg Gate.