Faced with firm local opposition and the prospect of a court battle, Russia’s Hermitage Museum may call off its plans to open a Barcelona satellite.
According to El Pais, organizers are now focused on judicial proceedings, in particular compensation for the money invested so far in the project. Albert Pinadell, general coordinator of the project, told the Spanish news outlet that “unless, shortly, there are radical changes, the project will not be carried out in Barcelona.”
The project to build a satellite institution for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on the port of the Catalan city began more than 10 years ago. Toyo Ito, a Japanese architect who won the 2013 Pritzker Prize, was tapped to design the new outpost, and he proposed an undulating white building on the city’s water—a symbolic link between the two port cities. The Hermitage signed a letter of intent with the Catalan government in 2012, with plans to open the museum in 2024.
But progress on the project stalled amid a contentious debate that divided Barcelona’s port authority and city council, whose approval is necessary for construction to begin. In May 2021, after rejecting several planning applications from the port authority, the city council requested additional time to review a new museum proposal. However, the port’s board ignored the request, and approved the Hermitage plan. That June, the city council objected to the scheme, saying that it would strain public transportation in the area. It was proposed that the Hermitage could share spaces with the Gran Teatro del Liceo, but the plot was deemed insufficient for a project of this size. The council invited proposals for an alternative location for the museum.
The plan for a Barcelona Hermitage branch was proposed by the Swiss-Luxembourg investment firm Varia, which has an 80 percent stake in the project, and Cultural Development Barcelona, a company run by the Russian businessman Valery Yarolaski and the Catalan architect Ujo Pallarès. According to the developer’s plan, 52 million euros (roughly $58 million) were needed to execute the project. They estimated the museum would have received 850,000 visitors in the first year and 15 million around 10 years after opening.
Like Hermitage Kazan and Hermitage Amsterdam, Hermitage Barcelona would have drawn from the large holdings of the St. Petersburg institution, as well as build its own collection informed by Catalan culture. In a statement, the State Hermitage Museum’s general director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, called the newest branch a “bridge for cultural exchange between St. Petersburg and Barcelona, between Barcelona and the Hermitage.”
The Barcelona municipality objected almost immediately to the museum, citing concerns with the involvement of an investment fund and its financial viability. The location was also an issue: the port is already heavily trafficked by tourists and as an urban peninsula, street traffic is easily exacerbated. Last summer, Ito’s studio modified its original design to accommodate the municipality’s concerns, but the new plans were rejected.
The retreat from Barcelona Hermitage began after a court intervention seemed unavoidable. (Were the case to reach the Supreme Court in Barcelona, the entire judicial process could last eight years.) According to El Pais, investors are now seeking to ensure the recovery of the money invested so far and gain compensation for its work, which could exceed 100 million euros. It’s undetermined whether the local authority, the port board, or the city council is liable for the compensation.
The Hermitage did not immediately respond to ARTnews‘s request for comment.
Meanwhile, 23 Spanish provincial capitals, including Madrid, as well as a dozen other European cities, have shown interest in hosting a branch of the Hermitage.