NEW YORK—Thomas Krens, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, recently held discussions about opening Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi and Moscow, ARTnewsletter has learned. According to an informed source, Abu Dhabi representatives have made a $2 million deposit to the foundation in connection with their talks.
Krens was traveling at press time and unavailable for comment, said Anthony Calnek, the Guggenheim’s deputy director of communications. “The Guggenheim Foundation is not undertaking a feasibility study for a new Guggenheim Museum in Russia or the Middle East,” Calnek told ARTnewsletter, “nor is it considering any plans for a new museum in either location.”
When queried about the $2 million deposit to the foundation, Calnek would not comment. According to another source, Krens was in the Middle East as recently as May 1. Asked to explain the purpose of Krens’ trip, Calnek responded, “I’m not commenting on his travels.”
In March, Krens met with a Russian businessman in Moscow about a possible site for a Guggenheim branch, sources say. Over dinner at the city’s Central House of Writers, Krens met with Shalva Breus, Russia’s former deputy minister for state property and now the chairman of Ost West Group, a Russian investment firm and one of the country’s largest paper producers and exporters. Others at the dinner included Nic Iljine, the Guggenheim Foundation’s director of corporate development for Europe and the Middle East, who orchestrated the meeting; Moscow art dealer Aidan Salakhova; and Nikolai Molok, editor in chief of the Breus-owned Russian journal Art Chronika (who has written in the past for ARTnews).
After dinner, Breus—who is ranked by Russia’s Finans magazine as the country’s 127th-richest man—showed Krens some of the buildings he owns in Moscow, a source told ARTnewsletter, including one that might serve as the future site of a Guggenheim museum. Breus and his wife joined Krens for the March 28 opening of the “Russia!” exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao museum, the source reports.
Breus confirmed the meeting with Krens and Iljine, telling ARTnewsletter: “We discussed a broad range of issues, including the possibility of constructing a branch of the Guggenheim Museum in Moscow. However, I am not involved in any direct negotiations connected to such a project.” According to Calnek, “It is not unusual for individuals to propose new museums to Thomas Krens when they meet him.”
Krens had discussed the possibility of opening a branch in Moscow a few years ago; but the deal, which involved Russian oligarch and Alfa-Bank chairman Mikhail Fridman, never got past the preliminary stages.
Under Krens the Guggenheim, which presently has branches in Berlin, Bilbao, Venice and Las Vegas, has explored opening Guggenheim-branded museums in Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, Taiwan, Lower Manhattan and Guadalajara, Mexico, among other locations.
St. Petersburg Connection in Place
A branch in New York’s SoHo district and another one in Las Vegas have closed in recent years. The Guggenheim operates its Las Vegas museum in partnership with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The two institutions have been associated since they formed a partnership six years ago to develop joint exhibitions and projects around the world—including the possibility of establishing Hermitage-Guggenheim Galleries in the east wing of the General Staff Building, which the Hermitage is renovating for museum purposes.
Last year Peter Lewis, the Guggenheim Foundation’s largest benefactor, resigned as chairman of the board after failing to convince the trustees to fire Krens, who, he maintained, was focusing on establishing Guggenheim franchises around the world to the detriment of the New York museum. Last fall, the board promoted Lisa Dennison, the foundation’s former deputy director, to director of the New York museum. While Krens remains as director of the foundation, which oversees the Guggenheim branches, Dennison has stepped in to lead the flagship institution.