August 14, 2009

Ben Davis on the Bilbao Effect

Ben Davis' piece Glass Houses is a couple of years old (and is somewhat misguided in dumping on Toledo), but is prescience about the real effect of the "Bilbao effect."
The height of "gravity-defying" artistic hubris in recent years has been the Bilbao Effect – the phenomenon of "destination architecture," with cities focusing investment in showpiece cultural institutions as part of urban renewal schemes, trying to clone the rejuvenating effect that Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim had on industrial Bilbao. . . .

The "Bilbao" formula has had wide success because it brings together a progressive-sounding rhetoric about civic investment with means that are appealing to the wealthy and the established. Today, with income disparity in the U.S. as high as it has been since right before the Depression, the lesson . . . is that, until investment in culture is wed to a more sane economic investment for all, the strategy is like an urbanist version of the Atkins Diet: It may produce quick, superficially pleasing results; it also starves you of needed nutrients, hurts your heart and makes you stink.
I found the reference to this story in a new piece: The Museum Bubble, which is also worth a read.

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