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Even the Pandemic can’t stem the tide of new museums

Museums have always formed the backbone of cultural tourism, and the last 30 years have seen a flood of new museums and expansions in cities around the world. The dynamics of the global museum scene is also a barometer for up and coming places, as Bilbao and Margate have discovered.


The growth of the museum industry has also been pushed by ambitious museum directors, keen to expand their collections and their influence. The most obvious example of the imperialistic approach is the Guggenheim, which opened new museums in Bilbao, Las Vegas and Berlin, as well as having a waiting list of 60 cities keen to have their own Guggenheim at one stage.


The recent expansion of the Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum to Barcelona, adding to its original Amsterdam base is arguably indicative of a new trend. Moco styles itself as “an independent museum with a wide range of inspiring modern, contemporary, and street art – located in Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and Barcelona (Spain). In our collection, Moco exhibits Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, JR, KAWS, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Studio Irma, and so many more!” Riding on the back of the growing popularity of street art (as evidenced by the recent 19 million euro price tag for Banksy’s Love is in the Bin), the museum is also hoping to capitalise on Barcelona’s position as the Capital of the Mediterranean and its links to iconic cultural figures such as Gaudí, Picasso and Miro.


In fact, Moco has moved in right next door to the Picasso Museum, displaying a good grasp of basic locational economics and hoping to cash in on customers tired of queuing for Picasso. This will probably do much for their ticket sales, but will do little to ease the tourism pressure in the old city of Barcelona, now steadily building back to its old levels. As a recent report on cultural policy and tourism noted, the proposal for a subsidiary of the Hermitage Museum franchise is already causing controversy, and is pitting the city council against the tourism industry. The proposed site of the Hermitage is right next to the cruise port of Barcelona – which is now very quiet, but which in normal times empties floods of cruise tourists into the city. Proposals to change the location of the Hermitage to a more suitable location that would help to spread tourism have so far fallen on deaf ears.


Is Amsterdam losing out to Barcelona in the museum arms race? Greg Richards ©


The new Moco museum confirms the potential of tourism for expanding cultural supply in cities, but also underlines the problems this can cause. In the past, the global museum expansion was driven by major institutions such as the Guggenheim or the Louvre. The arrival of Moco in Barcelona marks the potential start of another globalisation wave of smaller, postmodern art museums. Being small, the Moco expansion slipped under the radar in Barcelona, while the Hermitage still faces opposition. Having a global brand name is a useful marketing tool, but it also attracts a lot more attention from the media, politicians and the general public. In the case of the proposed Guggenheim in Helsinki, this cause public opposition which eventually led to the plans being scrapped. The new wave of smaller global chains heralded by Moco will be harder to stop.


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