Thomas Krens Appears on Charlie Rose Show
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THOMAS KRENS APPEARS ON CHARLIE ROSE SHOW
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Thomas Krens, Director of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Talks with Charlie Rose about the Role of Museums and the Mission of the Guggenheim
(Transcript provided by the Charlie Rose Show. Used with permission.)
Airdate: Tuesday, January 3, 2006
CHARLIE ROSE, HOST: Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight, Tom Krens of the Guggenheim Foundation talks about the role of museums and the mission of the Guggenheim.
Since his appointment in 1988, he's been responsible for expanding the Guggenheim into a multinational arts institution. There are currently Guggenheim museums in New York, Venice, Berlin, Las Vegas and Bilbao. I am pleased to have him at this table for this conversation, something I've been trying to do for a long time, and he's been avoiding me, so I am finally glad to get him here at this table. Welcome.
TOM KRENS: Thank you.
CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me why culture is important, in your judgment?
TOM KRENS: Well, culture is almost -- I think it's biological, actually. I mean, you look at the history of human civilization, and even prehistory. You always have this need for human beings to somehow mediate their environment through creating representations, symbols, images. Whether that's on the walls of caves or on the large-scale canvases of the Renaissance or whether it's in architecture or anything else, it's man's mediation to try to make his essence and his existence a real thing.
So culture's there. I mean, as I say, it's biological, and it also tells -- it contains histories. Most cultural objects are witnesses of a particular point in time, they're the actual objects that was there. And there's almost a religious aura that they have. So bring a group of works of art that someone's never seen before, tell the narrative of how they all fit together and what they represent, people inevitably find that fascinating.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes. And, also, from my perspective, it is that, you know, to understand a people, you have to understand their culture.
TOM KRENS: Right, absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: You know, and the failure to take cognizance of somebody's culture is a failure to appreciate both differences and common ground.
TOM KRENS: You take a look at what exists in contemporary society that technology, television, telephones, the fax machines, the Internet, the media have connected people like never before. And if we assume that this is the beginning of a -- of a situation and not necessarily the end of it, that communication is going to become more and more important, then cultural narratives are going to become more and more important. I mean, that's how you actually can exchange ideas about one another.
You know, you look at this exhibition that we just opened on Russia. In other words, why do we do Russia at this particular time? Well, one of the ways that I describe it is that there's a great awareness of Russia in the United States. I mean, Russia has been the enemy for the better part of the last half century. Yet, somehow we don't know Russia. I mean, we know certain things. We know about the czars. We know about...
CHARLIE ROSE: Tolstoy.
TOM KRENS: We know about Tolstoy, we know about their literature, but we don't know about the story of Russian culture. What connects icon painting to the Russian avant-garde? And by assembling this narrative, in a very coherent way and basically illustrating it with great works of art, I mean, people find it absolutely compelling. And I think that we hit a moment with this. I mean, it's sort of a moment for Russia. And our audiences since we've opened this have been enormous, the biggest we've ever had.
CHARLIE ROSE: Mark Taylor in response to my question about him said you understand each other's obsessions.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: What are your obsessions that he understands and I'd like to understand?
TOM KRENS: I would think it's a certain persistence in communicating this idea and vision about how culture just permeates our society and how it can be used, and how to present it in new and perhaps even innovative ways. You know, I've always had a notion that the art museum, for example, is an 18th century idea in a 19th century box, that more or less fulfills its structural destiny sometime in the middle of the 20th century.
Meaning that this idea of a treasure house that's based on the notion of the encyclopedia is more or less complete. You know, what evidence do we have for that completion? Well, it's just the size of these institutions. I mean, the Guggenheim, a small institution, is only 60 years old, but relative to its scale, its physical scale, it has a very large collection. What would the Guggenheim look like in another 50 years, another 100 years, another 200 years? What that suggests is that somehow institutions have to think about their practices. What will it mean to collect contemporary art for the next 50 or 100 years? What will it mean to communicate the ideas that are embedded in this art?
And moreover, how will this art be used? And where will it be used? And does it necessarily mean that it all must be used in one location, based in a region or a city or a metropolitan area? You know, and can it be used in a different kind of context?
I mean, that's exactly what led us to Bilbao, I mean, thinking about how to use the collection and to make the collection available to a wider audience and a larger number of people.
CHARLIE ROSE: What has been, in that vein, beyond the Frank Gehry and the architectural genius of the building, what has been the impact of the success of the building and the success of the idea of the Guggenheim in other locations? There is only one location for MOMA, essentially -- there will be a MOMA Queens now, but there's only one MOMA. There's only one Metropolitan Museum.
TOM KRENS: Oh, I think there's two things that happened. I think first of all, this is not about exporting a commodity that somehow is the same wherever you do it. I mean, often the word our critics have used, the word franchise, and franchise is not part of it. It's more about setting up a situation of exchange that works in two directions.
Clearly, the Guggenheim can use the basis of its collection, but it's not about the collection. It's about an exchange that takes place with the Basque country in the context of a global society. We organized the Russia exhibition, we take it next to Bilbao, and then after that it goes to China. So the Guggenheim plays a role in somehow connecting these locations with this cultural narrative, or this cultural story.
What Bilbao offers us also is the opportunity to explore the culture of the Spanish and Iberian culture of Western Europe. We look -- we are a local institution. We look at Basque and Spanish artists. We have a Spanish curator, Carmen Giménez, who has organized incredible exhibitions for us. In fact, the next exhibition that she's doing is a David Smith exhibition. She worked on the Richard Serra installation.
But the whole idea here is about a free exchange of commentary and ideas. It's about discourse on an international scale. In a contemporary society, for contemporary art, with everything becoming ever more interconnected, I think it's an essential aspect of how museums have to confront the world.
CHARLIE ROSE: Glenn Lowry on you, your Guggenheim. "The Guggenheim has focused its energies on becoming an entertainment center and appears to be no longer interested in or committed to the idea, ideas and the art that gave birth to the museum at its founding." This is the director of MOMA.
TOM KRENS: Well, I think that there's a certain kind of -- how should you say -- competitive tension inside New York City among the various institutions for audience and identity. You know, clearly, the Guggenheim does something that's different than the Museum of Modern Art. I think that there's no institution in the world that rivals the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.
CHARLIE ROSE: It is the number one museum in the world in your judgment?
TOM KRENS: Of a modern contemporary museum, I think absolutely. I think there's no question, in terms of its collection.
But the very fact that that collection exists kind of doesn't mean that that is something that the Guggenheim has to try to either copy or emulate. We are an international institution by -- almost by accident. In the middle 1970s, when my predecessor, Tom Messer, convinced Peggy Guggenheim to leave her palazzo and her collection...
CHARLIE ROSE: In Florence.
TOM KRENS: ...to -- in Venice...
CHARLIE ROSE: In Venice. That's right.
TOM KRENS: ... to the museum in New York, I think the assumption was that somehow these two collections would merge.
Well, the Italian government declared the Peggy Guggenheim collection a national treasure, which meant that the works couldn't leave Italy. So we became de facto an international institution.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right, right.
TOM KRENS: So one of the things that you think about is not necessarily building a collection in a classical sense. I mean, the idea is not to accumulate as much treasure as you can in one location, but the idea becomes a little bit more about circulation. How can you use culture to communicate, to communicate about contemporary ideas, contemporary society, contemporary creativity and achievement?
I think that the Guggenheim's collection is probably one of the five or six best collections of its kind and its type in the world, if you put the Museum of Modern Art on top. I think of the Guggenheim in the same context that you think of the Tate, the Centre Pompidou, perhaps the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. We have -- it's not as encyclopedic as the Museum of Modern Art collection, but it has great depth in the number of artists, and we have grown the collection over the last 15 years in a way that no other institution -- the Museum of Modern Art included -- could even think of, in terms of for example the Panza di Biumo collection.
So each institution's collections are somewhat different. You know, Seymour Slive, who is the director -- the director emeritus of the Fogg in Harvard, and who for many, many years has been the chairman of the Art Museum Committee of the Guggenheim's board of trustees, told me when I first came to the Guggenheim that you build a great museum by acquiring great private collections. And that's absolutely true.
And the Guggenheim's first founding collection was Solomon Guggenheim, you know, followed by the Justin Thannhauser collection in the 1970s, the Karl Nierendorf collection. These collections, as they've accumulated, have given the museum and the institution its particular character.
CHARLIE ROSE: But it seems to me what Tom Krens is about are two things. One, it is that -- it is to stretch the boundaries of conventional wisdom in the way you think about museums -- hence, Bilbao, and as you say, you got started on that idea, on that road because Peggy Guggenheim had that place in Venice and they wouldn't let it leave, and so, therefore, Guggenheim was multi-headed already.
TOM KRENS: Correct.
CHARLIE ROSE: But it is, one, expanding that. I mean, this has led to conflict on your own board, has it not, about that idea? And second idea is that you -- and I applaud this -- expand the concept of what art is -- you know, the art of the motorcycle, Armani, other things. Those are two of the things that you do. One, is you're pushing the boundaries of how we think about the role of a museum.
TOM KRENS: Right, right.
CHARLIE ROSE: And, B, what ought to be an exhibition.
TOM KRENS: Well, I think -- I think new and fresh ideas are controversial by definition, and I think one of the purposes of a cultural institution or an educational institution is to foster discourse. And in fact, even to foster controversy within a certain frame.
I don't think it's inconceivable that a cultural institution can at the same time be a force for preservation, which is to maintain its collections, pursue research, stewardship of the works of art and their presentation to wider audiences.
At the same time, it's a force for social change. By engaging interesting ideas, by confronting history in ways that haven't been seen before. So you look at what -- if you look at the museum as an institution, and you assume that it's not going to be frozen in time from this point on, that indeed it's going to change, you have to be thinking about ways it can change or it's going to change, and how to use the things that it does.
I mean, it does several things. The institution does several things that are very important. First of all, it collects and preserves objects of material culture. But it also shapes cultural narratives and cultural stories, and this is where the discourse and the exchange come in. You know, most of the modern contemporary museums that we know of are focused on what I call the art of the North Atlantic -- I mean, Western Europe and eastern part of the United States.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right. Right.
TOM KRENS: I mean, I think that's an obsolete conceit, to focus on that geographic -- on those geographic regions in this contemporary world. Some of the greatest contemporary art is being done in Asia, for example, in China, in Japan, in India.
Now, how do you understand that art without understanding the traditions from which they come? And if a contemporary museum by definition wants to take a look at international contemporary art and global cultural ideas, it has to make itself open and available to looking at some of those cultures, and in doing things that are not part of its narrowly defined, late 19th century to the present original mandate.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you think your arguments on this have resonance?
TOM KRENS: I think that we have a platform. I mean, I think that you referred earlier to -- there's a great deal of controversy about the Guggenheim. I think it would be fair to say that I'm one of the more controversial figures in this particular field.
CHARLIE ROSE: You clearly are. I mean, but I would welcome that if I were you.
TOM KRENS: Well, precisely. I don't think it's anything necessarily to be resisted. Given the fact that you respect, I think, the boundaries of what these institution were originally created to do.
CHARLIE ROSE: And, also, I mean, if the definition -- I mean, some people would -- what you always have to do when controversy comes is make sure you define what the controversy is about.
TOM KRENS: That's right.
CHARLIE ROSE: Somebody can say it's about budgeting.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: You know, other people can say, no, it's about vision.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: It seems to me vision is much more important than about budgeting.
TOM KRENS: I don't think you can say one or the other. I mean, cultural institutions...
CHARLIE ROSE: I'm not suggesting -- without budgeting, you won't have a vision. I understand that.
TOM KRENS: I think that's precisely the point. I mean, one of the things to recognize about any institution, whether it's an educational institution, whether it's a television studio, or whether it's an art museum, is that they're businesses. I mean, they're businesses that are very complex by nature, and they all require different things.
CHARLIE ROSE: And they require management skill.
TOM KRENS: They require -- and different types, and different kinds of management skill. I mean, if you look at the economics of an art museum, you come to the conclusion very quickly that revenues from admissions will probably, at best, only cover about 20 percent of an operating cost. So where did the other 80 come from?
Well, first of all and foremost, you have to get it from the private sector. Individual trustees raising endowments, and annual contributions at a very significant level, I mean, an extremely significant level, have to take place. So a bond of trust has to be established between a board of trustees, between your major donors and the institution.
People can be drawn to that institution by those ideas. They can be drawn to that institution for that particular vision. And the difference in vision of institutions also can be expressed in different characters of their constituencies.
So I think you have to do that. Whether or not our vision or the Guggenheim vision, or my vision for the future of art museums turns out to be valid or not remains to be seen.
CHARLIE ROSE: Remains to be seen. And what will determine whether it is a -- the -- it is a powerful vision?
TOM KRENS: I think history will determine that. I mean, just like most things, you know, what will determine a successful presidential administration?
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, but who's doing -- who is following your model then, will be another thing? The idea of, as you said, what you hope to do with exhibitions at the Guggenheim.
TOM KRENS: Well, I don't -- I wonder how much actually we do that is different from other institutions. I mean, for example, the major museums in the world develop projects together. They exchange exhibitions all the time. We're opening a David Smith exhibition next -- a big centennial retrospective next spring, and it goes to the Tate and it goes to Centre Pompidou.
We're doing an exhibition two years -- two years out on -- it's called "Citizens and Kings," and it's about portraiture in the 19th century. And we're doing that with the Louvre and with the Royal Academy.
So museums are already kind of operating in a collaborative way and sharing resources, sharing scholarship, sharing ideas.
What the Guggenheim is doing internationally, also, as you pointed out earlier, the Tate is doing in Great Britain. I mean, there's -- the Tate has several locations. And why? Because it has an opportunity to use its collection and to reach a wider audience, and that's essentially what is driving us.
So that model exists. And more and more, you see the French museums adopting this policy as a matter of -- or adopting this direction as a matter of national policy. We have seen...
CHARLIE ROSE: What's the best example of that?
TOM KRENS: Well, there's an example right now in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government has created a -- there's a landfill site in Hong Kong that is now called the West Kowloon Cultural District. It's about 110 acres. And this will be almost in the center of Hong Kong. It's a hugely valuable commercial and real estate development, but they're calling it a cultural district, and the city is mandating, or the Hong Kong government is mandating that the developer must create five museums and three performing arts centers, and fund these cultural activities for 30 years.
Now, this is on a colossal scale. This is probably four or five times the scale of Bilbao.
CHARLIE ROSE: That's using leverage.
TOM KRENS: Well, what we find is this kind of cultural vocabulary, this kind of cultural exchange, this interest in using culture as a tool for communication as a vital part of the urban fabric is taking place all over the world, all over the world. In the last -- in the last three years, we have been approached by more than 120 cities from around the world that wanted to do this sort of thing.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, let me just speak to that for a second...
TOM KRENS: I didn't answer the question about the French, though.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, go ahead. Go ahead about the French.
TOM KRENS: Anyway, the French are there. I think that's a matter of -- Jacques Chirac took a -- last year was the year of France in China. So there were French exhibitions throughout China that were endorsed and supported by the Foreign Ministry and the French Ministry of Culture.
And the government, I think, has indicated that this model of expansion, of using collections, and of international communication, is important.
So to go back to your question, this is what the Guggenheim, perhaps, is -- perhaps it's known for, because of Bilbao. I mean, Bilbao kind of burst on the...
CHARLIE ROSE: That's why I raised the question of what is the impact of Bilbao?
TOM KRENS: It burst on the world like a meteor. I mean, nobody expected -- first of all, the question was, why Bilbao? I mean, why should any institution want to go to Bilbao? It didn't seem like a likely location. But the success of Bilbao goes beyond just the architecture. I mean, the program there has been first rate. We have a steady million visitors a year in a city of 500,000. I mean, think about that. And it has completely changed the whole self-perception of Bilbao and the global perception of Bilbao. Bilbao is now a city that is known. And it was a critical part of the whole urban development philosophy and program developed by the Basques.
CHARLIE ROSE: Exactly, I was going to say, I guarantee you the Basques are not unhappy about this.
TOM KRENS: Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: It's done for them everything -- I bet it's beyond their hopes of what they thought when they agreed to support this idea.
TOM KRENS: They had not anticipated something on this scale.
CHARLIE ROSE: Of course they didn't. I mean, no one did. You didn't, you didn't, did you?
TOM KRENS: Well, to a certain extent.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, you did not know that Frank -- this particular thing by Frank Gehry would have the impact it did, that it would become a place that if you were interested in architecture in the world, you had to make a pilgrimage to Bilbao.
TOM KRENS: You could see it, and I'll tell you the reason you could see it was embedded right from the beginning. It had to do with the scale of the place. I mean, Bilbao is not just a museum. I mean, it's a museum on a generous scale.
When the Basque government first came to us, I was not at all interested in this project. And I said so, fairly explicitly. The president of the Basque country said, you know, put that aside. What would it take? I said, well, it seems to me, and I don't know much about the Basque country, but if the Guggenheim wanted to come to Bilbao and wanted this to be a vehicle for communication and a platform for programming and for the opportunity to build a new museum and a new collection, we thought about the house, I said think of Sydney Opera House and think of Centre Pompidou, and then think bigger.
They were prepared to do that. I mean, it is in part the scale of it that's so -- well, you've been there, you've seen it. It's in part the scale of it. You go to Bilbao, and you're stunned by the architecture, but you're also stunned by the scale on which it exists.
And that's something that nobody thought about in the beginning. I mean, I can tell you the architect didn't start to think on that scale, and certainly the Basque government didn't think on that scale. That was the program that we gave them. That's what we saw about what was possible.
CHARLIE ROSE: We meaning you.
TOM KRENS: Well, perhaps.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Let me, I want to ask this, on the demand side -- we've been talking about the supply side, in terms of -- in terms of create a place. Is the demand side, to see, go to, view art increasing?
TOM KRENS: Oh, I think so. In the long term -- well, even in the short term, I think that cultural engagement -- even if you want to call it cultural consumption, is a function of education, and for all the debate that takes place about education throughout the world, is that the number of educated people are continuing to increase -- well, probably through most of the history. But let's just take the period of time after World War II. The number of schools, universities, colleges -- I mean, international exchange -- and when you put this into a context -- and I mean generally -- I mean education now in the broadest sense also, which has to do with the media and television and all of the ways in which we get our information about the world -- as that increases, potential curiosity just increases as well.
It was the example that I used about the Russian show, is that Russia is known as an entity, but it's not known in terms of its detail. This taps into that. And a number of the exhibitions that we've done, we've done exhibitions that range from the esoteric to the broadly popular, and I would say some of the exhibitions that we do -- and by the way, there are very few -- I mean, I think that the numbers are that if in the last 10, 15 years since the Guggenheim reopened in , we have organized and presented 253 different exhibition at our five museums around the world. Of those 253 exhibitions, 232 were based on what I call our core collection competence -- art from late 19th century to the present.
CHARLIE ROSE: Give me the numbers again.
TOM KRENS: Two hundred and fifty-three exhibitions; 232 were what I call core...
CHARLIE ROSE: So about 20 weren't part of the core collection.
TOM KRENS: And that was -- and I say based on core collection competence, which is Western art from the late 19th century to the present, meaning painting, sculpture, photography, media arts, essentially those mediums. But we're talking here, as I said, this is Western European, North American, contemporary art.
CHARLIE ROSE: But it is all of that -- go ahead, finish your...
TOM KRENS: The point that I was going to make is that of the remainder, I think only nine were pre-Western or -- excuse me, pre-modern or non-Western civilizations, of which I would put the Russia exhibition or the China exhibition or the Aztecs exhibition into that context.
But my point here is that those exhibitions, not only are they superlative exhibitions in their own right, but they really capture the imagination of an audience, because somehow they begin to seem relevant, and they're also foundations for understanding contemporary culture.
CHARLIE ROSE: So here you built this -- you had -- your partner was Peter Lewis.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: How painful is this conflict between the two of you?
TOM KRENS: Well, I don't think it's a question of being painful or not.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is it, then?
TOM KRENS: At a certain point people...
CHARLIE ROSE: Two partners, two people who had come together, and he as a supporter and a member of your board, and -- enabled you to do things, part of your ambition, becomes an adversary.
TOM KRENS: Well, listen, Peter is the greatest donor in the history of the Guggenheim since the founders, since Solomon Guggenheim. There is no question about it. And I think Peter has also said that he came -- he was introduced to me by Frank Gehry, and he said that he came to the Guggenheim because of my ideas and because of my vision.
Somehow in the last two or three years, the ground shifted under our respective positions. I don't think mine, but I think Peter's. He came to see the situation in a different way.
I can't speak for Peter. I mean, I cannot rationalize, nor do I try to explain what happened in this situation, although...
CHARLIE ROSE: But you understand it better than anybody.
TOM KRENS: ... other than to recognize that it's different, and the difference is what makes the world go on.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right, speak to this other point, too. It is this notion that what Bilbao did, you know, was to mark the rise of the signature architect, where the architectural design for the building came - - became, in the judgment of some people, as important as the art within.
TOM KRENS: I think that's an obvious conclusion to make. I would say that most people who have come to that conclusion probably have not visited Bilbao more than once, and it's a logical assumption to make based on just the wonder of the architecture. I mean, I have to say, I watched that building come into being, visiting Bilbao probably more than 100 times before it opened and an untold number of times since then, and I still get goose bumps when I go into that museum.
CHARLIE ROSE: So do I. So do I.
TOM KRENS: I mean, it is an amazing place.
CHARLIE ROSE: And I've been there more than once.
TOM KRENS: But I'll tell you, go and see the Richard Serra installation in Bilbao that opened last summer .
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
TOM KRENS: . and you'll see in part why Bilbao exists. I mean this is something.
CHARLIE ROSE: It -- it has space to house Serra? Is that the reason?
TOM KRENS: Well, we commissioned a Richard Serra work that is like nothing else in the world, and it has the same visceral reaction. I think that it was - I mean, some of the critical response to it was extraordinary. I think it was Robert Hughes who said that it might have been -- or Michael Kimmelman, it might have been one of the most or might be the most extraordinary work of sculpture of the last 100 years. And it .
CHARLIE ROSE: Richard Serra would certainly agree with that.
TOM KRENS: Well, that's Richard, but it also happens to be true.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah.
TOM KRENS: I mean, it was the right kind of convergence of an opportunity and a scale and a physical space. I think Bilbao is way more than the architecture, and I think the architecture is absolutely a landmark.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, but the question is not -- OK, fine, I mean clearly, but I mean, you know, that it -- anybody who even makes the argument that the architecture is more important does not lose sight of the value of the art.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: You know, and I mean - you know what I say? I say more power to the architects. I mean you go and look what Ando has done .
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: . in Forth Worth, you know, and across the board. You know, and look what Calatrava has done and look what a whole range of people have done. It's extraordinary.
TOM KRENS: Well, every once in a while you see a heroic figure like in a heroic moment like Frank's moment in Bilbao.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
TOM KRENS: I mean, that is going to be, first of all, hard to replicate, and almost impossible to top. But I think it's a conceit to assume that it can't happen. And if it's not going to - and who should try and how should the next post-Bilbao museum materialize? And should it even be based on the same formula? Because Bilbao is not a formula. I mean, I have a great deal of faith that we have hardly seen the end of the evolution of this particular form, I mean the form of the art museum. Architecture or not, there's a long way to go, and that's what's exciting about having the Guggenheim in the middle of this.
CHARLIE ROSE: It's an appropriate time to make this point. Frank Gehry says that the reason that Bilbao is as good as it is -- is because he had in his judgment the perfect patron. That would be you, that the combination of somebody who had the same vision - or who - who worked in harness with -- I'm not sure harness is the right word, but who worked in concert with the architect. He's never seen that before, or since, so I'd just make that point to congratulate you. Downtown New York.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is it a lost opportunity that we have - because you had a great vision of putting the Guggenheim down on the East River, which got consumed by whatever. We now have serious people, you know, worrying about what is going to be the cultural component of -- certainly ground zero, and certainly downtown. What say ...
TOM KRENS: Well, I mean downtown is a -- is a very, very complex situation on all kinds of levels.
CHARLIE ROSE: Politically ...
TOM KRENS: And --- and - and I lived downtown, just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center, so I've - I've experienced a lot of the transitions there, and know the area very well. I think, first of all, the -- the project for the West Side, which was - with the East Side, which was launched in the Giuliani administration envisioned being able to platform over a 15-acre site over water from the pier head to the bulkhead, just south of the South Street Seaport, right off the end of Wall Street. And that was a big assumption that is - is probably not available in the foreseeable future for a couple of reasons, because the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection, the state of New York will have to approve those things, and it's not been an easy thing to do to platform out over water. I mean, the time that it would take to work through that process and the expense almost makes the project on that site prohibitive, as spectacular as it was.
CHARLIE ROSE: But did you know that from the beginning?
TOM KRENS: I don't think we fully appreciated it from the beginning, and I'm not sure that anybody really grappled with that issue. You might even say that the RFP for the site -- and it was a competition. I think that there were nine bidders for the site, and the Guggenheim won that bid, and - and with it came a $70 million commitment from the city -- this was in 2000. But then, what happened? I mean the economy changed. 9/11 happened, and all of a sudden, downtown became more complicated.
I think there's another issue here, which is that for all the emotional resonance of downtown, and the discussion about a cultural activity on the site, my sense is, is that on the ground zero site, there will be some kind of cultural activity sooner or later in this process. And what scale it is, and what form it is, whether it's the performing arts or the visual arts that remains to be seen. I -- but I can tell what will happen in my opinion, is that the next big developable area in Manhattan is definitely going to be on the West Side.
CHARLIE ROSE: Sure.
TOM KRENS: I mean Hudson Yards where .
CHARLIE ROSE: Where all the controversy about the stadium was.
TOM KRENS: Where the stadium was. I mean, this is, I think, similar to -- and - and - and I'm sure you know this quite well -- but it was similar to the development of - of Park Avenue when the rail yards north of 42nd Street were platformed over.
CHARLIE ROSE: But does Tom Krens have a big idea for what to do with this?
TOM KRENS: I have a big idea for what to do with this.
CHARLIE ROSE: What would do you with it?
TOM KRENS: I would build the -- a different kind of museum on that location, the next-generation museum. As I said what -- if you were to imagine Bilbao and then think differently. If you were to think about something else happening on that site that would both add to the perception of what culture could do, be available to a huge audience, and to speak multiple languages, that would be my vision.
CHARLIE ROSE: There's also this: Lots of people in the Municipal Art Society and others have documented this, culture is a great magnet for tourism.
TOM KRENS: It's huge.
CHARLIE ROSE: I assume, you know. It is huge. People -- why do people come to New York? I mean they come to New York because it's the greatest city in the world, but they also come to New York because they find some of the greatest cultural centers in the world right here.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: You know you can just think about what you can see by riding down Fifth Avenue.
TOM KRENS: Well, I can think about what you can see, but I can also think about what you can't see here .
CHARLIE ROSE: OK.
TOM KRENS: . and what you can't see from a museum perspective -- and I'm not talking about the things that go on behind the scenes, but I'm talking about the types and kinds of contemporary art that you can't see in this city is what this city needs. So we need a vehicle to be able .
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes.
TOM KRENS: . to communicate that and to convey that.
CHARLIE ROSE: I hear that clearly - you know, Robert Kennedy used to end all of his speeches by saying, some people see the world as they are, I think Shaw said this, some people the world as it is, and ask why. Others see the world as it is not and ask why not.
TOM KRENS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: And that is what is your point about .
TOM KRENS: That's right.
CHARLIE ROSE: . the change in culture. Let me just do this - when the Russian thing is going to be there through January. It has -- covers 800 years of Russian art?
TOM KRENS: That's right.
CHARLIE ROSE: And -- and religion is a theme here in part?
TOM KRENS: No, I think it just starts with Russian icon painting because essentially the concept of Russia was founded on religion. It was founded on a conscious choice to make the eastern Orthodox Church the state - the state-based religion. But it becomes secular very quickly.
CHARLIE ROSE: You have -- this thing - that the spark for this came between a conversation with you and the minister of culture from Russia?
TOM KRENS: Well, we've done a lot with Russia over the years. We did a huge avant-garde exhibition, we've done a Malevich exhibition, Russian women artists of the avant-garde; we have very, very strong connections and ties in Russia. We're partners with the State Hermitage Museum.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
TOM KRENS: When we had done the Malevich exhibition, I think it was two and a half, or three years ago in Berlin, shortly thereafter I found myself in Venice at a dinner sitting next to the Russian minister of culture, who I'd known for 10 years, and the question was, "Well, what next?" And I said to him essentially what I've said to you, is I think a great exhibition for us to do in New York would be an exhibition about Russia, with an exclamation point. I mean, that was the sort of like the first - the first observation, because I'm interested in connecting Russian icon painting with Malevich, with the Russian avant-garde.
I don't think Malevich is possible without the kind of like the tradition that comes out of Russia, and the Russia -- Russian soul, that kind of extremism.
So I envisioned it on the spot. I said here's what we do, we begin with the concept of Russia as it was formed by Prince Vladimir in the 11th century, we begin and we just move right up through contemporary art in eight chapters.
And essentially, that's what we've done. I mean, you asked a question earlier about, you know, what the Guggenheim does that might be perceived in some ways to be pioneering. Well, one of these is to decide to have -- to work closely with other institutions. Now, the fact that these institutions would choose to work with us and enter into a long-term agreement to share collections, to share staff, to share programming, in effect, to regard ourselves as a kind of -- how should you say - you know, free-trade zone .
CHARLIE ROSE: Right, right.
TOM KRENS: . or - or strategic alliance of some kind I think is significant because for us it gives us access -- not that we're going to bring Vermeer paintings to New York, but it doesn't rule out the possibility of being able to engage the resources of these two great, great museums should the right type of project come along at the right moment, and vice versa.
I mean, we have helped the Kunsthistorisches Museum do a number of things; we've helped the Hermitage do a number of things. And I think that these types of alliances are - are healthy for the cultural world, for the world of museums.
CHARLIE ROSE: But isn't that what already happens? When - when they put together some great retrospective, you've got the two museums that have the largest collections and they get together.
TOM KRENS: Well, Charlie, it's basically - it's what I said, is what we're doing is not necessarily anything that's brand new, it's just that we might be taking it a little bit further. Indeed, museums do agree to collaborate on projects to loan paintings back and forth to one another. What we're saying in advance, before we make the choices of paintings, the institutions .
CHARLIE ROSE: It's an institutional.
TOM KRENS: . are making an alliance a priori .
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
TOM KRENS: . to work together .
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
TOM KRENS: . and to try to do something special going forward.
CHARLIE ROSE: It's great to have you on this program.
TOM KRENS: It's pleasure to be here, and I'm glad we finally were able to get one in.