The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Last spring Dr. J and I took a wonderful trip to Spain. We flew into Madrid and soon thereafter got on a bus to drive five hours to Bilbao. Originally we were planning on booking a train (couchette anyone?) but upon further research I found that the bus was actually faster! (It has to do with the number of stops as well as the mountainous region which has the train tracks going in zigzags).

Bilbao is the largest city on the north coast of Spain. It is about 62 miles (100km) from France. It is located in the Basque country (there is also a French Basque region), and is known for its shipbuilding, steelmaking and in my opinion pixchos. It is also known for its terrorism as there are people called Basque Separatist who feel that the area should be independent of Spain.

In the late 1980’s a strategic plan for the revitalization of the Bilbao Metoropolitan region was established and in 1991 the Basque authority reached out to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Thomas Krens, the director of the Guggenheim Museum asked Toronto native and Los Angeles based architect Frank Gehry to come to Bilbao. Mr. Gehry suggested that the new museum be built next to the Nervion River between the Pente de la Salbe and Puenta de Deusto. While at his hotel in Bilbao, Mr. Gehry made his first sketches of the museum. These were on exhibition at the Museum and were featured on many of the gift shops designs.

The museum is made up of nineteen galleries on three floors. The largest gallery is bigger than a football field. The museum also holds an auditorium, a restaurant, a library and a gift shop, as well as offices and a tower. All the smaller galleries branch out from the large, three story, central atrium. To enter the museum one must first pass the Jeff Koons sculpture Puppy and then follow a wide staircase going down. The atrium is crisscrossed by ramps, suspension bridge walkways and has large glass elevators that give visitors a view of the museum inside as well as the architecture and art on the outside.

The outside of the museum is predominantly covered with titanium which is guaranteed to last a hundred years. Titanium is thinner than stainless steel. It does not lie flat and strong winds make it flutter. The effect is such that the building actually moves, giving the impression of being alive. As the building reflects sunlight during different times of the day the titanium seems to change color as well. The two days we spent in Bilbao were cloudy and the building along with the mist and fog seemed suspended around the surrounding bridges.

Visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao was one of the highlights of my life. The most thrilling aspect was that I wanted to be outside as much as I wanted to be inside the building. There was just so much to absorb! On the outside, along with the Puppy is Tulips (also Jeff Koons) which looks like oversized Christmas ornaments. Louise Bourgeois’ Maman is a 30 foot high metal sculpture of a spider. Part of the museums permenant collection located in the Arcelor Gallery is Richard Serra The Matter of Time which are metal installations created in a maze-like yet natural form.

I will spend more time writing about my favorite exhitbits in the museum as well as more about the Basque region (THE FOOD) and Spain in general.
Here is the link to the main site:

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