I have always wanted to visit the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, Spain and I finally realized this goal with a visit on February 10, 2019. I have read about the architecture of the Museum and seen a few photographs of it, but I was startled when I finally saw it for real. I had imagined it to be standing lofty above a level landscape with a long vista to one side. Not so.
Architect Frank Gehry designed the building to integrate into its surroundings – that is beside the Nervion River, in the shadow of Mount Artxanda and tucked beside the Puente La Salve bridge – instead of standing proud of the environment. Gehry carefully orchestrated the facades and entryways to quietly welcome one from the city into the building. At the same time, when one stands back, the Museum seems to be writhing and dancing. The main entrance is accessed by descending down a long staircase (above right), rather than the traditional ascending to an important place. Although the central atrium (below left and right) is 1.5 times the height of Wright’s Guggenheim New York, when one approaches the building, it does not appear to rise high above. The combination of exterior titanium paneling, yellow/gold coloured limestone with the transparency created by the steel and glass curtain walls creates a warm, welcoming environment, especially on my rainy visit in the dead of winter. Although the interior spaces are lofty and airy, I did not feel out of scale with the architecture and the craftsmanship and attention to detail are much cleaner than Gehry’s Experience Music Project in Seattle, USA.
Unbeknownst to me was how influential this building is in the history of architecture. Its opening in 1997 created the term Bilbao Effect. This from the exhibition Architecture Effects: “The transformation of the city by global visitors, as well as the redefined role of the museum as an icon of cultural and social change, steered what came to be known as the “Bilbao Effect.” Pioneering in its use of digital technology for design, construction, and image circulation, Frank Gehry’s building set a new standard for the effects of architecture with the very tools that would soon transform life itself.” Indeed, Guggenheim Bilbao has transformed the city in a positive way – pretty heady stuff for ol’ Frank!
Inside, I discovered Richard Serra’s permanent exhibition “The Matter of Time”. Since reading Dan Brown’s “Origin”, I’ve wanted to walk among these giant sculptures. Serra is known for his corten steel sculptures and I grew to love his work after exploring “Wake” at Seattle, USA’s Olympic Sculpture Park. I was not disappointed here. I was again impressed with the craftsmanship of bending 2″ think sheets of metal in such smooth, elegant curves that must be 18 feet high and seamlessly joined into lengths 100’s of feet long. Serra’s use of the circle and the ellipse combined with alternately tilting angles gave me the intended sensation of unease while I walked “inside” each sculpture’s undulating spaces – sometimes in darkness and then in open, airy lightness. And observing other visitors, I could we were all experiencing the artworks in different ways. Cool stuff.
I also loved the temporary retrospective of Alberto Giacometti’s work. I enjoyed reviewing his career and I was particularly drawn to his surrealist period work. Pieces like “Spoon Woman”, “Cube” and “Disagreeable Object To Be Thrown Away” (below left to right) were interesting both in their form and use of materials. I got inspired for some abstract forms in my head that I’ll have to play with in ZBrush later…
I’ll end this post with three exterior permanent sculptures that grace the plazas. Koons’s “Puppy” living garden sculpture, Bourgeois’s “Maman” bronze spider and Kapoor’s “Tall Tree & The Eye” (below l-r).
Have you been to the Guggenheim Bilbao? What do you think of the building? Let me know in the comments below.