What is there to write about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that hasn’t already been written? What photos haven’t already been taken? Images of this extraordinary site are so widely available that you’re bound to have seen dozens already. We certainly had. Nevertheless, we were unprepared for the impact this quite extraordinary building, surrounded as it is by a giant bridge and dozens of skyscrapers, had on us as we first spotted its titanium hulk shimmering on the other side of the River Nervion.
We spent the day there on Thursday. And partly because photography isn’t permitted within the building , partly because the architecture itself is what we’d gone to see, that’s what I’ll focus on here. That and those few monumental works which are outside the building. It was the Basque government itself that proposed to the Guggenheim Foundation that it would fund a building to be built in Bilbao’s decrepit port area. In exchange, the Foundation agreed to manage the institution, rotate parts of its permanent collection through the Bilbao museum and organize temporary exhibitions. This astonishing investment has paid off, as the museum is in many ways responsible for Bilbao’s presence on the tourist map, and its economic success in difficult times.
Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American was appointed architect. He said ‘So I started drawing fish in my sketchbook, and then I started to realize that there was something in it’. Indeed. Besides the fish – scintillating , titanium-cloaked fish – the building seems like a fantastical ship, or even a fleet of ships. Within, however, the building is organised like a flower, with galleries as petals developing from a central atrium. Bowing over the Nervion, it seems to link itself first to the river, then to the city opposite.
There are a few works outside. There’s Anish Kapoor‘s ‘Tall Tree and the Eye’, mirrored orbs which reflect and dissolve images of the river, the city and the museum itself. There’s Jeff Koons‘ playful, pansy-planted, monumental in scale West Highland terrier ‘Puppy’, a well as his stainless steel multi-coloured ‘Tulips’, buoyant and colourful. Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Maman’ is in fact a mammoth spider on extended, delicate legs. She’s powerful but vulnerable, strong and yet fragile, just like, apparently, Bougeois’ mother. Only Fujiko Nakaya‘s ‘Fog sculpture’ puffing out swathes of mist over the small lake outside the museum did little for us.
If you’ve not been here yourself, Google will put you in the way of anything you could possibly want to know. Here are some of the dozens of photos we took. Click on any image you’d like to see enlarged.