It was an extraordinarily farsighted decision to locate the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The initial idea met with much opposition. Why spend such an enormous sum of money on one building? Couldn’t the money be spent on better things? Who’s going to come here anyway, just to look at a museum? Luckily for Bilbao the proposers of the scheme persevered and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997. It was designed by Canadian-born, American architect Frank Gehry and was built on 24,000 square metres of former dockland next to the Nervión River. It is the most visible evidence of the Basque government’s plans to revitalize this formerly industrial city. The Guggenheim has been aptly described as a “homage to Bilbao’s industrial past and commitment to its future.”
Indeed Gehry based the design of the Guggenheim on the shapes of a fish and a boat, two important elements in the history of this former industrial city whose chief activities were shipbuilding and fishing. Standing by the side of the river, its soft undulating lines represent, if anything, a shipping vessel. It’s clad with hundreds of silvery titanium plates which change in tone with the light of the day, and given the constantly changing Bilbao weather the museum transforms itself on a continuous basis from morning until night.
Almost overnight Bilbao was transformed from a backwater to be avoided to a must-see destination. Within the first years of the museum opening hundreds of thousands of tourist began to pour into the city just to see the Guggenheim. Bilbao was changed forever. Then came the obvious knock on effects of hotels opening, the airport expanding, upgrading of all facilities and extra employment, etc. Not resting on its laurels, Bilbao continues to this day to enhance is reputation as a highly desirable tourist destination. The Miracle in Bilbao is an excellent account published in the New York Times of the impact the Guggenheim has had on the city of Bilbao.
For the best view of the Guggenheim cross to the other side of the river where you can see it in its full perspective. Or better still, take a seat at 05 Crazy Horse Pub (Avda. de las Universidades, 5) and marvel at the stupendous sight across the river. The more beer you consume the better the theories as to what the shape of the Guggenheim really represents!
The museum was developed in co-operation with the Guggenheim Foundation to provide a European showcase for the Foundation’s unmatched collection of 20th century art which rotates between Bilbao, Venice and New York. Its permanent collection includes works by artists from the late 20th century and the museum plays host to temporary exhibitions from New York.
The Guggenheim itself is just as fascinating inside as out. Most visitors aren’t too concerned about what’s on display when they visit as they are more than happy to simply gaze at the breathtaking interior design. Spectacular walkways suspended from the ceiling link the 19 galleries spread over three floors and a good head for heights is necessary. You can spend all your time just wandering these walkways, marvelling at the interior contours, the design, the use of light or just looking out at the river views.
If you are interested in particular exhibits you should know that some are permanent and others rotate on a six month basis. For confirmation please take a look at the Official Guggenheim Bilbao Website for up to date information.
Outside the Guggenheim at the front entrance is Puppy. Puppy is the giant floral coated mascot of the museum. A giant sculpture in the shape of a dog it is covered in multi coloured layers of flowers. It is quite stunning and is just as photographed by the hordes of tourists as the museum itself.