Sunday, November 12, 2023

BILBAO, SPAIN - Famous Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain hosts more international visitors each year than those coming from Spain. It is the principal reason to travel there.
Surprisingly one of the most visited art museum in the world, was built on riverfront land where a decrepit industrial shipyard stood that had fallen on hard times. 

In the early 1990's, when the Guggenhein Foundation was shopping for a site to build a second museum, Bilbao was facing high unemployment, poverty with poor economic prospects. Many major cities in Europe and Orient did not have the land available near the city center for such a large complex. With the shipyards closed, Bilbao was anxious to gain a major tourist attraction that could help rebuild its economy.

The Foundation offered put up a major portion of the $89 million cost to build if the city of Bilbao could raise the rest of the funds needed to make this museum happen. The citizens from Bilbao and the surrounding areas, government entities , businesses and foundations all pitched in and pledged to raise the necessary funds to build the museum. Which they did.
The museum, designed by Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American architect, was inaugurated on October 18, 1997. As part of the Guggenheim system, some of the world most famous works of art are here on loan from the New York City museum. Original works by Spanish and International artists were added to the permanent collection.

 From the hotel balcony, one can see the museum on the left, the sandstone tower in the middle and the big Red H bridge support on the right. The Red H offers an exciting light show every evening. We had a great view of the light show from our hotel window.

Gehry designed the museum's titanium exterior to look like a ship at sea, 
with waves, wind, and movement.

Here is a better close-up shot of the exterior. The highway in front is the main road coming off the high banks of the Nervion River to the south, filtering the commuting traffic into downtown Bilbao.

Between the Museum building and the Nervion River is a pedestrian walkway. Several times a day, white smoke emanates from under the walkway to emulate fog on the sea.

Various sculptures are not only inside the museum but outside as well.

While there are many art pieces here on permanent display, others are on loan from the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. They also have special touring exhibits for featured artists. The works there this month are sculptures by Picasso. Most people know of Picasso from his drawings and paintings. Many are not aware he also experimented with sculpture.

Jeff Koons created this oversized brightly colored tulips sculpture on display inside the museum. Each tulip is about the size of a 55 gallon drum. The material has a vibrant colorful shine, the finish like mylar...?

Then there are Richard Serra's larger-than-life steel sculptures that took ten years to create, build, and install in the museum. You are encouraged to walk through his sculptures for an unforgettable experience. You will feel the sensation of movement, of rolling waves, claustrophobia, walls leaning in or tilting out, clean white lights and deep dark shadows follow you as you make your way through the maze.You will experience all of these rising and falling sensations as you walk on a level concrete floor.

Serra's sculpture challenges your senses and how your mind interprets its surroundings. Serra is a genius in creating a work that required extensive engineering, mathematics, and a working understanding of physics to create this particular work. These freestanding sheets of steel weighing over several tons each, are stood up on edge, perfectly balanced and not falling on each other or on spectators though you might feel like they are. Every steel piece is exactly the same height, but you would bet your last dollar that they are not. That's all part of the illusion. Serra stated that his sculpture is more than just steel plates. It's the air and space in and around the steel pieces that are as much a part of the work as the plates themselves.

Due to the exterior design of the building, nothing is straight or vertical on the exterior 
or in the interior. Everything is curved. 
Only the floor is level, but it doesn't always feel that way.

The hand railing below is level, or is it?

At night, street light reflects off the Museum's titanium skin. 
Compare this photo with the second one above taken during the day.

You can now better understand why this museum attracts so many visitors
from around the world each year. By 2003, its reputation had grown so much that more international visitors than Spaniards visited the museum. The Bilbao city government has collected more than $100 million in tax receipts from these visitors over the years. That's more than the original cost to build the museum. Despite many critics of the design when it first opened, it was a great investment for Bilbao.

This economic fact has not been lost on architects and city planners internationally.
They refer to this as the Bilbao Effect.  It has motivated many city planners around the world to invest in the innovative design of public buildings. 

The Sydney Opera House in Australia is a prime example of the Bilbao Effect 
changing a city skyline and influencing public opinion about the city.



  1. The Bilbao effect, cool. Thanks for the info... I like the second shot of the museum better since you can't see the cars ruining the view in the first.

    1. RR, If you enjoy cars ruining the view, boy I have thousands of photos with cars, people, bicycles, motorcycles, trays of food, hands, arms, big hair and more photobombing my shots. All joking aside, I know you enjoy visiting museums too. This building and its history are as interesting to me as the art work inside.


please comment here: