It is almost impossible to not be taken aback when you see the Guggenheim Musuem Bilbao for the first time.
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a icon of modern architecture, designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. Few museums anywhere in the world are more recognizable, or make more of a visual impact on its surrounding landscape.
The museum site was converted from an industrial riverfront area in the 1990s, as part of a redevelopment project by the city. The museum features the best of modern art and is monumental, its interior large and spacious, flooded by natural light. It actually has more exhibition space than the Guggenheim in New York and Venice, combined.
Before entering the actual museum, there a multiple pieces of artwork around the grounds. The beautiful, if slightly creepy ‘Maman’ spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois greets visitors that approach the museum along the riverfront to the main entrance.
In the adjoining fountain, ‘Tall Tree & The Eye’ by artist Anish Kapoor consists of 73 reflective spheres stacked upon one another. As you near the entrance, Jeff Koons’ ‘Puppy’ greets you, a massive West Highland terrier made out of flowers.
A puppy made from flowers. Adorable.
The interior of the museum is centered around the atrium, with large glass walls overlooking the river, and a massive skylight, bathing the space in natural light. Twenty galleries, arranged over three floors, all center around the Atrium.
My favorite piece in the entire space is actually just outside the museum on a large terrace. ‘Tulips’ by Jeff Koons is fun and colorful, gargantuan ballon flowers made from stainless steel covered in transparent color coating. The flowers appear buoyant and soft, yet are constructed from steel. I really wanted to touch them, but resisted the urge!
The museum has rotating exhibits, including ‘Shadows’, a collection of work by Andy Warhol and ‘Structures of Existence: The Cells’ by Louise Bourgeois, which may be one of the more bizarre collection of art installations I’ve seen.
Of the main exhibits, ‘Matter of Time’ by Richard Serra was the most impressive. Set in a huge open space, massive pieces of weathered steel curve. You can walk in and around the eight pieces laid out across the gallery. They are most impressive viewed from above though, on the observation area on the 2nd level, as you can take in the full scale of the artwork. From there, the way the steel sheets are angled, it makes it look impossible for anyone to fit through the seemingly narrow gaps.
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the region. It embodies its iconic status, through and through. In a 2010 architectural survey, it was listed as one of the most important pieces of architecture built since 1980. Amazingly, it was finished on time and on budget, a rarity in modern construction. The city of Bilbao has also seen a huge boost in revenue, thanks to the museum’s almost 1 million visitors every year.