Travels with Victoria: A Visit to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

I am going to stretch the boundaries of this blog a little here to relate this visit to our usual focus on the U.K.  Let’s see.  Many large museums, such as the Tate(s) and the Guggenheim(s) have developed a number of branch venues over recent years. The Tate has not only the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern; there is the Tate Liverpool and the Tate St. Ives. The Guggenheim is not only in New York City and at Peggy Guggenheim’s mansion in Venice. They have art museums in Bilbao, Spain; Berlin; and under construction, in Abu Dhabi. I guess it is the wave of the future in the rarefied world of the large art institutions. And provides the excuse for my post about Bilbao.

Santander Spain

Our ship docked at the Spanish port of Santander on the north coast of Spain. This incredibly lovely natural harbour was the spot through which the British troops of General Wellington were supplied throughout much of the Peninsular War. But little is left of the old city due to a disastrous fire in 1941. 
We drove to Bilbao, a trip of about an hour, through countryside that was evocative of Switzerland rather than what I expect of Spain. Of course, Switzerland has no ocean beaches and we saw many on our drive. But the mountainous terrain, the lush green vegetation, even the look of the residential architecture was Alpine. A nice surprise.

Bilbao has truly become a destination city since the construction of the signature museum building by Frank Gehry.  Gehry’s unique style is popular worldwide; despite the almost random look of the huge structural elements of the buildings, the interiors are brilliantly functional and efficient.  On the large plaza in front of the main entrance stood Jeff Koons’ gigantic flower-bedecked puppy, which had everyones’ cameras clicking away.

close-up of the puppy’s colorful blooms

On the waterfront plaza stands Maman (1999), from the Spider series by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). And here’s another little connection to all things British — it was first shown inside the great turbine hall in the Tate Britain.

The Frank Gehry building, the Guggenheim Collection and the exhibitions here have had their desired effect. Bilbao has attracted many more activities, structures and events along with all attention.
One of my favorite contemporary architects is Santiago Calatrava (see Milwaukee’s art museum here), who has designed the lovely Zubizuri foot bridge near Bilbao’s Guggenheim.
Calatrava also designed the Bilbao airport terminal, below.

Back to the Guggenheim, Bilbao…and more of my 100’s of shots, taken on a cloudy day. People told us that this region of Spain  has a cloud, misty, rainy climate, somewhat akin to the northwest coast of the US.  Certainly was on our visit.

The green street sweeper made a bright contrast to the steel and concrete.

Adios, Spain. Bienvenue, France…Bordeaux is next.

5 thoughts on “Travels with Victoria: A Visit to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao”

  1. I love the Jeff Koons dog. In the summer of 2000 I was working in Manhattan and they had it on the plaza at Rockefeller Center. It made me so happy every time I saw it. And by the way, one of the precursors to Gehry's Bilbao museum is the one he built at the University of Minnesota back in the 1990s. I watched it go up and have loved it ever since. And the interior is a peaceful as the exterior is loud.

  2. Gehry's buildings are now iconic, though that MN gallery was a shocker when it was first built. We have enjoyed the Seattle Rock n Roll museum and the LA Disney Concert Hall too. And Millenium Park in Chicago – all workable structures as well as signature symbols. As you say, Thomas at My Porch, peaceful inside.

  3. I also am in the habit of checking out Gehry buildings when I travel (Prague, NYC, Cleveland…) and made a special trip to LA to hear the orchestra in the Disney Hall. Oddly, and happily, my professional life rather unexpectedly put me in his studios for a day where (in addition to negotiating the terms of a contract) I got to meet the staff and see all of the models and works in progress. It was pretty cool.

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