Nestled in the Basque region’s port city of Bilbao, Spain, today’s “Museum of the Day” is recognizable the world over for the transformational power of iconic architecture and art. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was the real first bold move for a New York-based art collection from the 20th century.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy had already been entrusted to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation by 1976, three years before Peggy passed away. Solomon was Peggy’s uncle and when she died, the NY based museum assumed responsibility for the care of the artworks and reopened her palace in Venice to the public as a museum in 1980. Together, the two museums provided a working model that gave Thomas Krens, the New York museum’s director in the 1980-90s, the idea to form a “constellation” of museum outposts in which to circulate exhibits from the existing collections and from which he could enhance the collecting power of the new collective of museums.
Bilbao, Spain proved a perfect alignment of the stars for Krens and he managed to capture the world’s attention with what many consider Frank O. Gehry’s masterpiece. I wrote my graduate thesis about the museum, and I was fortunate to tour it while under construction (hard hat and all), then again attended the grand opening on October 18, 1987.
My experience of seeing it unfinished, I believe, provided me with a lot of insight into how detailed and ingenious Gehry’s designs were. I was able to see closet space for artworks that later, when completed, were completely invisible behind the undulating and sensual walls he designed. When I attended the opening, I was able to understand how he had also worked natural lighting into places that otherwise would have needed artificial lights. The building has a life and an energy force that are palpable from the moment you see it emerge and until you leave.
The jaw-dropping, gasp-producing moment when you first spot the museum from a distance continue as you approach it in a car as you round the hillsides of Bilbao, continues at street level, where it looms like a spaceship landed in the middle of an otherwise quiet, historic city. Suddenly, as you approach the museum on the sidewalk, it invites you in with a staircase leading DOWN to the entrance, a huge departure from the monumental staircases up to art museums of the 20th century. The architecture never fails to keep you engaged during the entire visit, as you will find surprises at every turn.
I have included many images of the interior spaces here and not the myriad of images from every angle. Instead of explaining each nuance, I leave you with images to explore and enjoy.
Truly, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has one of the best backgrounds for art of the 21st century, but the best way to experience the building is in person. I cannot wait to go again!