Visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art. The building was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. The museum opened on 18 October 1997, with an exhibition of 250 contemporary works of art. It is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. It features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists. Also, it’s one of the largest museums in Spain. In 2020, the museum had 315,908 visitors, down 73% from 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The History of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

In 1991, the Basque government suggested to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation that they would fund a Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

The Basque government agreed:

  • to cover the US$100 million construction cost,
  • also to create a US$50 million acquisitions fund,
  • besides that, to pay a one-time US$20 million fee to the Guggenheim,
  • and to subsidise the museum’s US$12 million annual budget.

Also, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation agreed:

  • to manage the institution,
  • also, to rotate parts of its permanent collection through the Bilbao museum,
  • and to organize temporary exhibitions.

Finally, the museum had the price of US$89 million. About 5,000 residents of Bilbao attended already at the pre-opening. One day later, on 18 October 1997, Juan Carlos I of Spain opened the museum officially.

About the Exhibitions & Collections

The exhibitions change often. Also, the museum generally hosts thematic exhibitions. Traditional paintings and sculptures are a minority in comparison to installations and electronic forms.

The collections usually highlight Avant-garde art, 20th century abstraction, and non-objective art. Moreover, the museum notably houses “large-scale, site-specific works and installations by contemporary artists“, such as Richard Serra‘s 100-meter-long Snake.

The highlight of the collection, and its only permanent exhibit, is The Matter of Time (incorporating an earlier work, Snake). A series of weathering steel sculptures by Serra, which we can find in the 130-meter Arcelor Gallery.

In 1997, the museum opened with “The Guggenheim Museums and the Art of This Century”. It was a 300-piece overview of 20th-century art from Cubism to new media art. Also, most pieces came from the Guggenheim’s permanent collection.

Visiting the Museum Park

The museum building, its park and the related monuments are some of the most admired works of contemporary architecture. Besides that, the building represents a “signal moment in the architectural culture“. Because it was “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public all completely agreed about something“, according to architectural critic Paul Goldberger.

The Spider – ‘Maman’

The almost 9-meter-tall Maman we can find in the back park of the museum. It obviously represents a gigantic spider. This motif first appeared in the artist’s drawings in the 1940s. While today is one of the most emblematic symbol of modern Bilbao.

The Puppy

The Puppy (in Spanish “Cachorro Guau Guau“) is an iconic, modern, floral, huge sculpture. The American artist Jeff Koons created it in 1992, and the city of Bilbao installed it in October 1997. The Puppy is right in front of the Guggenheim Museum and impossible to miss it. It represents a Scottish West Highland White Terrier puppy. It is out of a steel structure has approximately 38,000 natural plants. Hence, they need to replace the plants twice a year as they stop blooming.

Other experiences in Bilbao

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