In the past 25 years, the architectural wonder on the banks of the Nervion River in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, has achieved the unexpected: it has transformed the face of a city that was once thought to be virtually lost.
Bilbao is located in northern Spain, on the Bay of Biscay, in the Atlantic Gulf. From the 19th century until the 70s, it was the most important industrial seaport in the Basque Country. With its strategic access to the ocean, Bilbao’s economy—based on shipbuilding as well as coal and steel production—was booming.
However, the industries did not adapt quickly enough to the technical changes and eventually the outdated factories and shipyards had to close. Factory buildings and ironworks were abandoned. Many workers and their families left the city, while others stayed, often with no future prospects.
Bilbao was also a stronghold of the Basque separatist organization ETA, responsible for several terrorist attacks.
In this context, passionate art lovers were a rarity in the city, which is why when the plans for the ambitious cultural project to be built there were announced, it first sounded like a bad joke.
In the early 1990s, the American Guggenheim Foundation was looking for a location for a European museum and was in negotiations with several major cities.
The Bilbao authorities showed the greatest interest in the project. They realized what a great opportunity the respected museum could be for the run-down city.
The deal was simple: Bilbao would provide space and funds, while the Guggenheim Foundation would fill the museum with works from its prestigious collection and take charge of its management.
Many people in Bilbao protested against the project, unable to understand why their city would invest millions in a museum instead of modernizing its factories to help the local population. Even artists from the region feared they would be dismissed by American culture. imperialism
The Guggenheim Foundation’s feasibility study suggested that the museum would attract at least half a million visitors each year. This seemed illusory.
However, all parties involved accepted the deal.
The eccentric architect
The city began to change rapidly, surprising the skeptics. The entire area along the Nervion River went through a complete renovation in four years. The rusty shipyards disappeared, and were replaced by green spaces and promenades. In the middle of it all, a gigantic curved steel frame was built.
It wasn’t the first time Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry caused a stir with his unconventional style. His deconstructivist approach made corners and straight lines seem non-existent and were replaced by waves, arcs and curves. The building is now considered an architectural masterpiece.
Gehry’s works, such as the Biomuseum, a biodiversity museum in Panama City, the Dancing House in Prague, as well as buildings in several cities in the US and Germany, such as Hanover, Dusseldorf and Herford, are world famous.
In 1997, the rusty steel sculpture on the bank of the Bilbao river, which looked a bit like a large roller coaster structure, was coated with titanium.
Depending on where it is, the building resembles half an artichoke, or a boat, or even a decapitated fish without fins. Here and there, glass covers the facade, while silver titanium blends beautifully with the light Spanish limestone.
The building does not seem to have a beginning or an end; neither right nor left. But there is definitely a core: the tallest room, 50 meters high (164 feet), constitutes the central atrium room, while the largest room is a gallery, offering ample space for sculptures gigantic
Everything is flooded with light and looks airy and playful. It is like a three-story maze with doors, galleries, corners, niches, corners, windows and skylights. Still, while the building’s interior is as exciting as its exterior, the rooms don’t steal the show from the artwork on display.
A success beyond expectations
The Guggenheim Museum on Abandoibarra Avenue was inaugurated by the then King Joan Carles on October 18
It was heaped with praise: “It’s the greatest building of our time,” said American architect Philip Johnson, adding: “When a building is as good as that, f * *k the art “, a phrase that would disarm the skeptics. who felt the building was too dominant.
The museum was invaded by art and architecture fans from all over the world. The estimated 500,000 visitors per year became one million.
Since then hundreds of exhibitions have been shown, featuring the biggest stars of the art world of the past decades, such as Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Jeff Koons, just to name a few . And to counter initial fears, a section of the museum is dedicated to Spanish and Basque artists.
Now, in honor of its 25th anniversary, the museum presents a three-part exhibition, entitled “Sections/Intersections”, which aims to promote the rediscovery of “works that have historically defined both the interior and exterior of the Museum”. according to the description of the Guggenheim.
The major exhibition held on each floor aims to show visitors to the museum the extent and variety of its holdings and will run until January 22, 2023.
The Guggenheim effect
After the museum began to attract visitors, Bilbao hired other star architects to rejuvenate the city. Norman Forster built an entire subway line, Alvaro Siza designed a university building and an airport terminal, while the “Zubizuri” pedestrian bridge, located near the museum, was created by Salvadore Calatrava.
The best hotels and shops quickly followed and restaurants began to offer the best of Basque cuisine.
The Guggenheim effect, also known as the Bilbao effect, has become a symbol of how art and culture can boost a region’s struggling economy.
📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss the latest news!