When it opened in 1997, the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, a spectacular structure made of titanium, glass and limestone, was instantly hailed as the most important structure of its time. Located in the Basque city of Bilbao in northern Spain, the museum features exhibitions organized by the Guggenheim Foundation and by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, as well as selections from the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museums. With over a hundred exhibitions and more than ten million visitors to its credit, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has changed the way people think about museums, and it continues to challenge assumptions about the connections between art, architecture, and collecting.
The entrance to Bilbao's famed Guggenheim Museum
Surrounded by attractive avenues and squares, the Museum is located in a newly developed area of the city, leaving its industrial past behind. The Museum plaza and main entrance lie in a direct line with Calle Iparragirre, one of the main streets running diagonally through Bilbao, extending the city center right up the Museum's door. Once in the plaza, visitors access the Hall by making their way down a broad stairway, an unusual feature that successfully overcomes the height difference between the areas alongside the Nervión River, where the Museum stands, and the higher city level. This way, Gehry created a spectacular structure without it rising above the height of adjacent buildings.
A sweeping stairway leads visitors from street level into the main floor of the museum
Inspired by the shapes and textures of a fish, the museum can be considered a sculpture or work of art in itself. Although the metallic form of the exterior looks almost floral from above, from the ground the building more closely resembles a boat, evoking the past industrial life of the port of Bilbao. Constructed of titanium, limestone, and glass, the seemingly random curves of the exterior are designed to catch the light and react to the sun and the weather. The forms aren't governed by any geometric law, but consist of a series of twisting interconnected volumes that because of the museum's mathematical intricacy, was designed using a 3-D design software called CATIA, which allowed for complex designs and calculations that would not have been possible years ago, and has since become a real icon of the city throughout the world.
The spectacular 3-storey main atrium
An extraordinary Ernesto Neto installation hangs from the ceiling in the atrium
Gehry's fabulous glass and steel elevator
The highlight of the collection, and its only permanent exhibit, is 'The Matter of Time', a series of monumental weathered steel sculptures designed by Richard Serra which are housed in the enormous 430-foot Arcelor Gallery, a spectacular space that takes up one whole wing of the museum.
Richard Serra's 'Snake' and 'A Matter of Time' installation of weathered steel
Richard Serra's series of torqued spiral and ellipses encourage people to thread through the shapes which produce a profound physical and emotional response as the angled walls challenge and distort our notions of spatial relationships
An outdoor promenade runs along the Nervión River and features a number of artwork installations by various artists
'Maman' by Louise Bourgeois, an mammoth 9-metre tall bronze, marble and stainless steel spider
'Maman' as viewed from the bridge
Almost 9 meters tall, Maman is one of the most ambitious of a series of sculptures by Louise Bourgeois that take as their subject the spider, a motif that first appeared in several of the artist's drawings in the 1940s and came to assume a central place in her work during the 1990s. Intended as a tribute to her mother, who was a weaver, "Bourgeois's spiders are highly contradictory as emblems of maternity: they suggest both protector and predator — the silk of a spider is used both to construct cocoons and to bind prey — and embody both strength and fragility. Such ambiguities are powerfully figured in the mammoth Maman, which hovers ominously on legs like Gothic arches that act at once as a cage and as a protective lair to a sac full of eggs perilously attached to her undercarriage. The spider provokes awe and fear, yet her massive height, improbably balanced on slender legs, conveys an almost poignant vulnerability".
Anish Kapoor's 'Tall Tree and The Eye'
Anish Kapoor's monumental 'Tall Tree and the Eye' consists of 73 reflective spheres anchored around three axes. The mirrored surfaces of the orbs reflect and refract one another, simultaneously creating and dissolving images of the surrounding city, including the Nervión river and the museum itself. For Kapoor, the object is always in a state of becoming as it evolves through varying processes of self-generation, dissolution, fragmentation and multiplication. The body and gaze of the viewer are all-important elements of the work, as each viewer brings their own subjective reality to bear while witnessing and contemplating Kapoor's powerful sculptural presences.
'Tulips' by Jeff Koons
Fujiko Nakaya's atmospheric 'Fog' was specially commissioned for the artificial lake at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and generates fog each hour
Renowned artist Fujiko Nakaya was the first artist to have ever worked with fog as a sculptural medium. Her unique approach, both experiential and ephemeral in nature, expresses her fascination for natural phenomena that repeatedly form and dissolve. Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.) was commissioned at American artist Robert Rauschenberg's invitation to coincide with the opening of his 1999 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao — "F.O.G." stands for "Frank O. Gehry". Soon after the opening, Rauschenberg purchased the 'installation' and donated it to the museum, and is now permanently installed in the pool next to the riverfront facade of Gehry's billowing titanium structure. A permanent sculpture composed of artificially induced water droplets in a constant state of dissipation into the atmosphere, Fog Sculpture #08025 is "both a phenomenon and an artifact," Nakaya remarks, "a precarious dynamism of nature's balance." Eloquent words, but the experience left me overwhelmed and quite speechless.
Fujiko Nakaya's Water Fog Sculpture #08025 is generated by 1,000 fog nozzles
and a high-pressure pump/motor system to create a hauntingly beautiful phenomena
Yoko Ono's Wish Tree
A signed greeting by the artist to commemorate her Wish Tree at the Bilbao Guggenheim
View from the top floor of the museum
Looking out at Ernesto Neto's hanging installation from the top floor of the museum
'The Falling Body' - Ernesto Neto's installation in the Museum's atrium
Ernest Neto is one of Brazil's pre-eminent artists. His inviting installations are immersive habitats that engulf us in a sensual world, and have been created so that they may be penetrated, inhabited, felt, and even smelled, allowing viewers to experience their own bodies, feelings, and minds through the works of art. Neto has commented: “What we have in common is more important than what makes us different.” This explains his interest in investigating the common aspects of human relationships through his sculptures, evoking sensuality and corporality. Developed in close collaboration with the artist, Ernesto Neto: The Body That Carries Me at the Bilbao Guggenheim, includes an extensive selection of his work from the end of the 1980s to the present, some of which have been reconfigured based on new ideas and wishes of the artist, as well as the museum’s specific architecture. Neto tries to create a space for poetry, where visitors can escape from their every day and can stop thinking, breathing “life directly.”
Reclining hammock-style beds allow visitors to view Ernesto Neto's ceiling hung installation with a comfortable perspective
'That's Life' by Ernesto Neto
The enormous hand-crocheted multicoloured 'That's Life' sculpture is suspended from the ceiling and symbolizes Neto's conception of life, in which there is no separation between humans and nature. Divided into a male part: the suspended walkway, and a female part: the platform on the upper part, the piece re-creates fertilization, the moment when a sperm enters an egg, the beginning of life. Visitor's can remove their shoes and walk up through the sculpture and experience Neto's sensual world first hand.
Ernesto Neto's 'Drum (Tambor)', 2010 crocheted creation made from volcanic rock, piano, river rocks, Afro-Brazilian drums and a snare drum
A view over Bilbao from inside the Guggenheim
The museum and the incredible views are as much a work of art as the exhibitions
The titanium exterior of the Guggenheim with Yves Klein's 'Fire Fountain' square jets inset into the museum's man-made lake
View of the museum from La Salve Bridge
A brightly decorated boat, The Euskal Herria, which translates as Basque Country, passes along the Nervión river in front of the Guggenheim