Call me unsophisticated, but I’ve never managed to enjoy a modern art museum. Granted, I’ve been in a grand total of three, maybe four, in my life. But that was completely sufficient. However, the modern/contemporary art of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao held my interest on Friday, and I would even go back. Perhaps I’ve reformed. Or perhaps the Guggenheim Bilbao was simply an stunningly constructed and well-curated modern art museum. Who knows. Regardless, it was excellent and the first modern art museum I’d wholeheartedly recommend!
Side note: Dad brought to my attention that, coincidentally, NPR did a piece/article on Frank Gehry this pas Thursday. It mentioned something that my audioguide also told me: Gehry is more artist than architect in his natural state, his career as the latter possible in large part due to the blessing of living in an age of computer modeling that can turn his attractive but at first structurally improbable designs into realities. Definitely believable.
My pictures are all at the wrong angle to show it, but the outside of the Guggenheim is shaped like a massive boat covered with steel plates that shimmer like fish scales.
On the entrance side of the museum near the city stands a permanent installation called Puppy, which is an enormous dog shape covered in a patchwork of blooming flowers. Unique and adorable.
The side of the museum facing the estuary is embraced by a shallow pool, which makes the river seem closer. Several pieces have their homes on little islands in the pool, one of which is a shining tree of metal spheres, apparently made by the artist whose work includes the so-called “Bean” in Chicago.
The inside of the museum has more curves and unexpected faces and angles as the outside, especially the atrium area, with its insane mixture of glass, steel, and rock twisting up toward a skylight above.
Besides being simply visually stimulating to walk through, the Guggenheim felt intuitive. Curving walkways, sloping ramps, and winding galleries lead me through every single space; I don’t think I ever left a gallery the same way I entered. It was refreshing not to have to wonder if I’d missed something, as I often do in art museums. I just followed the natural flow of the building and saw everything.
It appeared to me that a select few galleries of the Guggenheim hold permanent collections, while the vast majority of the space is dedicated to extensive impermanent exhibitions. The ones there during my visit were Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time, and Shahzia Sikander’s Parallax.
I thoroughly enjoyed a number of Jeff Koons’ whimsical painted and polished steel sculptures shaped like massive balloon creatures and blow-up pool toys, as well as his baffling sets of basketballs suspended underneath the water in small aquarium tanks. Parallax was a strange piece of audio-visual art made up of a wide-screen presentation of endlessly-shifting water-color shapes accompanied by loud music that to my ignorant ear sounded “Middle Eastern” and eery. It played for ages, and I never saw a repeated sequence; impressive and somehow simultaneously disturbing and mesmerizing. I sped through the Basquiat art, as its scribbled words and distorted sketches reminded me of poorly done graffiti or the naïve attempts of a five-year-old to scrawl his world on crumpled paper with a crayon.
Speaking of children, there was a lovely little corner gallery apparently reserved for art from classes of local school children, which even included a project where they corresponded from kids who live near the Guggenheim in New York.
Bonus: even the bathrooms were beautiful!