Plans for a new museum in Bilbao date to the late 1980s, when the Basque Administration began formulating a major redevelopment of the region. It was not until 1991, however, that Basque authorities proposed the idea for a Guggenheim Museum
In moving forward with the museum a site was selected and three architects, Arata Isozaki from Japan, Coop Himmelb(l)au from Austria, and Frank O. Gehry from the United States, were invited to participate in a competition to produce a conceptual design. These were no requirements in terms of drawings or models to be produced; rather, the architects were only asked to present what they thought would convey their concept for the new museum.
Eleven thousand square meters
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a pinnacle in
of exhibition space are distribut-
Gehry’s outstanding architectural career as well as
ed over nineteen galleries. Ten
in the field of museum design. It remains unsur-
of these galleries have a classic
passed in its integration of art and architecture,
orthogonal plan and can be iden-
maintaining an aesthetic and programmatic unity.
rary exhibitions for several years. In 2005, it became the site of the largest sculpture commission in history, Richard Serra’s monumental installation The Matter of Time.
October 18, 1997 Abando, Bilbao, Spain
Type Art museum Visitors 1,002,963 (2007) 951,369 (2008) Director
Juan Ignacio Vidarte
Millennium Library in Cerritos, California.
meters long, was used for tempo-
building inspired other structures of similar design across the globe, such as the Cerritos
suring 30 meters wide and 130
Times Magazine. The Independent calls the museum “an astonishing architectural feat”. The
ding. The largest gallery, mea-
cent of fish scales.Herbert Muschamp praised its “mercurial brilliance” in The New York
swirling forms and titanium clad-
ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” its brilliantly reflective panels also reminis-
identified from the outside by their
time”,while critic Calvin Tomkins, in The New Yorker, characterized it as “a fantastic dream
remarkable contrast and can be
of the 20th century. Architect Philip Johnson described it as “the greatest building of our
ularly shaped galleries present a
though Gehry does not associate himself with that architectural movement), a masterpiece
stone finishes. Nine other irreg-
hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular buildings in the style of Deconstructivism (al-
tified from the exterior by their When the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened to the public in 1997, it was immediately
32,500-square-meter site along the Nervión River in the old industrial heart of the city.
ban context, unfolding its interconnecting shapes of stone, glass, and titanium on a
others for the presentation of art. The museum is seamlessly integrated into the ur-
The resulting architecture is sculptural and expressionistic, with spaces unlike any
puter-aided design technology enabled him to translate poetic forms into reality.
the most important buildings of the 20th century. Gehry’s use of cutting-edge com-
with its distinctive titanium curves and soaring glass atrium, was hailed as one of
Almost from the moment it opened in 1997, Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao,
Bilbao to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
PA The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation selected Frank Gehry as the architect, and its director, Thomas Krens, encouraged him to design something daring and innovative. The curves on the exterior of the building were intended to appear random; the architect said that “the randomness of the
curves are designed to catch the light”. The interior “is designed around a large, light-filled atrium
with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country.” The atrium, which Gehry nicknamed The Flower because of its shape, serves as the organizing center of the museum.
When the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened to the public in 1997, it was immediately hailed
as one of the world’s most spectacular buildings in the style of Deconstructivism (although Gehry
does not associate himself with that architectural movement), a masterpiece of the 20th century. Architect Philip Johnson described it as “the
greatest building of our time”, while critic Calvin Tomkins, in The New Yorker, characterized it as
“a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” its brilliantly reflective panels also reminiscent of fish scales. Herbert Mus-
champ praised its “mercurial brilliance” in The New York Times Magazine. The Independent calls the museum “an astonishing architectural feat”. The building inspired other structures of similar design across the globe, such as the Cerritos Millennium Library in Cerritos, California.
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a
museum of modern and contemporary
art, designed by Canadian-American
architect Frank Gehry, and located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. The mu-
seum was inaugurated on 18 October 1997 by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
The museum is seamlessly integrated into the urban
shapes of stone, glass and titanium on a 32,500-square-meter site along the Nervión River in the old industrial heart of the city; while modest from street level, it is most impressive when viewed from the river. With a total 256,000 square feet, it had more exhibition space than the three Guggenheim collections in New York and Venice combined at that time. 700 square meters of exhibition space are distributed over nineteen galleries,
INSIDE THE MUSEUM
Once inside the Hall, visitors access the Atrium, the real heart of the Museum and one of the signature traits of Frank Gehryâ€™s architectural design.
With curved volumes and large glass curtain walls that connect the inside and the outside, the Atrium is an ample space flooded with light and covered by a great skylight. The three levels of the building are organized around the Atrium and are connected by means of curved walkways, titanium and glass elevators, and staircases.
Also an exhibition space, the Atrium functions as an axis for the 20 galleries, some orthogonally shaped and with classical proportions and others with organic, irregular lines. The play with different volumes and perspectives generates indoor spaces where visitors
Such variety has demonstrated its enormous versatility in the expert hands
designers who have found the ideal atmosphere to present both large format works in contemporary mediums and smaller or more intimate shows.
The museum notably houses “large-scale, site-specific works and installations by contemporary artists, such as Richard Serra’s 340 ft-long Snake, and displays the work of Basque artists, “as well as housing a selection of works” from the Foundation’s modern art collection. In 1997, the museum opened with “The Guggenheim Museums and the Art of This Century”, a 300-piece overview of 20th-century art from Cubism to new media art. Most pieces came from the Guggenheim’s permanent collection, but the museum also acquired paintings by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still and commissioned new works by Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Jenny Holzer and Richard Serra. The exhibitions change often; the museum generally hosts thematic exhibitions, centered for example on Chinese or Russian art. Traditional paintings and sculptures are a minority compared to installations and electronic forms. 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 designed by Serra, which is housed in the 430-foot (130 m) Arcelor Gallery (formerly known as the Fish Gallery but renamed in 2005 for the steel manufacturer that sponsored the project). The collections usually highlight Avant-garde art, 20th century abstraction, and non-objective art. When the museum announced the 2011 exhibition “The Luminous Interval”, a show of artwork belonging to Greek businessman Dimitris Daskalopoulos, who is also a museum trustee, this met with criticism of, among other things, too much curatorial power for a serious benefactor. In 2012 David Hockney’s exhibition drew over 290,000 visitors to the museum.