Bilbao, a city in the Basque Country in Northern Spain, often conjures images of an industrial port city that doesn’t have much to offer. However, over the last decade it has been a thriving city full of contrasts of old and new, antique and modern. In 1991, the Basque Government and artictects gathered to bring a modern art museum to Bilbao and after a series of meetings and discussions about who should design the building, Toronto born architect, Frank Gehry was nominated.
One of Frank Gehry’s main goals in his design of the modern art museum was to incorporate the surrounding area within the structure and to remind us that the land once was used as a wharf. While in the museum, the bountiful windows and glass interior allows patrons to interact with their environment and remind us the River Nervión and La Salve bridge are just outside, just a few steps away.
Whether you like modern art or not, the building is a spectacular art piece that draws a crowd, often for the building than for what is housed inside. The outer layer of the building is made up 33,000 thin titanium sheets which allowed Gehry the flexibilty to craft his fluid design and add color to the shiny metal depending on the weather and lighting. The building is quite a masterpiece as it defies what we typically think is possible and Gerhy used an aerospace software program to help turn his napkin-sketched mathematically complex idea into reality.
When you pay your 13 Euros (unless you qualify for a student or retiree discount) entrance fee, you are given an audio guide to take a self-guided tour. Though I’ve never been one to pay for an additional audio guide, Guggenheim staff have carefully thought out the importance of providing this guide for guests to understand architect Frank Gehry intentions and how his creative ideas were able to be transformed into a reality.
Frank Gehry explains that when he was nominated to design the Guggenheim Bilbao, he spent an evening in a bar near the site and began sketching a design on a cocktail napkin never lifting his pen off the paper to allow for a fluid design- everything connected. “During my childhood I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who would buy fish from the local market and fill up the bath tub until she was ready to cook them. I would play with the fish, sometimes for hours, admiring their scales, their touch and their movements. These early childhood memories play a big role in my work.” It’s apparent that the Guggenheim is a direct example of his first hand experiences with nature as a child.
My day at the Guggenheim was a day of appreciation and curiosity, snapping photos frequently, as I admired the curves and reflections of the building and my relation to the structure. Whether you are a fan of modern art or not, I find the Guggenheim Bilbao museum an architectural wonder and found myself more fascinated with the flow-y and scale-like architecture, than with the permanent collections and rotating art exhibits.
People may have their own opinions on Frank Gehry’s design but the building itself pushes the limits of what we perceive as possible. If modern art leaves you flat, consider this museum a place where you are reminded that anything is possible, it’s just a matter of believing in yourself and finding people who believe in you, in order to make your dreams a reality. Both the building and the sculptures outside, remind us to look at life through different lenses, different perspectives.