The Guggenheim Bilbao

The Guggenheim Bilbao

Today we visited the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, a building famously designed by Frank Gehry. When I’d first seen photos of the museum, back in my student days at Carleton, I remember thinking that it was a building I had to see in person at some point in my life. Walking towards it along the river was a special experience, because this memory came back to me, and I realized that I was actually fulfilling it. There it was, rising above the river on a beautiful sunny day in Spain. There we were, in person, taking it in. It was a surreal moment for me.

I’ve always been a fan of this building, but I’ve often had a difficult time saying why. I recall wondering before arriving here in Bilbao whether or not the building would live up to my expectations. The way the Guggenheim is usually photographed, it often appears to be the central focus of the entire city. While it is definitely one of the focusses, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the rest of the city surrounding the museum is also lively and vibrant in it’s own right. Another thing that fooled me about the building in photographs was the location of the front entrance. What I’d thought was the entrance was actually the water garden terrace, and is innaccessible from the public walkway! Meg and I got the grand tour of the exterior as we wandered around to the other side searching for the way in.

The Water Garden Terrace

Once inside, we were dismayed to learn that they didn’t allow photographs to be taken inside! A real shame, since it begs for its picture to be taken. We snuck one in here and there anyways. I have to say that we were suitably impressed by the building. The spaces had a wonderful, playful way of opening up to you in fragments, a little bit at a time. The surfaces and materials emphasized the sculptural essence of the building, which exagerrated the notion that the building itself was as much a work of modern art as the pieces it housed. Indeed, one of the common criticisms of the museum is that it overpowers the art placed inside, and demands too much of the viewer’s attention. We did find this to be true, but I wonder if this is an effect felt more strongly by a first time visitor than by a returning one. When taken in comparison to a museum like the Louvre, the Guggenheim’s collection was much less impressive, but our visit was no less inspiring. Thank the architecture for that.

Inside the museum

What I did especially enjoy about the building was the sense of freedom and joy that it exuded. It was refreshing to see a work of modern architecture that was almost irreverent in it’s existence, by stretching and reaching out in ways that often challenged the function of the program it housed, rather than pulling back and compromising for it. Obviously this isn’t a healthy approach to take for every architectural endeavor, but in this case I think it works out quite well.

Guggenheim at night


  1. The Last Unicorn

  2. “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” LOL

    Meg this obviously must be your photo heading from your Bilbao pictures. Unless Mark was reading Judy Blume female preteen coming of age books in high school.

    How you remember these things is astonishing…that and many other obscure 80’s references. You two are hilarious.

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