A quick one hour car ride from San Sebastián and you’re in Bilbao, home to the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum. Opened in 1997, the museum features contemporary art from around the world, as well as featuring the work of prominent Basque artists from the area. As you approach the museum, I walked up via the Nervión River side, it looks rather massive. The undulating shapes and forms are quite remarkable, and how the light hits the structure from so many unique angles. Living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall dozens of times, and yet the Guggenheim does feel like it’s own unique creature.
Once you’re inside the museum, I will say, it’s a bit confusing. The way finding and signage inside aren’t the clearest at first. This may be due to the fact that the building is so visually complex inside. It feels like Gehry was really feeling his oats, going full weirdo auteur with the space, very much a form over function approach. As we wandered though, we did start to get a better sense for where we were going. What I didn’t realize was how the museum is laid out in such a vertical manner, almost like the chaotic twin of the location in New York. That’s probably intentional and I’m simply not aware.
Wandering into the massive Richard Serra sculptures was definitely a treat. It’s hard not to feel like a child again, exploring these massive steel canyons, unsure what lies around each turn. What is it about getting to touch art that’s so satisfying? I assume it’s the taboo nature of touching art, which in most cases, you really shouldn’t do. In this case, I think there’s an element of the materiality of the pieces which feels so alien. How often do you get to run your hands across massive hunks of oxidized steel? The energy around these specific works were quite lively, especially with all the children (and a few adults) running around through the pieces.
On view as the main exhibit was a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work, which is always fantastic to see in person. They had some of her very first works (it’s always interesting to see how a prolific artist begins) along with a series of self-portraits, her more dotty pieces, periodicals and videos from her more radical times, as well as contemporary works (they are not my favorite). An exhibit like this is one where you can really sit and stare at the pieces, and I relished every minute.
Overall the museum was rather exciting to visit, perfectly sized for a day trip. If you happen to be in this part of Spain I would definitely say it’s worth your time.