Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Facts about Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

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The world’s largest toy

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is one of the most important works of architecture and contemporary art in the world. It is a symbol of art and architecture, but also of the city’s rebirth and the region’s cultural potential.

Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the building is considered one of his most important works. The building’s distinctive and innovative design is based on organic shapes, dynamic lines, and the effect of a “rippling” exterior surface made of titanium sheet metal.

The museum is a unique combination of architecture and contemporary art, which not only attracts artists and culture lovers but also has a huge impact on the city and contributes to changing its image and socio-economic dynamics.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern art.

It is one of three museums owned by the Solomon Robert Guggenheim Foundation, an American art collector and philanthropist. The Foundation was established in 1937 by Salomon Guggenheim and Hilla von Rebay, a German abstract painter, collector, and promoter of modernist art in the United States.

The Foundation is a non-profit organization, whose purpose is to collect, preserve, and study contemporary art. In addition to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Foundation includes the Guggenheim Museum New York and the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin.

It is located in Bilbao, Spain.

Bilbao is located in the Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain located on the Bay of Biscay. It is the largest city in northern Spain and the tenth-largest city in the country. It is one of Spain’s university cities and is also the Basque Country’s most important industrial and port city.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bilbao was a booming industrial center and a significant seaport.

In the 1970s, due to the global oil crisis, Bilbao’s position began to weaken, and the city gradually declined. It began to face major social problems and was additionally associated with the Basque terrorist organization ETA.

The steel, metal, and shipbuilding industries in particular suffered, and the city became a symbol of economic decline in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, a decision was made to revitalize the city based on the construction of an architectural icon.

A turning point for the city became the construction of the Guggenheim Museum. The success of this project became known as the Bilbao effect, used in later years with various effects in other cities around the world (Sheffield, Abu Dhabi, and Hong Kong, among others).

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, whose construction was entrusted to Frank O. Gehry, was chosen as the new symbol - an icon - of the city.

Frank Owen Gehry (actually Ephraim Goldberg) is an American architect and industrial form designer from a Canadian Polish-Jewish family. He is one of the main representatives of deconstructivism in architecture - a continuation of postmodern architecture that began in the 1980s. His projects are known primarily for their external effect, which consciously shocks by contrasting traditional urban space.

Gehry proposed an unconventional and spectacular building with an innovative and novel form, full of autonomous volumes and curves. This realization was used for the first time in the Catia computer program, previously used for modeling fuselages in aviation.

Not all Bilbao residents welcomed the project.

The city was in crisis, and it was thought that the huge funds earmarked for the construction of the museum - €133 million - could have been used for other purposes, including helping the unemployed. However, in the very first year after the facility opened, the city earned 148 million Euros more than the previous year, so the cost of construction paid for itself within twelve months.

In the following years, the city’s income steadily increased, primarily due to investments in the tourism, hotel, restaurant, and business sectors. The construction of the city’s second post-industrial icon-the conference and convention center - also contributed. This facility was built in the former docks. It refers in its form to a ship in a dry dock. The center is home to the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra.

The construction of architectural icons and the revitalization of Bilbao have brought great financial and social success.

The city became internationally known and began to be seen as modern, friendly, and attractive to tourists. New industries developed, unemployment dropped, the river was restored to the city, new parks were arranged, and former waterfronts were turned into boulevards.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao took four years to build.

The building is seamlessly integrated into the urban landscape. It was built on a 32.500-square-meter site along the Nervion River in the old industrial center of the city (it is most impressive from the river).

It has an area of 24.000 square meters, of which 11.000 square meters is dedicated to exhibition space, spread over nineteen galleries. The largest of these is 30 meters wide and 130 meters long (in 2005 it housed Richard Serra’s monumental installation The Matter of Time).

It is built of titanium sheet metal, stones, and glass. Its form is dynamic, consisting of twisted elements, undulating lines, and flowing forms. The building consists of a light-filled atrium overlooking the Bilbao estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque Country. The atrium, which Gehry called the Flower because of its shape, serves as the organizational center of the museum. Three exhibition floors rise around it.

More than 25.000 tons of concrete were used to build the museum.

The building required deep, solid foundations, which were laid on reinforced concrete pillars embedded into the rock bed at an average depth of 14 meters. As many as 665 of these piles were driven, as the building is situated on clay substrate from the bottom of the nearby Bilbao River estuary.

The base of the building is covered with beige limestone from the Huéscar quarries near Granada. The walls of the building have been specially treated against the sun, and the window glass has been treated so that sunlight will not damage the exposed elements.

The outer shell of the building is made of thirty-three thousand titanium plates.

These pates are arranged in a scalloped pattern on a galvanized steel structure. The museum’s titanium shell weighs just 60 tons-titanium weighs half as much as steel.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was opened on 18th October 1997, by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

Two hundred and fifty contemporary artworks were on display for the inauguration. The museum focuses on 20th-century contemporary art, which is also part of the permanent exhibition. It presents mainly installations, video art, and to a lesser extent paintings and sculptures.

It displays works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Eduardo Chilida, Robert Rauschenberg, Antoni Tàpies, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yves Klein, Anselm Kiefer, Jorge Oteiza, among others. In addition to permanent ones, the museum also presents temporary exhibitions.

Some of the Guggenheim Museum’s permanent exhibits are located outside the museum, on the boulevard separating the edifice from the Nervon River.

Near the main entrances to the building is the 13-meter sculpture “Puppy,” by Jeff Koons. It depicts a West Highland terrier puppy covered with flowers watered on the fly from inside.

Another sculpture that has become a symbol of the museum, as well as the city, is the so-called "Mama” by Louise Bourgeois. It depicts a 9-meter-high abstract silhouette of a spider. It is a kind of homage to the artist’s mother.

Along one of the museum’s facades is the Fountain of Fire, designed by Yves Klein.

It looks exceptionally beautiful during nighttime shows against the titanium-scaled corrugated walls of the museum building. Embedded in the fountain is another sculpture, “High Tree and Eye.” It consists of 63 interconnected spheres, which, thanks to their arrangement in an irregular order, reflect other objects, giving the whole sculpture a dynamic appearance.

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