I’m just back from a few days away in Spain, the highlight of which was a create date at the Guggenheim Bilbao.
I’ve never been in any museum or gallery where the building is such a part of the experience.
Described variously as a metallic flower, a system of whorls, architecture as abstract art, and by its creator Frank Gehry, as a boat, its fluid and curving forms were immediately recognized as one of the most complex, unique and important architectural designs of the 20th century.
“I spent a lot of time making the building relate to the 19th century street module,” Gehry has said. “And then it was on the river, with the history of the river, the sea, the boats coming up the channel. It was a boat.”
The museum was opened 21 years ago and is probably the most influential building of modern times, giving rise to what’s known the “Bilbao effect”: cultural investment plus showy architecture leading to economic uplift.
The Guggenheim’s current director, Richard Armstrong, told artnet news that the museum transformed not only the way that outsiders thought about the city, but also the way the city regarded itself.
“In the 1990s, the city was hard to get to and inward-looking, it wasn’t ‘legible’ for the foreign visitor.” The way the Guggenheim was conceived and presented enabled the public and other arts professionals to change how we think about the experience of a museum, that it could be transformative.
“It was a metamorphosis from the museum as repository to a total concept of the museum,” Armstrong says. “The big success of the Guggenheim Bilbao is that it demonstrably shows the impact that the visual arts can have on a city’s capacity to attract cultural visitors and at the same time positively change its own psychology.”
Countless odd-shaped buildings have sprung up the world over in its wake, but these wannabe Bilbaos have not matched the original. The Guggenheim Bilbao, like all creative successes, arose out of a confluence of unique conditions.
There are lessons here for any creative business:
- Be bold
- Be relevant
- Find the inspiration in what you’re doing and explain it in terms that inspire others
- Seize the moment
- Steal but don’t copy
Create Date at the Guggenheim Bilbao: Some Pictures
The Jeff Koons 43-foot-tall flower sculpture “Puppy’’ outside was “underwritten” by designer brand, Boss. The original plan was to remove it from the museum plaza, but schoolchildren made such a fuss that it was kept in place.
Richard Serra, The Matter of Time (2005)
View from a widow. Every window frames something worth seeing
Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.