A delayed post as we were in the north of Spain for the whole of last week. We spent the first 3 days in the very attractive city of Bilbao. This is an architecturally outstanding city with some very grand buildings in the main street, the Gran Via (good photos) and lots of narrow streets in the old town (click on photos), with tall buildings featuring some very elegant balconies as in the photos below. Bilbao is a city to explore on foot, to be a tourist and stroll down one street after another, passing the niche shops and many, many eating places. One of the gastronomic features of the Basque country is their pintxos – a Basque word for a small bite-sized snack, with a crusty bread slice for a base and a wide variety of toppings e.g. cream cheese and smoked salmon or prawn. You choose your pintxos (pr pinchos) from the range displayed on the bar and in some bars, the range was extensive. We did not find one which was not a very tasty lunchtime snack to accompany a beer, glass of wine or sangria.
The highlight of our visit to Bilbao – indeed of our whole trip – was a visit to the magnificent Guggenheim Museum (good photos). The building itself is a work of art with its various shapes at the front and back and on the roof. The photo below shows the approach to the main entrance. You have to stop and take in the enormity of the building, which looks complicated at first, until your eyes go over the curves and folds.
If you think there’s a definite Wow factor to the outside of the building, when you go inside, you will be amazed at the height of the Atrium, with its huge expanses of glass and large tiled walls, with light flooding in from a skylight 3 floors above you. The architect Frank Gehry’s design (good photos and drawings) is breath-taking. You look up to a long shapely glass curtain which you then discover is a shield for the elevator. Then to your left, you see a curved tiled block on a plinth which rises to the upper floors. The excellent free audio commentary tells you that none of the tiles are exactly the same shape. The first photo shows the glass curtain and the second shows the tiled block.
The commentary then invites you to go out on to the balcony and you are greeted with a burst of colour from Jeff Koons’ Tulips. These large, stainless steel, shining “flowers” are not only visually delightful (to my eye) but they reflect the curves of the museum building itself, meaning that where they are placed is as important as what they are, as the photos show.
Two other external sculptures are equally eye-catching. The first is Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye which consists of 73 reflective balls which rise to form a tree-like shape. When you look at this sculpture from different angles, you see the building and the surrounding area reflected in the individual balls and each ball reflects its neighbour. This mathematically designed object is both craft and art.
The second sculpture, which you see as you approach the museum from the river side, is Louise Bourgeois’ Maman. This looks like a huge spider and is dedicated to the artist’s mother who was a weaver. It’s a fascinating construction and you can walk under it and between the spider’s legs. You see the spider close up on your approach to the museum and then from the museum’s balcony. Each time you look, it seems to be slightly different. The spider is both monstrous and protective of the eggs in the middle but it is also very elegant.
The final external work of art is the monumental Puppy, also a creation of Jeff Koons. This is a huge sculpture in the shape of a puppy – I think that it looks more like a cat – with the outside covered in flowers which are bedding plants and presumably change with the seasons. It’s an amazing sight but also a very attractive one.
I’ll cover what exhibitions we visited in the next blog post but as you can see from the photos, the Guggenheim Museum is a unique piece of modern art and sculpture. The museum is a modern (if non-religious) cathedral and just as people hundreds of years ago were agog at the construction of the world’s many cathedrals, so the people of Bilbao must have looked on in awe as this superb edifice rose from the side of the river. It is by a country mile the most impressive museum we’ve ever been to.