Back to Bilbao

October 19th 1997, the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, opens its doors to the public for the first time. From the subsequent architectural frenzy to the growth of the brand, we take a look at the flagship of cultural globalisation 20 years after the inauguration of Frank Gehry’s emblematic design. Happy Birthday Guggenheim Bilbao!   Today, Guggenheim is more than a surname; it’s a brand – a trademark whose global reach and mainstream position have ensured untouchable success. The formula is simple; to build locally and exhibit globally. As has been the case for 58 years now, the dialectic is straightforward, yielding striking results. From New York to Bilbao (passing via Venice), the golden triangle of the masterpiece trend is off the scale. Things have not always been plain-sailing and there have inevitably been some challenges along the way in Guggenheim’s quest to increase their global presence. Whilst the New York flagship, anchored on Fifth Avenue, has stood the test of time since 1959, and the Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal, Venice, has been home to the Peggy Guggenheim collection for more than thirty-five years, conversely, the SoHo (New York) arm closed in 2001 and Las Vegas’ Hermitage Museum followed suit in 2008. The Berlin Guggenheim, known for its radical minimalism (its entire exhibition space was open plan), closed its doors for the last time in 2013. The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, home of many important pieces, was also forced to close, unable to overcome the multiple hurdles in its path. These closures in quick succession – the woeful result of a mismatched marriage of art and money – were difficult setbacks to recover from. Other Guggenheim projects didn’t even get off the ground; firstly in Guadalajara, Mexico, then in Vilnius, Lithuania, projects for two further museums were quashed....

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A “Charleroi effect”?

Since 1997, much has been written about the “Bilbao effect”. But is the creation of “mega-museums” still adapted to our society today? We probe this question by examining Charleroi, which has chosen to privilege depth over gloss in a project that combines urbanism and culture. Sometimes nicknames linger long after the reality they point to has vanished. Does Charleroi really still deserve its reputation as the “world’s ugliest city”? Ever since it earned this title from a Dutch magazine in 2009, its municipal authorities and various private initiatives have been getting involved — and investing — to restore this Belgian city to its former glory. Charleroi enjoyed its hours of glory during the industrial era, firstly thanks to coal mines, then thanks to the production of glass and steel, but also thanks to the chemical and mechanical industries. While its population multiplied by seven between 1800 and 1900, subsequent deindustrialisation triggered the exodus of 35,000 inhabitants, leaving no more than 200,000 residents in the city. The move had severe consequences: Charleroi still carries the marks of this transition, which occurred as quickly as the city’s collapse. With ten years separating their respective developments, Charleroi has confronted similar issues to those faced by Bilbao. But the Belgian city, holding less architectural strength, has chosen to follow a different path from its Spanish sister. Instead, it has adopted a double strategy. On the one hand, the creation of cultural and urban coverage with the means to breathe new life to the city. On the other hand, safeguarding and promotion of its industrial heritage. What remains of the Bilbao effect? Ever since the successful integration of the Guggenheim Museum into an abandoned landscape, we’ve heard about the “Bilbao effect” again and again. For good reason too, when we note how niftily the strategy...

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Louise Bourgeois, Inner Experience

Until 4 September 2016, the Guggenheim Bilbao is hosting the exhibition “Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells”, paying homage to the work that haunted the artist in the last twenty years of her life. Louise Bourgeois didn’t tend to make concessions. For her, “space does not exist. It is a metaphor constructed to structure our existences.” It was in this mind-set of denial that she designed, in the last twenty years of her life, her Cells: her own metaphor for space. The Cells are complex works. According to Julienne Lorz, curator of the exhibition along with Petra Joos, they “are located in the indeterminate space between museography, staging, atmosphere creation and installation; a sculptural entity that, on this scale and on this formal level, has no equivalents in the history of art”. “Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells” is an exhibition that has no equivalent either, so much so does it call for superlatives. For the exhibition, the Haus der Kunst in Munich and the Guggenheim Bilbao gathered 28 of these architectural spaces that are so impressive for their dimensions and their evocativeness. Gathering all the pieces was a tour de force. Julienne Lorz recalls: “This exhibition is unique for the diversity of lenders and the complexity of its installation. It’s certain that we won’t be able to see another such event again for dozens of years.” The works come from diverse collections: the Easton Foundation and the Louise Bourgeois Trust, of course, but also the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (Helsinki), the Daskalopoulos collection, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou, and numerous private collections. Seeing these works gathered is a rare event, and it is incidentally the first time that Cells I to VI have been reunited since they...

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Alex Katz at Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, will host from 23 October 2015 until 7 February 2016 the exhibition “This is Now” by Alex Katz. It was previously on show at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. “This is Now” brings together 35 paintings made by Alex Katz over the course of the last 25 years. The chosen pieces are landscapes, showing that this is an important subject for the artist, who is better known for his portraits. The exhibition reveals the importance of contemplation for Alex Katz and his quest to capture “flash” in his work: the artist has defined this as the moment where seeing and perceiving are simultaneous, just before the image becomes focused. It is this perceptive flash that Alex Kantz wants to portray. In the series Black Brook, Katz is similarly interested in perception: using reflections in the brook, he reminds the viewer that images are seen upside-down by the cornea then “turned the right way up” by the brain. The exhibition will be accompanied by a conference convened by Michael Rooks, curator of the exhibit, as well as guided visits led by artists who will give their interpretations of the works by Alex Katz. Alex Katz has always distanced himself from movements; a figurative painter, he has refuted the principles of abstraction, whilst still being inspired by Pollock’s Action...

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María Luisa Fernández at AZ Azkuna Zentroa

From 18 June until 13 September 2015, the art centre AZ Azkuna Zentroa in Bilbao, Spain, is hosting a solo exhibition entitled “Je, je… luna”, displaying the works of María Luisa Fernández. Different groups of sculptures, drawings, and installations, realised between 1979 and 1997, which have never before been exhibited in a retrospective will be displayed at the exhibition, which deals with the Fernández’ artistic production up until her last exhibition in 1997, after which she did not create works for a long time. The exhibition will also feature pieces belonging to the period of the Artistic Surveillance Committee, a group founded by Juan Luis Moraza in 1979, which was active until 1985. The works of María Luisa Fernández are characterised by her incorporation of disparate artistic languages, ranging from conceptual post-art to minimalism, and the sculptural traditions of the Basque Country, where the artist studied, summarised in Jorge Oteiza’s (1908–2003) formal and theoretical research. In the same way, puns and double meanings are often found in her works, as well as a critical vision of the official version of the history of 20th-century art. Born in Choli in 1955, María Luisa Fernández is a contemporary artist and obtained her MFA from the University of Chile. Her work has been displayed in numerous exhibition such as “Mínima Resistencia. Prácticas artísticas durante las décadas de los 80 y 90” at the Reina Sofía National Museum Art Centre MNCARS, in 2013 and 2015; “Ideal Artists” at the Carlos III Hall, Pamplona, in 1997; “Expressionist mocking, à la Trayecto Gallery” at Vitoria-Gasteiz, in 1993; “Sculptures” in CREDAC, Paris, in 1990; at the Oliva Arauna Gallery, Madrid, in 1990; “Mitos y Delitos” at the Metrónom Hall, Barcelona; and at the CAM, Bilbao, in...

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