“Frank Gehry”

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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The Guggenheim Bilbao turns 20

October 2017 will mark 20 years since the delivery of the Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry. Since opening, the museum has welcomed nearly 20 million visitors who have contributed around €4 billion to the Basque region’s GDP, and generated almost 5,000 jobs, recalls The Art Newspaper. To celebrate this birthday, the museum, lauded for its “Bilbao effect”, is launching a programme of exhibitions, festivities, concerts and performances throughout 2017, namely including, from 3 February to 4 June 2017, an exhibition on abstract expressionist art from the museum’s collection – today valued at €729 million, in other words almost 7 times its initial value. Otherwise, “Paris, Fin de Siècle: Signac, Redon, Toulouse-Lautrec and their Contemporaries”, an exhibition on the 19th century French avant-garde will also be held from 12 May to 10 September, while a retrospective featuring American artist Bill Viola will launched at the end of June and run until 5 November. Finally, a solo exhibition on German painter Georg Baselitz will be presenting works from his Heroes series created 50 years ago. A prize for the local artistic community will also be awarded, with the works of prize winners to be displayed at the museum next...

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Art in the 90s: Starchitecture and the Bilbao Effect

Departing every fifteen minutes from outside the Fondation Louis Vuitton is a shuttle bus adorned with an advertisement for Frank Gehry’s latest art gallery. What is striking is that the image depicts the Fondation’s billowing sails not in the Bois de Boulogne but in some sort of celestial desert; the gallery has transcended its earthly surroundings and landed zeppelin-like in the future. Given that the destination of this shuttle bus is the Arc de Triomphe, the most symbolically French monument in the French capital, one cannot help but feel that this is a deliberate denial of location. This is a frequent criticism levelled at Frank Gehry, the “starchitect” whose iconic status was sealed almost twenty years ago by his equally placeless Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Indeed in an essay for the Architectural Review in the year of the Guggenheim’s opening, the current editor Catherine Slessor noted, “The prominence and exposure of the site is curiously well suited to Gehry’s architecture, which generally works best on a tabula rasa.” Reversing conventional architectural logic, it seems that the location fits the building rather than the building the location. But this is the ultimate irony and, perhaps, legacy of the “Bilbao Effect”— cities will try to put themselves on the map by shedding themselves of a sense of place. The “Bilbao Effect” refers to the trend that emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s amongst cities to try and copy the success that Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum had in turning around the economically stagnating city of Bilbao. City councillors across the world spent vast sums of money to follow a simple, but seemingly infallible recipe: one “starchitect” + one branch of a preferably branded arts institution (e.g. Guggenheim, Louvre) = international reputation and resultant tourism revenue. The “Bilbao Effect” is perhaps about...

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Gehry’s Eisenhower memorial design approved

Architect Frank Gehry’s design for a memorial dedicated to the former president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower has been approved by the United States Commission of Fine Arts. The design has been subject to much controversy as of late, having been criticised as “undignified” and too expensive, according to The New York Times. The project, which was originally set to be finished in 2007, has already cost the government $65 million. A spokesperson for the organisation Right by Ike: Project for a New Eisenhower Memorial, said that a lot of the controversy around the design originated from the fact that the search “emphasised a high-profile, famous designer in that search, and that is what it got.” The design, to be built on a site at the foot of Captiol Hill in Washington D.C., has an estimated total price of $100...

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Frank Gehry releases statement regarding Saadiyat island

Architect behind the design for the Guggenheim’s outpost in Abu Dhabi, Frank Gehry, has released a statement speaking out about the labour conditions at the development. Reports by The New York Times, The Guardian, Gulf Labor and Vice have all revealed the extent of abuse of migrant workers on Saadiyat island, a luxury culture and real estate development which contains outposts of the Guggenheim and the Louvre. Controversy recently surrounded architect Zaha Hadid, who has also designed a building for the island, when she sued critic Martin Filler for claiming she did not care about the plight of workers, after she had said that, as an architect, labour conditions were beyond her control. Gehry, however, has been working with human rights lawyer Scott Horton since a 2009 Human Rights Watch report condemning the working conditions at Saadiyat island. A statement from Gehry Partners says: “Gehry Partners has been engaged in a substantial and on-going dialogue over many years now that has involved government, the construction industry, architects, project, sponsors and NGOs … It is a process in which we will strive to be continuously engaged, not something that is simply done at any one...

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