World-famous architect Philip Johnson called the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao "the greatest building of our time." It is "a miracle," said The New York Times. Certainly, few buildings in history have generated so much praise or have so greatly changed a city as Frank Gehry's museum on the industrial riverfront of Bilbao.
The city, once the culturally moribund commercial center of Spain's Basque region, was revitalized by the 1997 opening of this radically unconventional museum -- an irregular fusion of limestone, glass, and a shell of thousands of lustrous titanium sheets.
Once known for shipbuilding, Bilbao is now famous for its art museum. A futuristic vision
set in an old industrial district, the Guggenheim almost instantly transformed
this commercial city into a cultural center. See more pictures of famous landmarks.
Admirers have compared the museum to a titanium clipper ship under full sail (harking back to Bilbao's shipbuilding history) and to a spaceship from Alpha Centauri (underlining the museum's futuristic look, an apt setting for its collection of contemporary art). To one Spanish novelist, the blaze of titanium and light is a "meteorite."
Critics, on the other hand, have described the museum as looking like a cauliflower or a large soufflé. In any case, few visitors remain unmoved upon entering the museum's 150-foot-high atrium, from which glass elevators and metal walkways lead to 19 exhibition spaces -- including the world's largest gallery, measuring 426 feet long and 98 feet wide. The ground-floor galleries suit large-scale artworks and installations, and some pieces were specifically made to fit their exhibit spaces, among them Richard Serra's Serpent.
Works of art displayed at "El Guggy" come from New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and from the Basque government. Pieces range from abstract expressionist to cubist and geometrical, and include many big names of 20th-century art: Kandinsky, Picasso, Pollock, De Kooning.
Still, the museum itself remains the main attraction. Visitors gaze out through tall windows, running their eyes along the museum's titanium ripples. They've never seen anything like this before!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.