From what I hear, there are two cities for opportunity in Spain. One is Madrid and the other depends where you come from. Assuming we’re not Catalan, Bilbao is considered an emerging metropolitan of creativity and business. It is the #2 destination for career driven graduates and (in-keeping with the likes of Oviedo and Aviles) home to a great whopping chunk of globally recognized architecture.
This isn’t a blog about architecture but to present Bilbao without the Guggenheim is like talking about Shanghai and not mentioning spitting on the street. In truth, here is a city, unlike Aviles, where the master-plan appears formed around the centrepiece. Over there the canal curves around the building’s exterior. Over here the grass-lined tramway glides alongside. From above; the elevated motorway slices straight through the shiny metal folds.
The rest of Bilbao is a tidy, attractive city with ironically more banks on every street than pubs in England and a fair sprinkling of galleries and open spaces. I can see why people would like to live here… but there’s only one reason they would like to visit.
So, without further ado; the Guggenheim. Sheet waves of shiny titanium almost comically overlapping and floating about each other like a huge metallic cloud, or boat, or neither. Or both. It’s pristine, each tile dazzling, blinding in the cloudless sunlight. The build quality puts the likes of Zaha's Guangzhou Operahouse to shame.
Beautiful, yes but it’s also so legendary, so illustrious it feel cheesy. Dotted around it outside are a smattering of token works from the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Jeff Koons. The effect is like walking into the Vitra store… that Eames lounger doesn’t feel quite so exclusive any more.
Inside is a hive of rooms and annexes, enough to make a game out of visiting them all. The highlight is clearly Richard Serra’s interpretations of corten steel, the space literally built with them in mind. Even their scale-models in the explanation room are a wonder.
Another wonder is in the small plaque of description next to each work. Up there with wire coat-hangers and Capoeira hippies these really get my goat. Okay, you’ve gone and done something weird in the name of art, or maybe something not so weird… but then the description is so fantastical, or fantastically serious that the whole effect is laughable. I leave you with an example: the piece “The naked soul of captain shit and the legend of the black stars”.