The Best Of Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum

Is it possible to experience a shape?

The Guggenheim Museum grabs the attention of most visitors to Bilbao. Even visitors that are too cool for art will end up at the Guggenheim.

The building itself is cool and fascinating enough, but the initial draw into the museum is probably the Puppy. The Puppy is a living, colorful, flowering sculpture of – you guessed it – a 40 foot tall puppy. It sits on a wide-open public area outside the museum, facing away from the building and standing watch. The Puppy’s flowers, which are petunias, marigolds, and more, stay alive thanks to an internal irrigation system activated early each morning.

The Puppy, on the South terrace of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Puppy, on the South terrace of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

There’s plenty of history that goes along with the blooming Puppy.   When the Guggenheim first opened, a Basque (northeastern region of Spain) separatist group tried to blow up the Puppy using explosives shaped as flowerpots. The group was not successful in the attempt. Also, the sculpture has been known to travel, and has spent time at a temporary exhibit in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Also, well-known model Stephanie Seymour had a duplicate of the Puppy made for her home in Connecticut.

Keeping with the large scale of the Puppy, the Guggenheim also placed a large-scale spider on an outside public terrace. The 30 foot tall Maman (translation “mother”) is on the North side of the museum building, well out of sight of the Puppy. The spider sculpture might remind you of alien ships from the movie “War Of The Worlds”, but is actually a tribute to the protective nature of the sculptor’s own mother. Like the Puppy, this sculpture has been recreated around the world, including Canada, Germany, and Mexico.

The spidery sculpture Maman on the North terrace of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The spidery sculpture Maman on the North terrace of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

The structure itself for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao jumps out of the surrounding landscape, sticking up like a shiny new toy. Once inside the building, you can first cut through the featured installation titled “The Matter Of Time”. This is a huge multi-part sculpture, made of up tall, twisted, rusting metal, formed into shapes you have never experienced. The walls and coils of the sculptures seem to move towards and away from you at the same time, creating an odd dizzying effect. This is the largest artwork within the Guggenheim Bilbao, singlehandedly occupying the largest gallery.

The museum keeps on the dizzying theme throughout your visit. You’ll find several skywalks connecting different exhibits, and curved walls and ceilings all around.

View of the North balcony of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
View of the North balcony of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Heading upstairs from “The Matter Of Time”, you’ll find an art experience called “Humans”. This is another immersive exhibit – one which you will again walk though. “Humans” consists of over 1000 polaroid-sized photographs of random people, with most appearing to be from times gone by. The photographs cover three walls arranged in a “U” shape, with the visitor walking into the mouth of the “U”. The walls are dimly lit, using only tiny light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in the center of the exhibit. Visitors have to be careful as they walk through the hanging lights, some of which nearly reach the floor.

Outside of “Humans”, the Guggenheim exhibits contains modern and contemporary pieces of art spanning several decades across several galleries. This artwork is occasionally rotated with artwork from other Guggenheim museums around the world. There’s something here for every interest.

Some administrative items about the Guggenheim Bilbao: Admission to the museum is 13 € (about $16 U.S., fall 2014 rates).   Hours are 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Tuesday to Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays. Photography is generally discouraged inside the museum, although you can go home with as many pictures of the Puppies and spiders outside as you like. The museum hosts two restaurants, and an extensive gift shop where you can buy reproductions of the Guggenheim artwork.

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