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Gehry's titanium cathedral

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum has put Bilbao firmly back on the map. Inaugurated in 1997, the futuristic complex sparkles majestically in the sun. Every year, Gehry's masterpiece attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the Basque city.

Locals call their city El Botxo, 'the hole', a nickname that was quite appropriate before its revival. Bilbao used to be a dreary industrial city on the banks of the polluted Nervión river. Architect Frank Gehry got on a plane, climbed a mountain, looked out over Bilbao and saw that things weren’t quite right. He bought a shipload of discounted titanium and constructed one of the world's most famous buildings.

'La Araña' The spider at the Guggenheim
'La Araña' The spider at the Guggenheim

Bilbao

From Picasso and Dalí to Serra and Koons

Two decades later, Gehry’s amazing whirling construction is still Bilbao’s top attraction. Half of the 10,000 square metres of exhibit space is set aside for temporary exhibits. The other galleries display Warhol, Magritte, Picasso and Dalí. The 130-metre-deep Arcelor Gallery houses 7 of Richard Serra's massive sculptures of rusting steel. Outside we find one of the most fun artworks: 'Puppy' (pronounced ‘Poopie’), a metres-high dog sculpture made of colourful petunias created by the king of kitsch, Jeff Koons.


Visitors can use the free audio guide to find their way around this titanium cathedral of modern art. There is another guide for the exterior of the museum with information about the architecture. Those who prefer to peruse the library, browse the museum shop and relax on the restaurant terrace can easily spend a day at the Guggenheim. An interesting fact is that Gehry has also created a plan for Abandoibarra, the surrounding port district.

“'Puppy', a huge dog sculpture by king of kitsch Jeff Koons guards the entrance”

Amusement park of modern architecture

After Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was constructed, the city acquired more modern architecture. Practically every top architect in the world has left his mark here: a futuristic airport by Santiago Calatrava, a flashy subway by Norman Foster, a glass festival venue by Federico Soriano, and a sparkling skyscraper by Cesar Pelli. Bilbao is a beautiful amusement park for fans of modern architecture, and the Guggenheim remains its centrepiece. The views of the Guggenheim never get dull because its titanium appearance is as changeable as the weather. During the day, it provides a stark white contrast against the clear blue sky, in the evening it obtains a light pink glow in the setting sun, and after a Basque rain shower it often radiates a soft lilac hue.