One of the few problems of wanderlust is the high expectation. You plan for months – maybe even years – to tick a location or attraction off your metaphorical bucket list, but when the occasion comes, you’re stuck in the rut of wanderbust.
It was my own fault for raising my expectations too high. I’d spent more time than I’d care to admit sat in front of a computer screen on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest for long periods of ‘armchair wanderlust‘, making mental notes of museums to go to in Europe, temples to see in Asia, and countless amounts of beaches where it seemed everyone seemed to be, expect me.
When the time actually came for us to depart and start our of nomadic adventure, I’d long forgotten about dreams of drinking cocktails at the beach, but kept hold of those which would enrich my life.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
After my first encounter with the Guggenheim Foundation in Venice my desire to see more art galleries and museums around the world was further reinforced, especially considering the broad selection of modern and contemporary art that collections such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (which has a lovely sculpture garden) and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao have within their walls. And the more I read about other people’s travel, reviews of the Basque city of Bilbao and the unique architecture that encases the collection, the deeper the desire became.
Commissioned by the Basque government in a partnership with the Guggenheim Foundation, the regeneration of the former port industrialised centre of the city and the museum that now stands as the central landmark of the Abando district was placed in the capable hands of the internationally respected – and at times controversial – architect, Frank Gehry.
Gehry’s methods and design throughout his fifty years of self practice have propelled him into the stratosphere, especially given the unusual structures that have become so immediately recognisable to the general public. With cultural icons such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the hypnotising Dancing House in Prague, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, it’s not entirely surprising to see that the popularity of his particular process and attention-grabbing structures has even been acknowledged as ‘The Bilbao Effect‘.
What Is The Bilbao Effect?
With Gehry’s work comes immediate success; or at least that’s what both the general public and several bodies that have since commissioned work by starchitect’s like him and Zaha Hadid have come to believe – and they’re typically quite right.
‘The Bilbao Effect‘ is essentially the attention that something grandiose and entirely different brings to a location, both for good and bad reasons. It causes a stir. It defies expectation. It’s a failure proof method of revitalising a neighbourhood that was once busy with the daily noise of industry, but is now quieter than a grave. In some cases, it’s to shine a spotlight on art where once the appreciation of something like art was prohibited. Above all, it brings a crowd, and each year the Guggenheim in Bilbao sees roughly one million visitors, and on top of that the entire city has begun to see further investment in redeveloping most of the now empty sites along the docklands, plus further protection of some of its local heritage sites; surely proof that the ‘Bilbao Effect‘ really must work. The museum certainly piqued my interest enough to visit.
Beautiful Lines, No Question
Though the day may have been grey and slightly damp due to the typical rain that showers over Bilbao throughout the year, we were both buoyant to be visiting the museum whilst we were in the city.
From the outside, the building was as mesmerising as each and every picture I’d seen. The size and scale of the building seems to stretch and change shape as I watched it, shimmering through the light drizzle, dancing within my vision; yet whilst we enjoyed a walk around the building that took us past both the ‘Tulips‘ and ‘Puppy‘ pieces by the American artist Jeff Koons as the sun began to rise higher in the sky, there was a thought in my mind that I couldn’t quite place.
Inside the Guggenheim
As the hour met the opening time of that morning, we made our way into the foyer and purchased our tickets. Already I began to get a grasp on that feeling that had began to bother me outside, that this wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but I couldn’t help but tell myself that it was far too early to make a final opinion.
The interior is outstanding. Daunting in fact. The center floorspace in which schoolchildren were seated upon whilst listening to their guide for the day speaking in what I understood to be purely ‘Euskara‘ (the official language of the Basque community) was smaller than I expected, yet deceptively expansive as the ceiling looms and stretches above you to the heavens. With glass and granite making up the the majority of the structure, there’s lots of light, and plenty of strength in the feel and appearance of the building. The light floods in from almost every angle, which is quite a contrast to so many art galleries and museums constructed prior to it that often feel so dark and drab.
Unfortunately for us, a couple of rooms were off limits as one exhibition ended and another prepared to begin, but the permanent collection was enough for the both of us to enjoy as we stepped from one floor to another from the glass elevator. Of the collections that did remain, the most iconic and memorable for us was ‘The Matter of Time‘ by Richard Serra. Unforunately photograph inside of the art spaces was forbidden, but you’ll find a nice overhead shot of the eight towering pieces of curved and rusted steel that make up the piece on our ‘Travel & Art’ Pinterest board.
The Disappointment Of Expectation
There’s nothing wrong with the museum, in fact, it’s one of the nicest that we’ve visited; but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by it, though I know that’s entirely my own fault.
I’d spent so many years hoping to one day have the chance of admiring the curves of the building and to enjoy at my own leisure the artworks inside that I’ve caused my own disappointment, my own wanderbust. Instead of being able to arrive and enjoy the same pleasure that others have for close to two decades, I let my imagination work overtime instead of letting the seed of excitement and wanderlust gently tumble along without too much expectation.
In contrast to my own opinion, Franca really enjoyed our few hours spent at the Guggenheim Museum and certainly would have entertained the thought of staying longer had we not so much more to see that day in other parts of the city. She explained and made me see so many angles to the building that I had missed on my first walk around the floors, pointing out great angles of light, the peculiar reflections and the dancing shadows on the floor of both staff and visitors as they all passed by the floor-to-ceiling windows; and as we departed towards the exit I began to see what so many people were often attaching their admiration to, could visualise the light upon their faces as they passed underneath curved layers of glass and titanium.
Would I recommend the museum? Certainly. Just because one person doesn’t feel part of the adoring masses, doesn’t mean that it’s not something extra special. And it just goes to show that the ‘Bilbao Effect‘ really exists as not only did we visit, but maybe one day so will you.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 till 20:00
Groups (20 plus): €11
Avenida Abandoibarra, 2 48009 Bilbao (map)
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Have you visited the museum before?