The biggest attraction in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum, at the intersection of the bridge called Puente de la Salvé and the Nervión River. The 104,700-sq.-m (1,126,980-sq.-ft.) colossus is the focal point of a $1.5-billion redevelopment plan for the city. The internationally acclaimed Frank Gehry design features a 50m-high (165-ft.) atrium -- more than 1 1/2 times the height of the rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York. Stretching under the aforementioned bridge and incorporating it in its design, the museum reanimates the promenade with a towering roof reminiscent of a blossoming metallic flower.
The Guggenheim isn't an encyclopedic museum, such as the Met in New York City. This museum features the works of some of the most towering artists of the latter half of the 20th century -- including Picasso, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Clyfford Still, Antoni Tàpies, Andy Warhol, Ives Klein, and Willem de Koonig. The beginning of the collection is marked by a 1952 Mark Rothko work, Untitled. Recent European art is also exhibited along with an array of works by young Basque and Spanish artists. Artwork lent by the Guggenheims in New York and Venice rotates, and Bilbao hosts temporary exhibits traveling here from New York.
Although some disgruntled Basque locals still call the museum "the colossal Californian cauliflower" or "a cheese factory," many architectural critics from around the world, including Paul Goldberger of the New York Times, have hailed Frank Gehry's unique structure as the first great building of the 21st century. The structure is said to have been inspired by the Fritz Lang film classic Metropolis and is viewed as a homage to Bilbao's industrial past and commitment to its future. The massive museum is clad in shimmering titanium, which many observers find sexy and unmistakably elegant. The building takes up 24,000 sq. m (258,300 sq. ft.) in the former dockyards beside the Nervión River; about half of that space is devoted to the exhibition halls. The museum has virtually abolished right angles and flat walls. As one critic put it, "It was as if Gehry were working in pastry rather than concrete or steel."
Warning: Parking-Lot Robberies -- Regrettably, the parking lot where many patrons to the Guggenheim Museum park is the scene of countless car robberies. The lot is not run by the museum and the museum is in no way responsible for the thefts that take place there. But many visitors stop off at the Guggenheim in cars filled with luggage, intending to spend the night elsewhere along the Basque coast.
Even if luggage is locked in the trunk, these thefts in broad daylight are commonplace. In most cases, the police seem to offer little assistance, and the lot appears unguarded. Be warned that your property is at great risk if you leave your car in the lot while you spend 2 or 3 hours enjoying the museum. Consider arriving by bus or taxi.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2010