The Top Ten of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Art Museum

Art lovers say the Guggenheim Museum is the number one reason to travel to Bilboa, Spain. The architecture of the museum is as much of a draw as the artwork that houses it. Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim to sit on the riverbank in an area that was once Bilboa’s industrial rust belt. Today, the Guggenheim is the heartbeat of Bilboa with surrounding tapas bars, famed cathedrals, and narrow lanes pumping blood throughout the city.

Here are some interesting facts about the Top Ten of Guggenheim Museum for the Art and Architecture that make it such a must-see attraction.

Get thee to the Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum is the number one reason to travel to Bilboa, Spain.

Why does Star-chitect Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim rate as one of the most admired work of contemporary architecture? Because the Guggenheim brought “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.” Say what you will about the design but be sure to acknowledge Gehry’s genius in appealing to the masses as well as the cultural elite.

A Museum Made of Titanium — Really!

Bilbao’s Guggenheim Art Museum: A Museum Made of Titanium

Gehry’s original intention was to have the Guggenheim made of stainless steel. The riverbank location, however, was so close to a bridge that such a highly reflective surface could pose real danger to drivers. Titanium saved the day.

It Reminds Me of Fish, Too

There are tens of thousands of titanium tiles encasing the Guggenheim’s exterior. More than 35,000, to be a little more exact. The herring-scale design is a legacy of Gehry’s boyhood enchantment with fish.

Puppy Love with Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons’ Puppy is a permanent installation on the city side of the museum grounds.


Jeff Koons’ Puppy is a permanent installation on the city side of the museum grounds. Puppy is a 50-foot-tall West Highland terrier made of foliage. Each May and October, Puppy gets a new coat of foliage. Pansies are popular in fall and winter, and begonias, impatiens, and petunias for the warmer months. When I visited, there were about 38,000 flowers in red and pink. I remember being awed by the begonias.

Jeff Koons’ Puppy is a 50-foot-tall West Highland terrier made of foliage.

I love gardens and greenery and flowers and being outdoors. I love Jeff Koons, too. His Split-Rocker, in Washington, D.C., has more than 50,000 flowering plants. Check out some of these other off-the-beaten-track gardens, museums, and estates here.

There’s a Kid’s Menu

The educational program Learning Through Art is designed for using art as a tool. Not only do students discuss art and experiment with creative expression, they learn the importance of art in life. Intended for primary grade schoolchildren, Learning Through Art provides the opportunity to explore painting, photography, sculpture, and performance. Learn more here. There’s an exhibit of children’s art, also.

Come for the Art, Stay for the Architecture

The atrium is the center of the museum, and a hallmark of Gehry design. I love the huge glass curtain that connects the interior and exterior. The Guggenheim’s three floors are connected and organized by the atrium, and needless to say the building is bursting with sunlight. I love how the building functions to host art while being a piece of art itself. A picture is worth a 1,000 words, see lots of them here.

Sculpture by Serra

The atrium was the perfect spot for the Richard Serra sculpture exhibit. The humongous steel sculptures reminded me of seashells, not like a clam but more a conch. They are giant cylinders that you walk through. See here. I’m sorry it’s gone. Maybe if enough of us visit the website, they’ll bring it back.

Gehry in California

I love the architecture of the Guggenheim — both in Bilbao and New York. You know what other building Frank Gehry designed? The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.  Gehry’s iconic flowing style stands out among the more conservative high-rise bank buildings and law offices. I hear the acoustics are fabulous, making the venue a favorite of musicians of all stripes. See for yourself here.

The Roaring Twenties

Seeing the preview for the upcoming The Roaring Twenties exhibit gave me hope. It’s scheduled to open April 30, 2021. I love that optimism. The exhibit is a look at “humans’ desire to innovate reached its peak during the 20th century in the 1920s.” Also, after the Spanish Flu pandemic came the Roaring Twenties; there’s a connection there with COVID. Click here to see read more on this exciting exhibit.

The Art of Economics

The Guggenheim’s impact on Bilbao’s socio-economic indicators is very impressive. Close to 4 million art lovers (and others) visited in its inaugural first three years, which turned into a profit of about €500 million. Tax revenue from visitor spending was pegged at more than €100 million, recouping the costs of construction. Star-chitect Gehry is credited with creating the Bilbao Effect, resulting in statement architecture around the planet. It’s too early to know the numbers telling the story of COVID’s influence on the local economy. The Guggenheim’s website posted this message: The museum and store are temporarily closed. Experience the Guggenheim wherever you are through Guggenheim at Large. So, while I can’t wait to return to Bilbao, the digital fix will have to suffice.

What digital travel experiences have you experienced recently? I’m always open to suggestions, so send them my way. I’ll keep you up to date on all I am doing, too.

Stay safe! Looking forward to seeing you on the road. And hearing about your adventures.


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