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Published: August 29th 2014
Guggenheim Bilbao has been on my wish list since it opened in 1997 and I was right to want to come here. It is an amazing building - an art work in itself - and both the Gehry design and some of its signature pieces really have to be experienced spatially. Persuading the Guggenheim Foundation to build the museum in what had become a depressed former port city was an absolute genius move. I don't think it has totally transformed the city - there isn't much else to Bilbao- but it has certainly made the place an important international cultural destination.
The building is a striking modernist titanium and glass structure which reflects the shipping history of the city and provides magnificent light-filled galleries of many shapes and sizes. Like the NY Guggenheim it is a manageable size. We concentrated on the permannet collection and found it very rewarding to concentrate on a small number of exceptional works.
Apart from Gehry's building the highlight for both of us was Richard Serra's A Matter of Time
, a collection of huge steel spaces, maze like structures that occupy the gallery's largest room. Serra plays with geometrical forms, twisting ellipses to give
the person within his works a sense of enclosure and opening space and of time slowing or speeding. I had seen pictures of his work but they in no way do it justice. It is powerfully experiential space-making and I now understand why he is one of the world's most celebrated contemporary artists.
Another work which helped me understand why a known name is so important was Anish Kapoor's Tall Tree and the Eye
, which sits in the gallery moat. It is composed of 80 shiny spheres which reflect and play with both the building and the viewer. It's a really compelling work which works so well in the space.
I was curious to see the two famous pop art sculptures by Jeff Koons, Puppy
. Before seeing them live I had seen pictures and thought they were amusing but trite. In the flesh (so to speak) Puppy
, which is composed of living flowers and stands 13 m tall, is much more than a comedy piece - it's beautiful and eloquent too. Though less impactful than Puppy
I liked Tulips
better 'live' too - the contrast between the shiny fabricated material and the subject is much more
striking than one realises from pictures.
The quality of curation at the GB is extraordinary. This was particularly noticeable for me with the video installation pieces, a specialty. I rarely find video installation speaks to me but the pieces I saw today all did. I dipped into a 9-screen musical performance work called The Visitors
by Ragnar Kjartansson expecting that I would pass through quickly and found myself utterly captivated by the quality of the music (nine performers on different instruments, in different rooms improvising and hearing each other through headphones). Moving about the installation allowed the listener to hear the separate instruments distinctly and remain connected with the whole. It was a magnificent auditory experience.
Another video installation posed a classical style sculpture with the remaking of a ballet film using two men to explore our assumptions about masculinity. Yet another, had two screens - one with a disabled girl reciting a poem and the other with a digital image of the girl. It was quite uncanny. Both works were much more powerful than I have come to expect from the medium - clearly curation of this kind of work in Melbourne is not working me.
It seems every other Spanish artist has their own take on the Las Meniñas theme. We saw another one, a work by Jose Manuel Ballester, who takes famous works and digitally manipulates them to remove all figures, so that the empty space tells its own story. An interesting visual challenge especially in the context of a work with so many layers and riffs.
Apart fromThe Guggenheim, Bilbao has been a quiet spot to catch our breath. We had a short visit to the Basque Museum, where we enjoyed some giant figures of important Basque personalities and tried to decipher the Spanish commentary with moderate success.
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