Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Winter is a cold and dreary time in London. This weekend, for instance, it was only slightly above freezing. So for our first trip of the new year, we headed south — to Bilbao, Spain.

The main draw was Frank Gehry's incredible Guggenheim Museum. We were both a little worried, though, that it might be the only thing to do and we'd end up bored. As it turns out, though, Bilbao is a lovely city: public gardens, a charismatic old town, and a strand of funky style. It's in northeast Spain — heart of the Basque region.

The first night, we had tapas on the Plaza Nueva,

and strolled down the river to see the Guggenheim at night. Disappointingly, it wasn't well-lit (probably due to a light-up art installation near by), but the Calatrava bridge looked great.

Dinner was a small hitch: we couldn't really find anything that wasn't either a bar or a cafe, so we gambled on a place that looked nice, Cafe Iruña.

The waiter didn't speak any English (very few people did) and clearly we had no idea what we were doing, because what we ordered turned out to be sliced meat on a plate. That's all: just meat on a plate. So it wasn't a culinary coup, but an enjoyable night nonetheless. We got a bottle of local wine and experimented making our own kalimotxo, a Basque drink that's basically half red wine and half coke. It doesn't taste as strange as it sounds.

Sunday, we got up nice and late (it's vacation after all) and mosied over to one of the most famous buildings of modernity: the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. Opened in 1997 and designed by "starchitect" Frank Gehry, it eludes explanation. To me, it's nothing short of inspiring.

I should also explain that, as a kid, when I wanted to be an architect, this building was a huge deal. I read about it when it was still only a design, still being constructed. For more than a decade, I've seen pictures and wanted to see it for myself. So forgive me if I post one or two too many of my own pictures here... I just think it's stunning.

Inside, there's a massive ground floor gallery. It's a huge space uncluttered by columns or supports. Though why it was filled with a collection of rusty metal shapes, I have no idea. Why not use it for a work that is dependent on the huge scale?

Perspective can be deceiving: if you look near the top in the center, you can see two people. That should help to give you some scale of the size of the gallery.

We did like, however, the giant spider on the riverfront,

and these industrial-strength tulips by Jeff Koons (you can see both in the wide shots above).

He has a few pieces in the Phoenix Art Museum, if I remember correctly, and is, if you believe this plaque, from Nueva York.

I'm confident to say that this is my favorite modern art museum I've been to. Partly because the building is, in itself, a work of art, and partly because there wasn't really that much modern art in it. One reason we went when we did was for the traveling exhibition that took up the entire second floor: an exhibition about Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright's connection to the Guggenheim is that he designed the famous Guggenheim museum in New York. And since he has such strong Arizona connections, both Teriann and I were already familiar with many of his works. It was a well-put-together exhibition, with a bit of history alongside drawings and models. Far more interesting, methinks, than a typical modern art exhibition.

All in all, a great weekend!

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