Art Installation #9 – Falling into the Guggenheim in Bilbao and coming out looking for more of the architecture of Frank Gehry

Guggenheim Bilbao – Exterior Walkabout – from a distance

If you are traveling to Spain, Bilbao’s Guggenheim is worth adding to your itinerary.

The value of art and architecture, for me, is how they cause me to live completely absorbed in the moment. The moment is all that really exists so it really is the best place to spend your time.

The value of contemporary art and architecture – if they achieve what they set out to do – is to allow each of us to take away our own interpretation and meaning of what we see in its presence. You have to be present in its presence to access that and when you are it can be a powerful experience.

I went to the Guggenheim in Bilbao and lived so in the moment that when four hours had passed it felt like one moment. I was drawn in to the depths of this place, I was amused and engaged by its surroundings and I was raised up in what it held inside. My interpretation was of experiencing life as seamless oneness. Perhaps this is what a fish feels like in water. This giant fish of a building with all its seams, sails and scales ended up feeling seamless to me.

This art installation on my blog will have more photos from Bilbao and more info on architect Frank Gehry – where he’s coming from and what he’s done lately.

Guggenheim Bilbao – Exterior Walkabout – close up

I love it that a building that people take so seriously for its achievement in architecture (it’s not easy to build entirely new shapes in titanium and glass and have nothing leak) is surrounded by such whimsical sculptures. A puppy, a bouquet of tulips, a stack of bubbles, bridges, spiders and a man striding away from it all? Spending an hour just walking near and far around the building was every bit as good as exploring the exhibits inside.

Guggenheim Bilbao – Interior

Everything on the interior made me feel part of it but also made me aware of my very small place in space and time and in the grand scheme of things. The exhibits being housed during my visit were life’s work of Yoko Ono and of Picasso’s contemporary Georges Braque. They won’t always be there as the Guggenheim museums around the world rotate the exhibits. That too seems appropriate. We share life for a while and then move on.

Yoko Ono’s water exhibit and her rays of light exhibit surprised me in their beauty and the power of their message. I hope you get to see them sometime.

“You are water. I’m water. We’re all water in different containers. That’s why it’s so easy to meet. Someday we’ll evaporate together.” – Yoko Ono

There were so many messages of oneness for me in this place. I wonder what it would be like for you?

All this absorption abruptly came to an end in my usual fashion. My tummy started grumbling like the true Pooh Bear that I am. Thankfully, the Guggenheim also has a breezy and beautiful cafe where we ended our visit.

Guggenheim Bilbao – at the cafe

I’ve thought a lot about Canadian born architect Frank Gehry since my visit to Bilbao. I watched this video about his early works and can see how despite designing so many box-like places, he taught himself to think out of the box and into his work’s contexts.

We also visited Barcelona on our trip to Spain. If you watched the TED talk above you’ll know that Gehry ended that talk in 1990 with references to a project he was designing that he did not think would fly – his sculpted fish for the Ritz Carleton in Barcelona. As you’ll see below, it not only got built but it and the Hotel Arts became the inspiration to build and revitalize a whole new district and the Olympic Village for Barcelona.

all lit up - Gehry's fish - photo - Karen Anderson
all lit up – Gehry’s fish – photo – Karen Anderson

Gehry recently finished another museum in Paris for the Fondation Luis Vuitton.

Gehry at the Fondation Louis Vuitton - photo credit - Vanity Fair Magazine
Gehry at the Fondation Louis Vuitton – photo credit – Vanity Fair Magazine

I find myself itching to go and be immersed in his work again. I wonder if it will just be a Bilbao phenomenon or will I feel that sensual abandon into oneness again? Like fish everywhere, I’ll go with the flow and hope it will land me on one of his doorsteps again soon. I salute this great artist and architect for helping me to savour it all.

The fish on the bar at Hotel Arts go with the flow - seems to be the way to go when you're around Gehry's works - photo - Karen Anderson
The fish on the bar at Hotel Arts go with the flow – seems to be the way to go when you’re around Gehry’s works – photo – Karen Anderson


  1. Rob Hutchinson

    Hi Karen. We had the good fortune to visit the Bilboa Getgenheim several years ago, and indeed it is spectacular. Our day there contrasted sharply with having spent the morning in Pamplona watching the bulls, a vision far from modernist architecture! Have you seen the Gehry building in Ls Vegas? Very odd, worth looking up on the web, and ironically, the home to a Brain Health Center. Cheers, Rob

    1. Karen Anderson

      Hi Rob
      So you went from full of bull to full of beauty? Sounds like two very engaging activities in one day. Good on you for being so versatile.
      I think I went from art and architecture to pinxtos and pints. Glad you went from bull to no bull.
      Always good to hear from you (no bull).
      I’ll be looking for more Gehry everywhere now and I appreciate your L.A. tip. I think because his HQ are there his influence is strong around that city (brain institute or not – he’s become a no brainer go-to)

  2. Tandi

    I was just at the National Gallery in Ottawa and fell in love with the giant spider there. Its charmingly called ‘Mamma’. I wonder if its the same sculptor?

    I love Gehry and all his work that I have seen. Its led me to a passion for modern architecture and has made me rethink my whole home. Such fun. I love how you describe it Karen.

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