Bilbao is just right: budget friendly, full of lively contemporary architecture, a handsome old town, decent public transportation and of course a spectacular museum
I’d really hate to be a pig in Spain. This isn’t even a specialty store–just a regular grocery and your choice of hanging pig legs.
The Zubizuri (that’s White Bridge in Basque) designed by Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava also designed Bilbao’s airport terminal.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 1997. The architect says the titanium-clad structure was inspired by swimming fish.
My favorite thing about contemporary art is the excitement. I have this sense of discovery and surprise at the new way that artists are using materials (especially time-based arts—I looooove contemporary performance.) While I enjoyed my visit to the Guggenheim Bilbao, I didn’t have that feeling of discovery here. The collection is mostly from the 90’s and almost all works I’ve seen before. The building can’t be missed, naturally, and the Richard Serra and Sol LeWitt installations are absolutely masterful, though the building could never be a proper background for quieter, smaller works. Me? I prefer my contemporary art to be where art is now–alive, a little scrappy, and unpredictable.
The silver ball sculpture is Reflectorama by Anish Kapoor. The steam, which floats out from under the bridge hourly, is Fog Bridge, a piece by Fujiko Nakaya.
Maman by Louise Bourgeois, created 1999.
I want tiles like this in my bathroom.
The Matter of Time by Richard Serra.
Richard Serra’s monumental (and for me, vertigo inducing) installation is perfect for the building.
As I was standing off to the side of a gallery waiting for HOB to look at the Serra, a steady flow of people approached me and asked me questions like “Am I allowed to take photos?” or “How do I use this audio tour?” and even though I don’t speak Spanish I answered them all with confidence because, friends, I do this for a living and somehow everyone can tell.
It was our last night in Spain. It was a great, but intense trip. It rained/snowed/hailed every day and we were hungry. We were on our way back to our room to pack up for the next morning’s flight home. And then the singing began. A group of Basque men in berets converged in the rain under a department store awning. They rhythmically pounded sticks on the ground and sang in the Basque language of Euskara, a magnetic weaving of bass, baritone and tenor. After two songs the men once again pounded sticks and marched off. “Well,” we said to each other, “that was unexpected and beautiful–wonder what it was all about?” We poked our heads into the cathedral and found another large group of signing children, men and women in gorgeous traditional dress–they had taken over the church, but only for the duration of a few songs. Outside the church was more caroling: four part harmonies, a fife and drum, and an accordion. We forgot where we were headed and listened until the singers moved on.
The young woman working the desk at our hotel was Basque, and she explained that this was a holiday in honor of St. Agnes, a day when the Basque people carol door to door in praise of the saint.
This is why I travel: culture is alive. Sometimes you need to leave the museum, walk out into the street, and find that the vitality of art is outside where your feet get wet, your stomach is growling, and you just might find yourself in the middle of caroling Basques.
How we got to Bilbao: bus from Oviedo.
Where we slept: Casual Hostal Gurea. Price: €40.50 for a double. Recommended: yes.