Iconic

San Sebastian Travel Blog

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The Guggenheim

How did he do it ? Frank Gehry has created the most beautiful modern classic, a masterpiece of design and engineering. The genius of this man has delivered an icon, necessitating more superlatives than I possess.

My visit to the Guggenheim Gallery in Bilbao was worth the years of wait and now rests on a little pedestal in my Golden Box.

 

It is breathtaking; not just the visual spectacle as you wander its exterior and interior but the technology that was developed to actually build this marvel of architecture. The exterior is a mix of soft grey titanium plates and glass and every surface contains some curved element. It took one year to perfect the technique to create the titanium plates which are so delicare they look like little sheets of foil.

Outdoor sculpture - Tulips by Jeff Koons

 

The plates needed to be both durable and of a texture that resembled fish scales. Ghery vision was to create an effect to resemble fish scales. As a child his mother used to buy live fish and keep them in the bath before preparing them for cooking. Therefore much of his architecture reflects his love of fish, in this case the scales.

 

Also, because of the extreme weather conditions in Spain and the large amount of glass used in construction, it was necessary to design a new type of glass to keep out the heat but maintain clear vision. New technology had to be developed to achieve these requirements and consisted of impregnating the material with atomic particles of metal - another technological breakthrough developed specifically for the Guggenheim.

F.O.G. sculpture (Fujiko Nakaya)engulfing 'Mama' sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.

 

Entering the space on the first of three levels, you are transported to the central atrium which spirals to the massive roof above. Each level circles around this enormous circular space therefore encouraging the visitor to keep returning to this familiar open light-filed chamber. Gehry designed the exterior of the building to connect with the rest of the city and created a 20cm deep pond stretching from the base of the Guggenheim to the edge of the river. This space also becomes an exhibition space with a regular timing to release the 'F.O.G. sculpture' materialising at regular times throughout the day. The fine mist takes on varying shapes depeding on the weather conditions.

 

Where do I start with the exhibits? It took Gillian and I many hours to complete a spiralling navigation of the three massive floors of modern art.

A Matter of Time, sculpture.
I know I will not have the superlatives in my vocabulary to describe our awsome experience. If we had not had a bus to catch, we could have stayed until closing time.

 

The first floor is dominated with an exhibition space the size of a football field and houses several massive sculptures by American Richard Sera: The Matter of Time. It is a permanent installation and the size and scale are unrivalled in modern history at this time. It was very disorienting wandering through his giant metal spirals and snakes: the concave and convex curves simultaneously bending you through a maze iof dizziness - an unforgettable sensation - as if the space was moving around you.

 

Further exhibits on the lower level were instalations and performance pieces from the nineties and more recent years.

Elsa Schiaparelli Skeleton dress.
Each one encouraged you to interact in some way: either by sound or movement, creating your own sensual experience.

 

For at least two hours we wandered the many small galleries on the third level housing ' Surreal Things' {my favourite exhibits!}. They explored the influence of Surrealism on the world of design, theatre, interiors, fashion, film and architecture and it is here that the original collections of Peggy Guggenheim are truly  highlighted. She was clearly a visionary of her time and it is our fortune that she had the insight to collect so many wonderful pieces. Some of her favourites were Dali, Renay Margritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy and Elsa Schiaparelli.

 

A special favourite of mine was the fashion exhibit and the unique design work of Schiaparelli complimented with Dali's jewellery was sheer bliss for me, especially her two pieces entitled the 'Tear Dress' and the 'Skeleton Dress'.

Dali's 'White Aphrodisiac Telephone'
I could have stayed longer to study each piece; the colours and patterns used were so ahead of their time and I can see where Vivienne Westwood took over from here - blurring fashion

and art.

 

On display also are two of my favourite Dali icons: the Mae West Lips sofa and two versions of Lobster Telephone {I loved the all white one.}

 

So now to finally attack the middle level, curling itself around the floor-to-ceiling glass atrium as with all other floors.

Juan Munoz,'Conversation Piece'
The area contained a retrospective of Juan Muñoz's work. He is one of Spain's most celebrated sculpture artists of the century (born in 1953 and since passed away). His work is very distinguishable.

 

My favourite installations were those involving his almost life-size characters. His work contains many architectural elements such as bannisters, balconies (typically Spanish) and tiled flooring designs created from coloured linoleum. Many of his pieces are also suspended from walls or lay low to the ground encouraging you to contort yourself to see the facial expressions or unusual constructions. One such piece is a replica of a train crash consisting of metal train carriages 1m high. Inside the carriages are tiny models of houses and buildings which you must crouch down to observe.

 

Muñoz's most well-known exhibit is called 'Conversation Piece' and is set in a large white walled space big enough to house the 100 figures, The faces of them all are all the same (a chuckling elderly Chinese man) but each one has a different pose and they are in various shades of grey.

The blooming puppy at Guggenheim.
They are grouped in such a way to encourage you to look at the faces and imagine the individual thoughts and conversation taking place. It is a little disconcerting as the models have no feet and are about two thirds the size of an adult. It was a lot of fun wandering through the 'crowd' but being careful not to touch any of the conversation pieces.

 

I have been so lucky to enjoy this iconic building and even without the artwork inside, I enjoyed the architecture and especially the 'Puppy'. 

 

Gill and I found the city very easy to wander around; it is small enough to not require public transport but there is an amazing modern 'tram' to jump on and off if blisters get the better of you.

'Beautiful' tram tracks.
Even the tram tracks are 'beautiful' and peep through lush trimmed grass. From a distance, you are completely unaware that the tram tracks are even there.

 

We particularly enjoyed the 'old town' with its clean narrow walkways, fabulous shopping and of course the numerous little bars for food and beverage breaks!

The city itself is a homogenous blend of old and new architecture. The casco viejo (old city) is separated from the new by the beautiful river, connected by many wonderful old bridges and a fabulous new Zubizuri walking bridge near the Guggenheim. It makes me wonder why you would build any lasting structure and not make it aesthetically beautiful.

The new part of town is similar to any other European cosmopolitan centre and boasts many large and luscious plazas ideal for relaxing and sheltering from the afternoon heat. We had decided to shop on our 'free day' and visit the Guggenheim on the public holiday (yet another un-named holiday in Spain).

The old town - view from our hotel.

 

Now that I was able to take advantage of a little shopping, I really enjoyed the freedom of playing around the multitude of gorgeous shoe and clothes shops. The girls will not need this fact explaining! I discovered that I was not the only one to have a love of shoes (between the two of us I think we hit double figures with our purchases over the four days).

 

On my arrival in Bilbao I had discovered a lovely little bar several streets away from the river in the old town. It was well away from the tourists and boasted a wonderful selection of fresh tapas lined up on the bar. Some of my favourites are the piquillo peppers, roasted with lashings of olive oil and salt, morcilla (blood sausage) sliced on top of the hearty artesan bread, a piece of cured bacalao (salt cod), anchovies resting in olive oil and vinegar and the deep fried croquetas crunchy on the outside revealing a creamy filling of tuna, bacalao or cheese.

Camp!!

 

On Gill's first night in Bilbao I carefully led her through the narrow winding streets at 9.00pm, in time to share a wonderful evening with the locals and partake of some of these delicacies, washed down with cool bubbly Sidre.

After this first introduction to the Spanish way of eating, I soon had Gill convinced that we should repeat this on our second night. In another bar, we sampled bocatas (mini bocadillo, sandwiches). This bar was like a trip back to the 70's and had posters of a group like 'the Seekers' lining the walls. Bad skivvies should never come back in style!

We selected a glass of local vino tinto and shared a jamon bocata and another filled with juicy chorizo warmed in sidre - delicious. From here we made our way to a small restaurant for a menu del dia and although we were full after our two courses, dessert and vino we stopped off at a quiet bar for a nightcap.

Counting the loot

 

This bar seemed strangely empty compared to the others in the street but we were glad to have a stool at the bar and struck up conversations with some locals. As an 'early' closer, the barman pulled the shuttered door closed at midnight but advised that we were welcome to stay and finish our drinks. It all went a bit pear-shaped when Gill brought out her camera for an innocent shot of our new friends. "no photo, no photo" It was very clear that we had over stepped some invisible line and on reflection later that evening we realised why. The Basque country is the home of a terrorist group ETA and maybe we had innocently stumbled on something we shouldn't have?

 

After a few giggles, we vowed to continue having adventures but restricted them to the shopping kind from then on!

Tearing ourselves away from Bilbao was difficult and we really wished we had more time but San Sebastian awaited us.

 

Besos Grace.

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The Guggenheim
The Guggenheim
Outdoor sculpture - Tulips by Jeff…
Outdoor sculpture - Tulips by Jef…
F.O.G. sculpture (Fujiko Nakaya)en…
F.O.G. sculpture (Fujiko Nakaya)e…
A Matter of Time, sculpture.
A Matter of Time, sculpture.
Elsa Schiaparelli Skeleton dress.
Elsa Schiaparelli Skeleton dress.
Dalis White Aphrodisiac Telephon…
Dali's 'White Aphrodisiac Telepho…
Juan Munoz,Conversation Piece
Juan Munoz,'Conversation Piece'
The blooming puppy at Guggenheim.
The blooming puppy at Guggenheim.
Beautiful tram tracks.
'Beautiful' tram tracks.
The old town - view from our hotel.
The old town - view from our hotel.
Camp!!
Camp!!
Counting the loot
Counting the loot