“Bilbao became the name in the architecture world of the turn of the 21 century.” Joseba Zuaika

There have been a series of acts during the last few weeks in Bilbao to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Guggenheim Reflections was a spectacular light show that lit up the Bilbao waterfront nightly between October 11 and 14.

Then on October 18, the twentieth anniversary of the museum’s inauguration, a gala dinner was held in the building itself, whose 525 guests included Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Wendy Fisher, William L. Mack, Karole Vail, and Alberto Vitole, representing the same foundation, the Lehendakari or Basque president, Iñigo Urkullu, as well as Unai Rementeria, the head of the Bizkaian Provincial Council and Juan Mari Aburto, the Mayor of Bilbao.  Guests emjoyed musical accompaniment from the renowned Orfeón Donostiarra-Donostiako Orfeoia and a special dinner menu created by the Basque Country’s leading chefs, including Eneko Atxa, Bittor Arginzoniz, Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak, and Andoni Luis Aduriz.

To commemorate the occasion, too, every resident of Bizkaia has received a free invitation to the museum, and the weekend of October 21-22 it was free to visit.

CBS professor Joseba Zulaika, who has published extensively about the Guggenheim Museum, said this about the anniversary:

The twenty years history of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum presents a complex diversity of contrasting stories. The most spectacular one is obviously architecture. Bilbao became the name in the architecture world of the turn of the 21 century. It presents the paradigm to measure how architecture could transform a city’s urban fabric. With the iconic architecture came the awareness of the singular relevance of image for a struggling city. The news was no longer Bilbao’s post-industrial ruin and terrorism, and this meant more tourism and more foreign investment. The psychology of the city revived, its multi secular can-do spirit restored. These have been great stories for Bilbao and for Basque society in general. But there is no historical process without its shadows. There was initially a widespread opposition to the idea of a New York museum’s satellite in Bilbao. There were solid arguments to oppose it: the secretiveness and opacity of the agreement, the asymmetries in the sharing of the costs and power structures, the very model of a transnational franchise museum. What nobody knew was that Gehry would produce such an spectacular building hailed as a masterpiece worldwide, and that Bilbao would become the model for other cities to be transformed by architecture. The imposition of urban renewal by spectacular architecture left aside other less grandiose but more participative projects such as Gorordo-Oteiza’s Cultural Center. Nor did it resolve the tension between the strategic investment in the internationalization of arts versus the need to promote local arts, or the conflict between maintaining downtown flagship facilities versus the neglect of marginalized neighborhoods. Parodying Magritte’s pipe photograph with the caption “This is not a pipe,” you could say of the Bilbao Guggenheim that “This is not a museum.” But it is also a museum. And on most accounts, even if you dislike some of the trends it brought in art as commodity and spectacle, it is the best thing that happened to Bilbao during these twenty years.

One of the Center’s flagship publications is Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika. This multiple-authored work, representing the reflections of a conference held at the CBS in 2004, seeks to address the initial impact of the Guggenheim on the social, economic, political, and cultural landscape of Bilbao, the Basque Country, and beyond. The book is also available free to download here.  

Check out, too, some of the Center’s related works:

Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Free to download here

Building Time: The Relatus in Frank Gehry’s Architecture by Iñaki Begiristain.

Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa: Museums, Architecture, and City Renewal, by Joseba Zulaika. Free to download here

That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, by Joseba Zulaika.

Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.