Bilbao celebrates Guggenheim Museum’s 20th anniversary

  • Culture

Bilbao celebrates Guggenheim Museum’s 20th anniversary

The building of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
The building of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

When people think of present-day Bilbao, what first comes to mind is the Guggenheim Museum. The Museum has become an icon of the city, almost as iconic as the estuary that cuts Bilbao in two halves.

This year, locals are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their city’s cultural and architectural gem. In these two decades, the Guggenheim Museum has dominated Bilbao’s cultural landscape as an iconic element, a driving force of transformation at the local level and a catalyst of Basque economic development.

Moreover, the Museum expects to reach the milestone of 19 million visitors soon, with foreign tourists representing 66% of the total.

‘Art Changes Everything’, the concept running through the year-long celebrations, is absolutely true, since the Museum has become a great financial, social and cultural miracle for the city.

The transformation of Bilbao

In the late twentieth century, the Bilbao City Council and the Basque Government decided to bid for a Museum that would earn the city global recognition as one of the greatest art galleries in the world and become the driving force of the transformation of a misty, grey, post-industrial city which had to find a new direction, reinventing itself as a tech hub with state-of-art infrastructure and a leader in the service sector.

The Basque authorities partnered the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and soon afterwards, they approved the project for an innovative building made of twisted curves of limestone, glass curtains and titanium panels.

This was the origin of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Its opening, in 1997, marked the beginning of the urban transformation of ‘El Botxo’, as the capital of Vizcaya is popularly known.

Currently, the Museum Collection consists of 130 works by 74 artists worth 729 million euro – nearly 7 times the initial investment, which amounted to 110 million euro. Its economic impact on the local economy includes 5000 direct and indirect jobs, as well as 600,000 euro for the Basque treasury.

From Abstract Expressionism to video art

For the 20th anniversary celebrations, the Museum Board, chaired by Juan Ignacio Vidarte, has prepared a special programme of 11 temporary exhibitions, including a retrospective on Abstract Expressionism, which will be on until June; a show on the Parisian art scene in the late nineteenth century – ‘Paris, Fin de Siècle’ –, from May to September; and ‘Bill Viola: A Retrospective’, dedicated to the pioneer of video art and the use of the moving image, American artist Bill Viola.

In addition, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao will serve as a tool for the promotion of local art. This spring, the Museum is making its spaces available to young Basque artists who are part of today’s visual and performing art world in the city.

Finally, there is TopARTE, a programme that offers the Museum’s auditorium, classrooms or atrium to cultural actors or entities for free to show their numerous cultural projects.

Over twenty entities have accepted the invitation to take part in TopARTE, which will be on throughout the year. More information available at the Museum website.