Museums in the Basque Country

Sure, the Guggenheim Bilbao gets all the attention, but the Fine Arts Museum (Museo des Bellas Artes) has excellent exhibitions and is architecturally interesting in its own right (international style modernism).  Not to be missed are the Fine Arts museum in Bilbao and the Balenciaga Museum (shown above and below in a gallery of images) near San Sebastian in the village of Getaria which was Balenciaga's home and where he is buried.

Guggenheim, Bilbao

The Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Bilbao is quite wonderful. It is a lyrical building sitting in a business district that could be pretty much anywhere. The red bridge behind the museum is a Daniel Buren sculpture that certainly stands in juxtaposition to its industrial setting and the museum. The Koons Puppy is really fantastic, it was a cloudy day so our photos simply don’t do it justice. The Puppy was also not in full bloom and looked like it had just been freshly restocked/replanted. It was still fantastic, the scale not taking one bit away from the cuteness. Ok, so Koons calls the Giant West Highland White Terrier blanketed in flowers “the most saccharine of iconography—flowers and puppies,” but we don’t care - puppies will always be awesome (I bet that puppy gets more attention than the building, sorry Frank).

On permanent exhibition is a favorite, Richard Serra’s “The Matter of Time.” His work, and these pieces specifically, fit so perfectly in this building where they have the space to be shown (they are massive pieces) and the context to be appreciated. They are definitely a “not to miss” collection. Other permanent works are Anish Kapoor’s “Tall Tree and the Eye" (shown below top row, right); Jeff Koons’s “Tulips,” and Louise Borrgeois’s giant spider, “Maman,” and many other outstanding and provocative works. We had the good luck to catch a temporary exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalle (shown in photos below).

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Balenciaga Museum, Gitaria


When we were in Bilbao, we had the good fortune of catching an exhibition at the Museo des Bellas Artes - The 50s: Fashion in France - which was outstanding and well-curated showing process and finished pieces. Great collection of Dior. It was a perfect precursor to our visit to the Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa. The design of the building in and of itself is worth seeing. The building has a sordid history where design is concerned (ugh. competitions, personal relationships and public processes - you can read all about it here.) Designed originally by a Cuban-American architect, Julián Argilagos, the over-budget, not meeting expectations project was shelved a bit. AV62Arquitectos won a competition to set the project right. 

The article linked above is really ungenerous, and I disagree with it completely. I loved the space. I thought it was a perfect counterpoint and setting for Balenciaga's work which was about volume, detail, precision and multiple ideas in one piece. I loved how the collections were featured - basically in boxes with perfect lighting - set within this voluminous building. This worked for me in terms of the precision within volume of a number of Balenciaga's designs. I also enjoyed the variety of space and scale within the building - big open space for big impact then on to smaller more concentrated spaces to zoom in. Again, that says fashion to me - visual impact, then focus on detail. 

Bottom line: It's worth the trip to see the remarkable work of Balenciaga and the museum.


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