How often do you visit a gallery where the architecture, the building itself, is the art on display? Yes indeed, architecture can be intriguing, interesting, enlivening and sometimes even stunning but I’ve only visited one art gallery where it didn’t really matter what was on display inside. It’s the structure itself which captures the imagination and holds you in awe. When I travel, I love to visit as many art galleries and museums as possible. But of all the museums I’ve visited, the Guggenheim Gallery in Bilbao Spain, created by the architect, Frank Gehry, is the only one which inspires such feeling.
Whimsy is the very first impression. In front of the gallery, there’s a huge dog created by immense shrubbery. As soon as you see it, you smile!
Enter the building and you are immediately in a soaring cathedral which takes your breath away. Gehry wanted to link the city [in front of and beside] the gallery to the river behind it through the use of line, colour and space. If you sit in the centre of this cathedral-like space, you will immediately sense the connection because you are drawn back outside again by the sculpture and the view of the city and the river. Along the river, there is a lovely area to walk and view both the gallery and the city.
Outside, overlooking the river, there is a huge spider sculpture at least twenty feet high which has [at least for me] a rather delightfully comic effect. What does it all mean? I don’t know. What does a rose mean? It’s a statement of thrilling beauty. I found that at some moments I stood in solemn reflection and at others, I laughed out loud. It’s quite a tour of the emotions.
From the outside, with all its stretching, rising lines and shapes, the entire structure can look quite different from various points of view and at different times of day. Throughout the day and night, the changing light causes the structure to change colour in the reflected light. According to Gehry the curves of the exterior of the building appear random and are intended to catch the light. Calvin Thomkins of the New Yorker called it “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” reminding him of fish scales.
I was really happy to see this creation of the mind of one of the world’s finest architects. Toronto born Gehry has put an addition on our city’s art gallery, The Art Gallery of Ontario. Ever since that construction, I have complained about what had been done to a beautiful classical style building which the gallery once was. To me, it appeared as if Gehry had simply tacked on additions which did not fit the character of the original building.
But the Bilbao creation is quite different. It stands entirely on its own and is not an addition to anything. Because of that, my eye seems to enjoy roaming over the entire creation and appreciate the beauty of the structure itself. So much so that it almost seems irrelevant what is on display in its galleries! Because, when you visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao, it is the soaring architecture which predominates. You’ve come to see the building! The visitor spends time wandering about the beautiful halls and drinking in the expanse of spaces which are their own shapes and form of art.
So, if you ever get the chance to visit The Guggenheim in Bilbao, go. It won’t really matter what artwork is on display. The architecture itself is plenty of reason to visit. That and seeing such creations always sparks the creative streak in me.
But tell me. Have you ever visited a museum or gallery which has had a huge effect upon you?