I spent last week a few days in Bilbao, my first time in this city. It was a business trip, and I had only a few hours to spare which I tried to use at best in order to get at least a taste of what is an interesting and beautiful city in an area of Europe which is certainly worth a longer trip and a vacation, to know and enjoy it. I hope to be back some day.

The first meeting with the city is with the airport designed by the famous Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. It’s a doubled wing like structure, quite impressive seen for distance, less in the interior.

The city is a real playground of some of the world’s most famous architects. Since the 1980s the Basque Country is governed by an autonomous government which embarked in ambitious plans that changed the region and the city of Bilbao from a rusty industrial town to a vibrant European point of attraction for hi-tech and business, for art and international events. Here is the hotel where I stayed, the Melia (former Sheraton) designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Leggorreta.

From the hotel room I could see what is one of the characteristics of the city – the melding of old and new construction, the careful urban design and the insertion of modern art (especially sculptures) in one integral vision.

The next morning was Sunday and I used a few hours before the start of the convention to walk the area and reach the landmark of the city – the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The area was a former harbor terrain, by the river which is actually an estuary bringing ships from the Atlantic, an area which in the 70s had fallen in decay. It was redesigned and brought back in the circuit of the city life. The most recent Master Plan which gave the whole environment its look of today belongs to the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid and was started in 2004. In the picture you can see one of the example of the renovation and recovery of the past periods in the history and architecture of Bilbao with the Universidad Literaria de Deusto, built in 1886-1887, the largest building in the 19th century Bilbao, designed by an architect with remarkable classic works in Madrid – Francisco de Cubas.

The newest addition is the Torre Iberdrolla 165 meters, a 41 stores office building designed by Argentinian architect Cesar Pelli.

Near-by the less daring by yet very interesting Biblioteca de la Universidad de Deusto – Rafael Moneo Vales, with slightly irregular lines, combining roundness and angles.

And then, I turned the river bend and I saw – one of these buildings I read so much about, I expected to see and visit for many years – Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao. It is impressing and I loved it, with the external titanium cover absorbing and reflecting light and colors from the sky and the city and integrating its folded surfaces into the landscape around.

I walked around it – one of the best views can be taken from the nearby bridge with the proenade on the water guarded by the out-of-this-world sculpture ‘Maman’ by Louis Bourgeois.

Huge and yet sweet and familiar Jeff Koon’s ‘Puppy’ guards the entrance to the museum.

source http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guggenheim_Museum_interior,_Bilbao,_July_2010_%2804%29.JPG

The space inside reminds to some extent the spiral structure of the Guggenheim in Manhattan. The feeling that the museum building is as much an object of art and an objective of the architect as the works of art that are being hosted by the museum cannot be escaped.

sourcehttp://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/visualarts/museums/NYT-StateofGuggenheim-Magazine-06-30-02.html

One of the permanent installments is Richard Serra’s ‘The Matter of Time’ - a series of labyrinths, walls and passages, made of the rusty iron materials that made the ships in the docks that formerly occupied the place where the museum is now located.

Balthus - 'The Street' - source http://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/secciones/programacion_artistica/nombre_exposicion_imagenes.php?idioma=en&id_exposicion=138#activas

Two temporary exhibitions were open last Sunday. The one I spent most of the time (and which was closing that day) was ‘Chaos and Classicism: art in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, 1918-1936′, which started with a selection of Otto Dix’s sketches from the battlefields or representing the human aftermath of the First World War and ends with monumental Fascist dedicated to Mussolini or the preferred paintings hanging in one of Adolf Hitler’s offices. It was a very intriguing review of the other facet of the art between the two world wars, the one that opposed the innovation of the avangarde (although some of the surrealist and cubist artists also played with the concept).

(video source efeinternational)

The second, still open is ‘The Luminous Interval: The D. Daskalopoulous Collection’ - mix of large scale installments of contemporary art, of various tastes and trends – so I liked some more, some less.

Mona Hatoum’s ‘Current Disturbance’ which I had seen last year at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem was one of the works exposed – actually the first one just near the entrance as I entered the museum.

The audio-guide is very informative and included in the ticket price.

THE Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall designed by architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios on the site of the former Euskalduna Shipyard was the building that hosted the W3C standard meeting which I came for in Bilbao.

I had little time for the rest of the week. One evening I went out for a short walk to the center of the city and I took a few photos. here is how the city looks, combining churches and classical 19th century buildings with modern additions.

Another visual element are the metro entries named by the locals forestitos. In 1988 the city opened a bid for the design of the metro stations which was won by British architect Norman Foster.

The last day I used a couple of free hours to visit the Museum of Fine Arts located in the Dona Casilda Park – another combination of an old building with modern extensions, with a work by Serra in front of it. The permanent collection offers a solid path through the history of the local and European art.

source http://www.museobilbao.com/in/exposiciones/matta-1911-2011-164

I had much too little time for the two temporary exhibitions in the museum. One was dedicated to the centenary of the birth of Chilean artist Roberto Matta – creator of monumental art, inventor of imaginary words worth exploring.

(video source LookingForArsMundi)

The second belongs to local artist Daniel Tamayo.