Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Gallery of Contemporary Art: History, Collection, Exhibitions.

To help you get the most from your
visit to the Bilbao Guggenheim see:
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art.


The Guggenheim Bilbao Building is a landmark of modern architecture
as well as a major cultural centre, it is
one of the top art museums in Europe
for contemporary works.

Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Located on the northern coast of Spain, in Basque country, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a renowned centre of contemporary art housed in a unique building, designed by the Canadian-American Deconstructivist architect Frank O. Gehry (b.1929) and built by Ferrovial, which stands alongside the Nervion River, which runs through the centre of the city.

A landmark of postmodernist deconstructivism, the Guggenheim Bilbao is one of several venues belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and is one of the best art museums on the Iberian peninsula. It houses both permanent and temporary exhibits of sculpture, a number of important 20th century paintings, and artworks by top contemporary artists from Spain and overseas.

For another Spanish museum of 20th century and contemporary art, please see: Reina Sofia, Madrid.

Prado Museum Madrid
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Hermitage St Petersburg
Tretyakov Gallery Moscow
Uffizi Gallery Florence
Vatican Museums
Sistine Chapel Frescoes
Raphael Rooms (Vatican)
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
Guggenheim Venice
Mauritshuis Art Museum
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Louvre Museum
Musee Conde, Chantilly
Musee d'Orsay
Pompidou Centre

Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden
Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin
Guggenheim Berlin
Pinakothek Museum Munich
Kunstmuseum Basel
National Gallery London
Tate Gallery
Courtauld Gallery
British Royal Art Collection
Saatchi Gallery

While complementing the art collections in other Guggenheim galleries, Bilbao's collection maintains its own unique identity within the overall Guggenheim ethos, which is to collect, conserve, research and display works of modern and contemporary art in all its forms.

At present its holdings represent a range of contemporary art movements, exemplified by the most famous artists of the second half of the 20th century.

The latter include Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, Eduardo Chillida, Willem de Kooning, Antoni Tapies, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol, among others.

For contemporary 3-D artists, see:
Twentieth Century Sculptors.

History of Guggenheim Bilbao

Planning for a major cultural institution for Bilbao began in the late 1980s, when the Basque authorities began to formulate a redevelopment program for the city. The aim was to diversify the city's economic base by building upon its traditional manufacturing activities. In 1991, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was contacted by city officials to collaborate in the founding of an arts venue dedicated to 20th century contemporary art. An official agreement to this end was signed in February 1992 by Basque President José Antonio Ardanza and the Foundation.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened in 1997.



Building Design

In keeping with the Solomon Guggenheim philosophy of harmonizing architecture and fine art - as reflected in the design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) - the Bilbao museum's avant-garde Deconstructivist design employs a novel mix of materials to create an extraordinary silhouette, juxtaposing strange organic shapes with huge glass walls and regular forms finished in stone and titanium. Constructed using high-tech Computer Aided Three Dimensional Interactive Applications (CATIA), the building has the overall contour of a ship, reflecting the marine history of the site. A tourist attraction in its own right, its spectacular appearance has made an immense contribution to the image of the city, attracting visitors from around the world. Amazingly, unlike other iconic buildings like the Sydney Opera House, it was completed on time and within budget.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is organized around a central atrium, a huge empty space topped by a metal dome. From this central area, a network of glass lifts, stairways and curved walkways connect nearly 20 galleries of varying spatial proportions, that display works both chronologically and by artist. Temporary shows and large-scale works are presented in an unusual 30 metre wide gallery extending almost 130 metres in length under the La Salve bridge. The total area of the museum consists of a massive 24,000 square metres. (For more about Frank O. Gehry's work in deconstructivism, please see: American Architecture 1600-present.)

Permanent Collection

Now established as one of the best galleries of contemporary art in Europe, the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao encompasses works by the foremost artists of the last four decades of the 20th century, augmented by items from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, including major exemplars of modern art movements like Abstract Expressionism and American Pop-Art, as well as contemporary movements such as Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Arte Povera and Conceptual art. In general, the emphasis is on installations and electronic forms of art, rather than traditional fine art painting. In addition, a number of spaces are reserved for in-depth installations and other large-scale works created specially for the Museum. Thus for example, artists like Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, and Richard Serra have created site-specific works to exploit the large areas of the museum. Contemporary Spanish painting by modern and contemporary Basque and Spanish artists such as Eduardo Chillida, Juan Munoz, Antonio Saura, and Antoni Tapies are also represented.

See also our article on fine art: How To Appreciate Paintings.


Special acquisitions by the Bilbao museum have included outstanding signature works such as Lightning with Stag Caught in its Glare (1958–85) by conceptualist Joseph Beuys (1921-86), Barge (1962–63) by assemblage artist and painter Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), and two unique monumental works: Puppy (1992) by Neo-Pop artist Jeff Koons (b.1955), and Richard Serra's eight-part suite The Matter of Time (2005), considered by some critics to be one of the most important sculpture installations ever produced. The Bilbao collection also presents a number of in-depth displays of individual artists, like Anselm Kiefer, to illustrate the development of their art over a period of time.

Temporary Exhibitions

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao hosts an active program of temporary exhibitions, encompassing avant-garde abstract, thematic shows of art from around the world (eg. Chinese, Russian art) and other contemporary exhibits. For more about temporary exhibitions, see: Best Contemporary Art Festivals.

• For more about famous art-buyers and their collections, see: Art Collectors.
• For more information about the world's greatest art museums, see: Homepage.

Art Questions | Art Glossary | Art Types
© All rights reserved.