A recent visit to the Spanish Basque city of Bilbao (May 2016) had one key objective in mind – to see the Guggenheim Museum. As a lover of architecture it has been a building on my ‘really must see if I happen to be in the area’ list since its creation less than twenty years ago.

Frank Gehry’s design of glass, titanium and limestone is not beautiful in a classic sense but is certainly stunning with its complex sweeps and curves and metallic reflections.


There is no doubt that the most impressive view is from the river. The entrance plaza certainly looks disorientating and hard to understand, and I have emphasised this with the extreme 14mm lens view below.


Only when you approach the entrance, shown at the bottom of this picture, do you begin to realise the scale and complex shaping of the metal clad halls.


The interior is equally impressive and again it’s hard to appreciate that this is a well designed structure for the display of modern art. The enormous central atrium The Flower is a wonderfully light and airy open space, the connecting place that distributes the visitors to the nineteen exhibition halls and rooms with its walkways and glass lifts and steps. And no straight lines. Just when you think that soaring pillar is straight and true you move and see the subtle curve. It’s disorienting and stunning at the same time.


(Below) The soaring columns in the atrium from the ground floor.


The curves and complexity continue even as you spiral up the to the other levels of the atrium.


We move into the outdoor space to see the Tulips artwork but looking up presents more shapes and lines created by the soaring glass, stone and titanium – and the lighting challenges that go with that. These next two photos are HDR merges of three bracketed shots for the photo geeks amongst you with some additional tweaks from Lightroom.

EuropeRoadTrip1605_56_tonemapped EuropeRoadTrip1605_59_tonemapped

In the outside section of the atrium is a popular structure by Jeff Koons known as Tulips which also, for me, was a challenge to photograph. In this image I decided to emphasise the bold metallic colours by separating the background away into layers and desaturated them. How big are they? Peek behind the dark blue one on the right and you will see someone’s head – big!



Photography is only allowed in the atrium and on the covered display area in the open air. This is probably no bad thing as looking up with 2.4kg of Nikon is not good for the neck and heading inside to view the artworks was a welcome rest.

Yes, I’m more about appreciating architecture than the artworks to a degree. If the modern conceptual artist wants to make me think for myself then I do – often along the lines “you’re having a laugh right?”.  To be fair I liked a lot of what the Guggenheim was displaying unlike my wife who had permanently raised eyebrows and a sad shake of the head as I enthused they had works by Kandinsky and she asked if we had that on CD and could I hum it? Or the work Iberia by Robert Motherwell which is a completely black panel with a corner torn off. “Tut, it’s damaged!” she said, “No no, the artist has left that bit unfinished, it’s a hint of hope at the edge of the grim darkness of a world torn apart by the Spanish Civil War” I said, paraphrasing the explanatory notes. “Hmmm” she said.

As long as it’s not used commercially I had permission to take a photo in this room, dedicated to Andy Warhol’s Shadows, a series of 102 panels to be seen as one work flowing around the room. Photographically I liked the way these panels met at this corner to form a dramatic image.


Leaving the Guggenheim but situated close by on the public promenade is ‘Maman‘ the great bronze mother-spider by Louise Bourgeois, one of a series of six she created. I remember the original was created for the Unilever series in the turbine hall at Tate Modern. I was working within Unilever at the time and a previous work consisted of hundreds of white boxes stacked randomly. It inspired me to take a photograph of our office which at the time had about 15 white polystyrene insulated boxes stuffed untidily in a corner by my colleague who had no idea he was at the cutting edge of modern conceptual art…  😉


Maman by Louise Bourgeois


Finally, on this short visit to Bilbao, a walk along the river to the old quarter bypassing this sweeping footbridge…


… then at Plaza de Don Federico Moyúa I saw this amazing view that featured the recently built Iberdrola tower – a dramatic representation of how old traditional Bilbao is now living alongside ultra-modern architecture by the emerging thrust of this erection of blue glass. There, I sound like a conceptual artist…