Bilbao Travel Guide

The Artistic Heart of Spanish Basque Country Is on This Awe-Inspiring Bilbao Riverfront

Bilbao was long established on the industrial history of its riverfront placement, but when the Nervion River flooded in 1983, it was reimagined as the artistic center of Spanish Basque Country to dreamlike success.

The centerpiece of that transformation is the celebrated Guggenheim Museum, designed by the master architect Frank Gehry. The building itself is a piece of art worthy of the works it houses. With a confounding facade of bending titanium, limestone, and glass, it is considered one of the great architectural triumphs. Universally renowned for its form, it was an immediate economic success upon opening in 1997. In this, its twentieth year, it continues to challenge with its modern, expressionist design.

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“Installation for Bilbao” (Jenny Holzer)

Permanent exhibits inside the museum include: “Installation for Bilbao” (Jenny Holzer). Featuring slogans from Holzer’s “Truisms” across nine columns of Electronic LEDs, it was made specifically for Bilbao in 1997.

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“The Matter of Time” (Richard Serra)

Another permanent exhibit is “The Matter of Time” (Richard Serra): A maze of eight giant pieces of torqued ellipses made of weathering gigantic strips of steel.

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“Puppy” (Jeff Koons)

Standing guard in the front square of the Guggenheim museum is the dutifully maintained flowered “Puppy”, a giant Westie completed by Jeff Koons in 1992.

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“Tulips” (Jeff Koons)

On the museum’s “back porch,” a deck facing the river, are gently placed another Koons classic, Tulips.

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“Fire Fountain” (Yves Klein)

Yves Klein’s “Fire Fountain” lights up the river facing facade of the Guggenheim museum nightly, creating the effect of a fiery moat. Though envisioned a year before the artist’s 1962 death, it was not completed until 1997.

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“Maman” (Louise Bourgeois)

This 30-foot-tall sculpture of a spider crawls along the river’s edge. One of Louise Bourgeois’ most ambitious works, the arachnid is cast of bronze and stainless steel, with marble eggs. Crafted as a tribute to her mother, a weaver, it was installed in 1999. The Guggenheim’s is widely considered the most iconic of seven permanent versions around the world.

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"Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.)" (Fujiko Nakaya)

Notably, the first sculpture to use fog as a medium, Fujiko Nakaya’s 1998 installation generates water fog by 1,000 fog nozzles and high-pressure pump/motor system.

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“Tall Tree & The Eye” (Anish Kapoor)

The curving metal exterior of Gehry’s design almost demands the compliment of an Anish Kapoor sculpture. “Tall Tree & The Eye” bends the Guggenheim into seemingly endless worlds.

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“TERPSÍCORE” (Salvador Dali)

Salvador Dalí’s “TERPÍSCORE” was designed specifically for Bilbao and stands in a fountain adjacent to the Euskalduna Palace Conference Centre, just a few steps from the Guggenheim. The Spanish surrealist may be more closely associated with his home in Catalonia, but the countryman’s passion for the northern region is on full display in the melting 4,000-pound figure that appears to gracefully dance along the water.

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“The Tiger” (Joaquín Lucarini)

Across the river from the Conference Centre is the impressive Tiger building, crowned with a grandiose concrete sculpture of a tiger. Originally the headquarters for business “belts El Tigre,” Avalan sculptor Joaquín Lucarini was commissioned to sculpt the stunning feline form in 1942, predating the flood and unknowingly sowing the seeds for Bilbao’s riverfront as a future art haven.

All Photos Courtesy Of Joshua Mellin