Frank Gehry’s astounding Museo Guggenheim looms over the left bank of the Río Nervión, ten minutes’ walk west of the Casco Viejo. Completed in 1997, it was hailed by architect Philip Johnson as “the greatest building of our time”. The construction of such a showpiece project on a derelict industrial site represented a colossal gamble by the Basque government, which hoped to stimulate the revitalization of Bilbao. Amazingly enough, it worked. A gargantuan sculpture, whose sensual titanium curves glimmer like running water in the sun, it has inevitably overshadowed the artworks it contains.
The best way to approach the museum is along the river, either along the quayside, or by crossing the high Puente de la Salve road bridge from Deusto on the north bank. One of Louise Bourgeois’ fearsome spindle-legged spiders, Maman, patrols the water’s edge, while Anish Kapoor’s column of glittering silver bubbles, Tall Tree and the Eye, stands in a reflecting pool alongside the building. The actual entrance, however, is via a walkway that descends from the structure’s city side. Jeff Koons’ enormous Puppy here, clad in colourful living flowers, was originally installed as a temporary exhibit for the opening ceremony, but became a permanent fixture after bilbainos clamoured for it to stay.