Freeway-Free in Spain: A Tale of Two Museums
Bilbao’s Promenade along the Estuary is anchored at each end by a world-class museum. The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum looks like a traditional museum from the outside – a blockish building with a fountain courtyard, a lobby with a gift shop. Ho hum. But the museum has re-invented itself in competition with its more famous colleague at the other end of the promenade and its exhibit space, when I visited, was among the most interesting and inventive I have seen.
At the time of my visit, the museum had thrown the traditional chronological arrangement of its art right out the window, and had rearranged its El Greco’s, its Goyas, its Gauguin in alphabetical order by subject. So the Gauguin was exhibited under A for ART, taken out of its frame and put between glass panels so you could see the paint smudges on the edges of the canvas, and some scribbles by the artist on the back of the canvas. In the same room were examples of art by paleolithic artists as well as moderns ones. It made me think about the Gauguan in a completely different way.
Here’s a sample of the many pieces of Spanish and European art on view at the Fine Arts Museum:
(The picture on the lower left was taken, of course, in the room labeled “P for Portrait”.)
It was a rainy day when I visited, and I could have happily stayed for hours.
The next day I visited the other end of the Promenade, the Guggenheim Bilbao. This museum is really all about the building. The architecture inside and out is so curvaceously fascinating that the art pieces serve as much to enhance the building as to display themselves. Here’s a sample:
Of course, Bilbao is more than the sum of two museums and a promenade along the estuary. There is an old town. There are modern buildings. I’ll give you a glimpse of that Bilbao next time.