Guggenheim Bilbao

Together with Fontanel, we were invited by the Guggenheim Bilbao to visit the Riotous Baroque exhibition and enjoy a little of Bilbao. While the weather in the Netherlands dipped into some early autumn, it was a good time to escape to this sunnier part of Europe. And flying to Bordeaux, driving myself along the coast to Bilbao wasn’t bad at all.
After driving along one of the most beautiful coastlines of Europe, crossing Biarritz and San Sebastian, Bilbao feels like a real hidden gem, with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim as the pearl in the centre of the city. A beautiful place, in the late 20th century transformed from a dirty old port into one of the worlds most iconic art cities and very much not what you’d expect of a Spanish city. The mix of the old and new architecture, in combination with its clean streets, green parks and the fresh breeze from the sea, is beautifully translated in a new exhibition where the 17th-century baroque artists are perfectly mixed with contemporary art.

‘Riotous Baroque: from Cattelan to Zurbarán’ is an exhibition where two worlds in completely different times meet each other. ‘With a clear shift away from pomp, ornament, and gold, the exhibition focuses on the baroque as a celebration of the precarious vitality that was hailed, rediscovered, lost, projected, and threatened by death. Riotous Baroque does not mark the emergence of a new neo-baroque style. Instead, the exhibition highlights the way in which several contemporary artworks touch reality, striving toward existentialist issues.

The selection of baroque paintings and contemporary works on display constitute an approach to real life that creates a universe of contrasts ruled by the illusionistic, the hyperreal, and the longing for an exalted vitality. Avant-garde artists of the 20th century also sought to put art and life on equal terms. Although this essentialist enthusiasm appears to have been forgotten today, its reflection still prevails among artists who probe the permeability of the frontier between art and life.

Looking back at history from a contemporary perspective, Riotous Baroque explores the coarseness, earthiness, religiosity, and sensuality of the baroque, grotesque, burlesque, and virile.’

It feels you can spend days wandering around in the museum, with ‘Riotous Baroque’ only filling a relatively small part of the museum. If you have time make sure to visit ‘L’Art en Guerre’ as well. This exhibition shows how, in the ominous and oppressive context of France’s defeat during World War II and Nazi occupation, the artists of the day rebelled against official slogans by coming up with novel aesthetic solutions that changed the future of art.
And if you are spending days in the museum, make sure to visit their two restaurants. The Michelin starred restaurant ‘Nerua’ and the more accessible ‘Bistro’, both serving delicious Basque cuisines.

And when you have seen it all there’s still a complete city waiting for you. Visit Philippe Starck’s ‘Alhondiga Bilbao’ with a swimming pool with transparent floor on the roof and enjoy coffee with a stunning view. Have lunch at Restaurant Mina. Enjoy the Museum of Fine Arts with its more spanish focus on art and history. And make sure to end the day with pintxo’s, the delicious Basque’ snacks at the Plaza Nueva.

We definitely want to go back to Bilbao and enjoy the Guggenheim a little more than the 3 hours we’ve had to run around – hopefully anytime soon!

The images are, together with of our own photographs, the exhibited works of Paul McCarthy, Maurizio Cattelan, Juergen Teller, Pieter Aertsen and José de Ribera, all on show at the Riotous Baroque exhibition.
More pictures of this trip on our Flickr page – and a little movie the Guggenheim made of our stay after the click.