Thursday, May 21, 2009

At the Guggenheim

Enough with food! Let's talk about something else. After all, I don't want to give the false impression that there's nothing to do in the Basque country other than eat (although really, would that be a bad thing?). The last couple of days on the tour have been very busy, and I just haven't had the time to write. After a pleasant trip to Gernika on Monday, Tuesday was a very full day spent in Bilbao, the largest city of the region, a formerly industrial city that has transformed itself into a modern powerhouse of modern art.

Most people have probably heard of the Guggenheim, if for no other reason than the controversy that was created when Frank Gehry's architectural masterpiece was revealed to the world in 1997. No matter what the opinions may have been then, so far the place seems to have withstood the test of time, kicking off a renaissance of new art and architecture in the city center and along the river. Personally, I love it. From every angle the museum offers a new perspective, with graceful titanium walls curving voluptuously to the street below. Many would say, and I would agree, that the building itself is the Guggenheim's greatest work of art.

Inside the museum, you never know what you might find. There are a few permanent exhibits, but much of the space is devoted to enormous temporary exhibits, currently including China's Cai Guo-Qiang (perhaps best known for creating the opening ceremony pyrotechnics for the Beijing Olympics) and Japan's Murakami (well known for his crazy, often psychedelic, anime influenced works). The tour members, well... some of them loved it. Some of them didn't. I think (hope) all, however, were at least happy to see the famous building up close and in person.

The great thing about modern art is that it can be about absolutely anything, in any style, and all one has to do is stand back and look. Maybe you'll love it, maybe you'll hate it, but any reaction is allowed. For me, it's a break from the psychological heaviness of a museum of the Old Masters. It's the junk food of the art world! Well, that's an exaggeration, and there is certainly modern art out that carries important, and sometimes disturbing, messages. But overall, watching cars explode in a shower of blinking lights overhead, or getting lost in the creepy yet cute faces of Japanese cartoon characters recharges me after days of history, culture, and "important" art. And with the many museums of Berlin only a few days away for me, the Guggenheim was just the break I needed.

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