David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Say a Prayer for Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum


The whole world has heard of the Guggenheim museum that has put the Spanish city of Bilbao on the map. Its architect is Frank Gehry, and lots of people consider what he built a work of genius. The King of Spain is quoted as saying that this is the very best of modern buildings. I had looked forward to seeing it.

However, I went first to the Museum of Fine Arts. It was virtually empty. Spanish Christian art is well represented. So is El Greco. There is a very fine and thoughtful portrait by Goya of his friend Martin Zapater. Also some beautiful pictures by an eighteenth century landscapist Luis Paret.

Nearby is the Guggenheim. The building gives you a charge of ugliness like an electric shock. It looks like a heap of gigantic discarded sardine tins, all without form, meaningless. The interior is a mess of struts, iron girders, asymmetrical shapes, and corridors. Unlike the contents of the Museum of Fine Arts, there is nothing on show that connects with human beings, either in body or spirit. Everything here is remote from lived experience, without sympathy for the human condition and therefore with nothing to say. The notes on the wall about one “artist” serve to represent them all. This poor fellow “researched, materialised, and drew connections between concepts such as the limit, the void, space, and scale, subjected to the signification of the material, which constitutes his artistic vocabulary.” That sentence could cover any of the works on show, and it is as meaningless as everything else here.

Worst of all, the museum was packed. Groups of schoolchildren had evidently been dragooned to come here for brainwashing. But the many outwardly normal visitors were more disturbing. What are they doing in this temple of fraud? Do they not realize that this is anti-art, a denial of everything human, in a word degradation?

Bilbao is a city with an attractive historic centre, in which is a cathedral, not one of the greatest, but Gothic, at least, a place in which to cleanse the spirit after the Guggenheim and even to say a prayer for poor Europe, whose culture has been reduced to this.


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