Guggenheim: Wishes, Hypnotic Music, Feminine Ways (framed by steak and croquettes)

So on Friday Miss R arrived for a visit, and I took a bit of time off my chapter to show her around town. First mandatory stop was of course the Guggenheim Museum, whose construction and 1997 inauguration spearheaded Bilbao’s transformation from a depressed and depressing post-industrial port into a thriving art and tourism center. Of course this being Bilbao, a funny thing happened on our way to culture…


“This” being the T-Bone steak (chuletón) at Sasibil, with a heavenly tomato-cod salad, because one needs one’s strength to properly appreciate aesthetics.

But we did eventually make it to the museum and, as is usually the case, had to spend at least half an hour just walking around the impressive Frank Gehry building and the river


(gazing at no-less-beautiful surrounding structures like the Universidad de Deusto, which have taken a backseat to the Guggenheim but are worth much attention themselves).

In fact, it always happens that I barely make it to the permanent collection inside, because the outdoor sculptures are so attractive in themselves


(here Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye and Jeff Koons’s Tulips). Even if (like us) you get a stupid txirimiri day (drizzle, drizzle, drizzle).

All attractive–except for that ugly dog, which I hate even if it’s also by Koons.


No matter how you make me focus on it, it just looks friggin’ scraggly and mangy, and the flowers seem all wrong, and the colors are unappealing, and it doesn’t even look like a dog.

Once inside, you continue to ignore the collection, because the building itself is so imposing you just want to walk through the hanging passageways, and see how the glass frames the landscape outside, and just take innumerable photographs of the curves and angles (that you’ll never show anyone because everyone does the same thing), wondering how such an airy, sublime effect can be achieved with stone, iron, and titanium. Another twenty minutes at least must be dedicated to walking through the colossal Richard Serra sculptures,


appropriately named The Nature of Time because you keep thinking they’ll close soon and you’ll never get to Andy Warhol (but then again, so many Warhols everywhere else!).

We never did get to Warhol or Antoni Tàpies, but that’s also because we stumbled upon two wonderful temporary exhibitions. The first one was a Yoko Ono retrospective titled Half-a-Wind-ShowAlthough when I think of Yoko Ono what normally comes to mind (aside from John Lennon, evidently) is terrible pop music and disturbing screeching sounds, this exhibit included some truly intelligent conceptual art (rare!) and extremely beautiful objects and installations. Through which we also just had to walk:


In the photo above are actually two pieces, Riverbed and Morning Beams, in which “one hundred white nylon ropes suggesting sun rays emanate from the gallery’s ceiling down to the floor, where they are anchored with sailing knots.” (And me, ruining the holistic harmony of the composition but not any worse than Ono herself did.) I also tremendously enjoyed the recreation of Balance Piece: “Build a room with a strong electric magnet set on the left side wall so everything in the room is drawn to the left a little in time. This will be a good balance for your mind which is going to the right a little in time” (without a doubt, I would need the magnet on the right, because I get more and more anarchical and irresponsible the older I get–which is not a bad thing at all).

I also walked straight into her Wish Tree installation, but that was not only allowed–it was encouraged. And I love making wishes.


Much better to wish upon an olive tree than upon a star (anybody guess what I wished?).

(And no matter what you think of Yoko Ono, can you believe she is 81 years old? 80 is the new avant-garde.)

The second temporary exhibit, which we almost missed because it’s tucked in there in the Film & Video gallery with the tiny little entrance, was Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors.


SO SO glad we didn’t skip it! It is a multi-screen video installation made at a mansion in upstate New York named Rokeby Farm, which used to belong to the Astors and is now some sort of artists’ colony (one more of those “holy grail” places I now must visit, although that might require picking up some artistic skill). As Kjartansson explains, he brought a group of musician friends there; each one recorded an individual music session, and there was a final collective scene filmed in a single take. The house and the surrounding scenery are bewitching; the experience of watching as you stand there in the dark gallery surrounded by silent spellbound strangers is entrancing. The music itself–a spiritual consisting of the over-and-over-again repetition of the single line “Once more I fall into my feminine ways“–really makes you feel in trance (despite the piece’s title coming from ABBA’s last album). This Art in America review by George Volk captures it very well:

“The Visitors takes its title from the final album by Swedish pop stars ABBA, recorded while the band was being riven by dissension and divorce. Last summer Kjartansson, an acclaimed performance artist and musician, invited several of his close musician friends, mostly from the thriving Reykjavík scene, to accompany him upstate. Each was going through a significant personal upheaval (Kjartansson was getting divorced; Sveinsson was leaving the famous band Sigur Rós). They lived together for a week, culminating in the performance. Nothing of what happened during that time is explicitly revealed. Instead, everything flows into the music: troubles, sadness, joy, trust. After you’ve heard the “feminine” refrain about 40 times it seems almost liturgical, evoking a state where sorrow, resignation, acceptance and elation coexist.”

Then the museum closed, and we never made it to Jacques Lipchitz.

Naturally all that sorrow, resignation, acceptance, and elation make you hungry, so we came home and I made Miss R a nice dinner of lettuce & tomato salad, ibérico ham, and once more (my feminine ways!), croquetas. Which I am getting better at frying, even though some of them still explode. Especially the cheese ones (notice completely empty shell at 11 o’clock):


But practice makes perfect and, as in so many other things, I shall prevail.

Saturday and Sunday were spent on a road trip to San Juan de Gastelugatxe (on my bucket list of holy grail places for years!) and Donosti-San Sebastián. But that requires its own post, to follow very soon…




About WRF

New York-based Spanish Cultural Studies professor and academic author venturing (nervously) into new forms of writing: travel and food-logue, cultural commentary, pseudophilosophical speculation, opinion, reminiscence, prophecy, examination of conscience.
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1 Response to Guggenheim: Wishes, Hypnotic Music, Feminine Ways (framed by steak and croquettes)

  1. Pingback: Bilbao Miscellanea I: With Notable Citizens, Feats of Engineering, a Palatial Paladar | plomaipel

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