The Syndrome of ’92: Guggenheim Effect

In her recent book “Txoriburu”, the writer and illustrator Asun Balzola describes how her natal city was in the 40’s. She says that for her, the most curious fact of the Guggenheim effect is that “people has made it theirs, they don’t see the museum as a thing of some people in New York, but as theirs”. Plus, “the most encouraging thing is that the young people are their first fans. When you are inside of the building the light, the spirals of its architecture make the things inside just there, you can almost visit it empty and it would be the same”. Without a doubt, she concludes, the Guggenheim “has revived Bilbao, because you can see it from a lot of places. You are going around the streets and all of the sudden you can see this mount in front of you and the titanium roofs. Its amazing”.

On October 18th of 1997, the king Juan Carlos, the president of the foundation, the architect and the authorities inaugurated the museum in front of the eyes of 10,000 curious people. In its first month, a hundred thousand people met the Guggenheim, making it the third most visited museum of Spain, after El Prado and Reina Sofia, both in Madrid. Besides, of the 70,000 visitants in the first eight months (the most optimistic calculations were estimating 40,000 in a year), almost one of very four was foreign.

Eighty private companies compromised to collaborate with the museum in some way and 86 of every 100 visitors expressed the means to come back: the Guggenheim Effect was born.

Now a days, they are offering weekends special in Milan, London, to visit this colossal of glass and titanium. Taking advantage of the renovations of the airport, airlines of countries like Portugal, Belgium or Germany multiply their connections with Bilbao. Luxury Cruises dock alongside the old fishing life in the city port, where their passengers get surprised by the welcoming they receive. In what used to be a port area in which cargo containers were poling up waiting to be chartered, now arises the last grand new museum built in the 20th Century, maximum exponent of the city’s new identity.

For the first time in a long time, this population of a mostly gray and humid climate is noticed by all the world for something that is not the kidnapers or terrorist violence.


3 responses to “The Syndrome of ’92: Guggenheim Effect

  1. Actually this is more commonly called the “Bilbao Effect”. The fact that it is a branch of the Guggenheim – or even an art museum for that matter – seems quite secondary. People dont talk about it for what is inside. Since this project opened every small town in the world has dreamed of this happening to them. I have received calls from small towns in Romania to rural Oregon looking for help in making the case to build an iconic, transformational museum with the regenerative powers of and iconic architecture that will “put them on the map”. This is the equivalent of hoping there is a magic pill to cure an aliment that more likely requires strenuous exercise and a thoughtful change of diet. Museum planner Gail Lord wrote an article in the Art Newspaper commemorating the 10th anniversary of the opening of this museum. “How to achieve the Bilbao effect, Win friends and influence people: seven steps to make your tired town a cultural centre of excellence”. I wonder if the shift in global economy has changed all this. Certainly the world banks are not lending money to promote these one shot gambles.

  2. Well, the economy greatly effects museums. The idea that one does not need a great collection, but statement architecture is a little uneasy to me. If the museum is about the narrative and objects, how does that come into play in a setting where people only remember the architecture? I wonder what this will do to the idea of the museum as a whole?

  3. First of all, Bilbao is part of the Guggenheim museums, which from the start of FLW’s building in NYC has been about creating museums that have great architecture. This is a characteristic which has set that conglomeration of museums apart from the other mega museums, I think has been a fantastic idea. I think the architecture of a museum is a vital part of the experience of that museum. The Guggenheim’s decision to hire architects to create location-making architecture had ensured a constant flow of visitors/business and that cannot be looked down upon. If we want museums to continue in the future and possibly be free of charge, how do we expect them to do this if they do not run like the businesses that they are?

    However overshadowing they might be to the collections inside, they have changed HOW art is displayed and what the shape of a museum must look like. Another example to insert here is the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which, like Bilbao, changed the neighborhood and its place of location. The Centre Pompidou is attributed with cleaning up the 4eme arrondissement, and helping to rejuvenate central Paris. Thus, the function of a museum cannot be seen solely in terms of showing a narrative or collection. Museums, whether we like it or not, play a larger role within the community it is located. One of the seven steps listed Tim’s above posted article includes the importance of a good collection. The author’s point was the architecture may get them to go there once, but the great collection will get people to go back. Thus I agree with Tim, there is no “magic pill” that will automatically create the “Bilbao effect.” However, I believe there are many types of museums that are waiting to be born–with the right combination of type of collection and iconic architecture, this effect could be translated to new locations. Besides, the idea of spreading out the locations of museums, out of major city centers seems like a good way to make “art” more accessible.

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