And Bilbao became Bilbao

31 mai 2017

This year, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is preparing to celebrate its twentieth birthday. The museum institution is the ideal example of the impact of such a structure on an entire region. An example often copied, but never equaled...

Bilbao the depressing

While the world mourned the disappearance of the Princess of Wales and Commander Cousteau, while the environment was at a new turning point with the signing of the Kyoto protocol, the city of Bilbao crossed the year 1997 without suspecting the close destiny that was waiting for it. In the heart of the nineties, a former industrial city, marked by iron and steel industry and chemistry, the capital of Biscay is plunged in a gloomy and sinister grayness. Bilbao is driven by mass unemployment, encased in seven hills and sheared by the Nervion River, with brackish waters, foul and polluted by the disused factories. Tourists, who are eager for adventures in the Pays Basque, prefer to put their suitcases on the side of the chic and romantic seaside resort of San Sebastian, leaving the dull Bilbao. Yet, twenty years later, if San Sebastian is still as elegant, Bilbao is flamboyant. 

More than 20 million visitors rushed through its streets, restaurants and hotels, which saw their reservations double. Today, the banks of the Nervion offer a bright, colorful face that blends modern buildings, green spaces and bike paths, completed by the spectacular silhouette of a jewel designed and built by the American architect Frank Gehry.

The bold bet became "The Guggenheim Effect"

However, in 1991, when this project of the Guggenheim Museum was evoked by the Basque authorities, it was a real bet with audacious accents. "There were very few examples showing that an investment in culture could draw an entire region" recalls Juan Ignacio Vidarte, who at the time headed the consortium in charge of the future museum structure and took over in 1996. Like the locomotive cities of the twentieth century, Bilbao, in full industrial reconversion, was then experiencing mass unemployment. Former port facilities had revealed extensive grounds on the Nervion estuary, suitable for hosting the future museum. "The project was part of a much larger program of investments in buildings and transport infrastructure, entrusted to great architects," said Juan Ignacio Vidarte. Norman Foster, Arata Isozaki, Rafael Moneo, César Pelli and Santiago Calatrava all participated in the metamorphosis and diversification of Bilbao, alongside Frank Gehry. Inaugurated on October 19, 1997, the museum-sculpture, covered with sparkling titanium plates, immediately became a spectacular sign for the whole region.

A chance? A boon? "It was a real miracle that the Guggenheim moved to Bilbao, here it was a scrap metal dump," said its former mayor, Ibon Areso. If, at the genesis of the project, the bilbotarras "do not see how a museum could serve as an economic engine" and fear the "invasion of an American cultural model", the construction of the Guggenheim, accompanied by a saline bill of 133 million of euros, is a totally successful bet.

In just one year, the museum had already contributed to 144 million euros to the economy of the Pays Basque, following the resumption of growth and falling unemployment to one of the lowest levels of The Iberian Peninsula. In six years, the initial investment has been fully repaid. Better still, according to the Basque region, in 2007, the museum contributes 1.57 billion euros to regional GDP. In addition, 45,000 jobs were created thanks to this futuristic construction. The museum is experiencing a growing success. All of a sudden, Bilbao became THE fashionable destination. Better: thanks to the impetus given by this extraordinary structure, the Basque city was taking its impulse towards an entirely new destiny. Galloping out of the circle of medium-sized cities where the decline of its shipyards had confined her, she became unavoidable on the world map. This was the beginning of what is called the "Guggenheim effect": a real explosion that has permanently marked the world of town planning and architecture. Because the Guggenheim served as an urban locomotive to reshape the industrial landscape of the city. For the past ten years, Bilbao has accumulated town planning awards. In 2004, the city was designated at the Venice Biennale as the best urban project in the world. Since then, many Spanish and European cities have asked Frank Gehry to reproduce the "Bilbao effect". But architecture "is only a small piece of a complex puzzle," he humbly announces. "The change comes from a much more complex and profound process than the mere construction of a museum."

At twenty, nothing is impossible

"Twenty years later, the building has aged well and does not require major renovations. It has been very stable from the point of view of the air conditioning of the rooms, which is essential for a museum," notes Juan Ignacio Vidarte, CEO. A space had simply to be reconverted to present videos and movies and new outdoor reserves arranged to house the collection now rich of 130 works of 74 artists. On the other hand, the museum dreams today to expand. "It is still only a project submitted to the reflection of the Basque authorities, but a new modular building allowing different, more interactive museum experiences could serve as a reference again for the 21st century."

In 2016, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, inflamed by its exhibitions Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois and Francis Bacon, broke records of attendance with 1.17 million visitors, returning to the figures reached during its inaugural year. A sign of the insolent health of this pioneering institution, 20 years after its opening in a city stricken by the industrial crisis. Two decades marked by 93 temporary exhibitions and 70 presentations of the permanent collection, which attracted a total of 19,347 million visitors, 61% of whom were foreigners.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Guggenheim Museum has unveiled an enticing program: An exhibition on «Paris end of the century» (since May 12), a retrospective of the video artist Bill Viola (from June 30th), a monograph on Anni Albers, a pioneer in textile art (in October) and a sculpture exhibition entitled "L'Art et l'Espace" (in December) will mark the program. The "Heroes" of the German painter Georg Baselitz (as of July 14), portraits of David Hockney (in November), and videos of Pierre Huyghe, then Ken Jacobs and Amie Siegel will also be there. Finally, the cultural institutions of the whole region were invited to concoct about a hundred events in connection with the museum. In short, a year that will be full for a museum that, more than ever, is turned towards the future and new technologies to present the artists of our time in conditions always original and optimal.

One only goal: to create emotion

A native of the Pays Basque, Françoise lives and works in Anglet, where she has participated in numerous painting fairs both in art fairs and collective exhibitions. Several personal exhibitions have been dedicated to her, one at the Hotel Miramar in Biarritz and more recently at the Atalante cinema in Bayonne. Member of the "Post-Pictura, Pictura est" group, she has been participating since 1993 in numerous paint workshops.

It does not really matter to Françoise that her painting is abstract or figurative. What counts above all is matter. Using different techniques and different supports, playing with traces, signs and writings, she tries to revive distant memories. If each one of these works is different, one finds the sensitivity of the artist who plays with traces, fingerprints, signs and writings using collage or including in her works rusty objects. One goal: to create emotion. Her figurative works are different, in which she revives women of the past with the techniques of the 21st century. Childhood, a fragile and magical moment at the same time, is often present in her works.