Guggenheim Bilbao – American Imperialism?



By Meg Emmitt

The United States has become associated with anything and everything “larger than life”. To steal a quote from my favorite food network chef, Duff Goldman, “We make it bigger, make it badder, we make it awesome!”

As I have experienced first hand, this is the sentiment echoed by people across the globe when discussing American culture.  A local friend of mine in Bilbao told me that when he visited the states last summer, he insisted on renting a Dodge Durango because “All Americans are driving big cars, no?” Hey, as the saying goes, when in Rome…

Over Pintxos (delectable bite size treats typical to the Basque region) the night before, other friends, witnessing my elation over these mouthwatering, heavenly snacks, said, “this is how we eat in Bilbao. A little bit here, a little bit there.  All the food platters in the states are huge, si?” Claro!

Well, I must say, we Americans have truly outdone ourselves with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. There has been an argument proposed by many scholars that the GMB is evidence of US imperialism – Another example of the big, bad wolf staking its claim over a less powerful territory.  While this might not be compeltely valid, its easy to see where this angle is coming from upon once you enter the building.  It is insanely immense, and even slightly frightening in its intensity.

In the massive, three storied atrium, you are met with nine Chevy´s with fire-like lazers emmenating from each (An instilation piece entitled “Inopportune: Stage One” by Cao Quo Giang).  They  are hanging in a complex, circular manner that, according to Patricia Gonzalez, forced the museum to alter the structure.  To the left of the atrium is another wowzer – Jim Dine’s “Three Red Spanish Venuses”.  A towering sculpture of three, linked busts.  In the flanking galleries are enormous movie screens that bambard the viewer with avante garde video clips.

But, the pièce de résistance is certainly The Richard Serra Gallery, the largest contemporary art gallery in the world.  Originally, it only housed one of Serra´s sculptures (The Snake) but Gonzalez informed me that the museum was somewhat forced to commision the artist to fill the room with his giant steel sculptures (Matter of Time).  This was due to the fact that any other artwork they attempted to exhibit in the vast space was completely swollowed up.

I must admit, these sculptures, experienced in this space, are amazing.  (I am American after all).  However, like the building itself, I would call this a spectacle, not an exhibit, and the first floor is not alone in its grandeur.  As you ascend the futuristic, glass elevators, the oversized, you are confronted by dazzling art that has a uniquely American, grandiose charm.

4 Responses to “Guggenheim Bilbao – American Imperialism?”

  1. For roughly five years, off and on, I’ve lived in the UK and Greece as an American, and imperialism might be one of the more softer words used by locals to describe an American style. I point out to my mates, after I give them a good bashing of fascist history in this region, that North America itself is a country with multiple imperialists as conquerers. All of them Europeans. Because Canada is still part of the British commonwealth, technically a Brit (Gehry) designed the Bilbao Guggenheim.

  2. American Imperialism… hummm. The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao is a great example of deconstructive architecture, I’m not particularly into this style but everytime I see deconstructive artwork from Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid or Frank Gahry, it brings back into my mind Jacques Derrida’s thoughts that inspired the essence of deconstructivism. The GMB breaks away from conventional and modern architecture standards, actually “the shape doesn´t follow the function at all” :), the way I see it, the initial conceptual shape is deconstructed to the point it seems unique and imposible and thats what makes it genuine. When I watch it, it gives me a sense of controlled chaos, as if the artist had tried to make a statement, “non standard and conventional structures also have it´s space in this world”. Wait a second, isn´t Bilbao a unique, non conventional city, key point in the Basque Country that surfs in the waves of globalization and capitalism? I like to think there’s some kind of message in deconstructive artwork, just as Derrida did. Maybe what the GMB is trying to say is, hey! here is Bilbao a unique small city in the basque country where life has its own twist. 🙂 Espero que te volvamos a ver por Bilbao otro dia… “you know how we roll.” :p

    • Unfortunately, I have the awsner to your question, but I have to say, being 12 years old, has amazing writing skills.

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