Anniversary of museum which changed Bilbao

18th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

18 October 2007, BILBAO - (AFP) - Bilbao will on Friday mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim museum which helped transform this Basque city from a rusty industrial place in northern Spain into a buzzy cultural capital.

18 October 2007

BILBAO  - (AFP) - Bilbao will on Friday mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim museum which helped transform this Basque city from a rusty industrial place in northern Spain into a buzzy cultural capital.

The Frank Gehry designed building, with its titanium shingles and swooping form, has drawn an average of one million visitors per year, far above the 250,000 to 500,000 expected by authorities when it opened in 1997.

More than half of the art museum's visitors have come from outside of Spain while the majority of tourists to Bilbao say the Guggenheim was their main reason for making their trip, according to the Basque city's tourism office.

The influx of visitors to the city of some 350,000 people has fueled the growth of trendy hotels which have emerged as alternatives to the business hotels and musty pensions which were the options available before.

"Wherever I go people talk to me about the Guggenheim. I am very proud of it. The result has been incredible," Gehry told reporters on Saturday during a visit to the riverside museum, which was built on a former shipyard.

The success of the Guggenheim, dubbed the "Bilbao Effect", has led officials around the world to hire famous architects -- or "starchitects" -- to build landmark buildings in the hope of putting their city on the map.

Gehry, 78, has been hired to design another satellite of the New-York-based Guggenheim Foundation, this time on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

"They have asked me to repeat Bilbao but a second miracle at my age is not very likely," said Los Angeles-based Gehry, who has dual Canadian and US citizenship.

The local government of the independence-minded Basque region bid for the right to house a satellite of the Guggenheim Foundation in the early 1990s as a way to boost its economy, which was suffering from the decline of its metalwork and shipbuilding industries.

The museum was the centrepiece of an urban renewal project that includes a new subway system with caterpillar-like entrances by Norman Foster and a glass bridge and sleek new airport by Santiago Calatrava.

The museum however was met with disapproval by many in Bilbao when it was first unveiled, especially because it came with a price tag of 150 million euros (215 million dollars) at a time of high unemployment in the region.

The opposition in Basque cultural and political circles to a museum designed by a US-based architect was underscored six days before it opened when the armed separatist group ETA shot dead a policeman who was guarding the building.

The Guggenheim Foundation's network of museums -- which also include outposts in Berlin, Las Vegas and Venice -- share a permanent collection that rotates amongst them.

Over the past decade the Guggenheim in Bilbao has held nearly 100 shows including retrospective of works by US sculptor Alexander Calder, Latvian-born American painter Mark Rothko and Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida.

As part of its 10th anniversary celebrations, the museum shows a retrospective of US art called "Art In The USA: 300 Years of Innovation" that features some 200 works from 120 artisits. It will run until April 12, 2008.

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Subject: Spanish news

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