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Psychedelic Pansies and Giant Spider Webs: Guggenheim Bilbao Turns 20

Guggenheim Bilbao is the latest to receive 59 Productions’ digital projection mapping treatment, and the results are breathtaking…

Coinciding with Hispanic Day festivities, thousands lined the River Nervión to witness the highlight of an anniversary year celebrating two decades of success for Guggenheim Bilbao. 59 Productions, the team behind the video design of London’s 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, transformed Frank Gehry’s iconic building with ‘Reflections’, a 20 minute projection referencing the institution’s history and iconic artwork.

Erected in 1997 as the cornerstone in a wider scheme to regenerate a troubled, post-industrial city, Guggenheim Bilbao has played a fundamental role in the areas unprecedented economic growth. Since opening it’s doors in 1997, the museum has welcomed 20 million people, around 62% of which being foreign visitors, and staged 165 exhibitions with temporary displays ranging from ‘Jean Michel Basquiat’ to ‘China: 5,000 years’. As well as maintaining an annual average of over 5,000 jobs, the Guggenheim is today valued at almost 7 times its initial investment. With figures like these, the museum’s cultural, economic, and social transformational influence on the city has been dubbed the ‘Bilbao effect’, with art institutions worldwide attempting to replicate the phenomenon.

Set to a theatrical score laden with operatic interventions and a preluding submarine sonar pulse, ‘Reflections’ is a visual journey charting Guggenheim Bilbao’s metamorphosis. The warped metal façade becomes organic form, fish scales and plumage, decaying metal bursts into digital pixels, expressing renewal. The origins of the building are conveyed in Gehry’s iconic continuous-line sketch excitedly tracing the building, whilst a pink grid covering the entire structure references the Catia computer modelling process used to calculate the titanium cladding’s complex placement. At one moment the museum even became a colossal boat sailing the Nervión, a diverting comment on their structural resemblance and a nod to Bilbao’s historic port industry.

Perhaps the most crowd pleasing moments were when famed works from the Guggenheim Bilbao collection vividly came to life. Set to chilling intermittent violin screeches, Louise Bourgeois’ colossal spider sculpture ‘Maman’ (1999) sent it’s shadow darting across webs entangling the building. An eruption of psychedelic pansies bloomed in homage to what locals have dubbed the ‘guardian’ of the Guggenheim Bilbao, Jeff Koons’ 12ft flower covered ‘Puppy’ (1992). Taking illusion to the extreme, viewers cheered as the metal surface morphed into shining silver spheres, mimicking Anish Kapoor’s ‘Tall Tree and The Eye’ (2009).

Running for four nights only (11 – 14 Oct), the project was conceived not only as a recognition of Guggenheim Bilbao’s anniversary, but as a gift to the local people. Speaking of the event, Juan Ignacio Vidarte, Director General, commented:

“Working together an extraordinary transformation has been possible in Bilbao conveying to the world the message of how art changes everything. Reflections will be a unique, once in a lifetime show”.


Image credit: Justin Sutcliffe



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