Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Bilbao and Postmodern Regeneration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th August, 2013

Guggenheim Museum BilbaoBilbao was the centre of Spain’s industrial revolution, making fortunes for factory owners and other members of the elite and drawing in workers from the impoverished south of the country. True to the old Yorkshire saying, “where there’s much there’s brass”, the city developed into a glaring mix of luxurious homes of the minority, filthy factories and docks polluting the area, and poor quality housing for the masses, though  there was an old centre that has stayed intact, its narrow streets now pedestrianised. But after the inevitable decline in much of the industrial heartland Bilbao took a bold leap forward by agreeing to host a branch of the Guggenheim Museum, in a dramatic building designed by Frank Gehry. Other cities, including Madrid, reportedly turned down that possibility, fearing it would be a white elephant. But Bilbao took the plunge and by welcoming the museum set in train a process of urban regeneration that has become a model for urban planners worldwide, as well as being a draw to tourists. Inside the museum — whose raison d’etre is contemporary art — has a permanent collection of familiar names, including Andy Warhol and Gilbert & George. The day I went it also hosted an excellent and often moving temporary exhibition or art works, photographs, filmclips and ephemera from France under German occupation. It was perfect after taking those in to walk along the promenade alongside the river before crossing a bridge into the old town.

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