Venice and Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museums


Photo credit: Christine O’Donnell

I’ve been a consumer of contemporary art for as long as I can recall, and living in Paris from 2004 to 2010 afforded many opportunities to visit museums around the city and further afield in Europe.

As an amateur architectural/travel photographer I relished some of the amazing sights I was able to capture both on film and digitally.

Photo credit: Christine O’Donnell

Nonetheless, seeing art made by others consistently outweighed my desire to take photographs myself. I’ve always preferred consuming art to creating it, and sought artwork in every corner of the cities I would visit.

One of the unique opportunities I had living in Europe was a chance to visit both Venice and Bilbao’s Guggenheim museums.

Her Venice Collection is one of the top sights in the city, housed in a palazzo on The Grand Canal that was her home for many years.

The legacy of Peggy Guggenheim, as a supporter of the arts, a woman of insight , and generally someone who knew her own mind and did what she wanted, amazes me.

Above is a photo of her in Paris, with the Notre Dame Cathedral behind her, surrounded by her growing collection of artwork, as she nonchalantly smokes a cigarette.

Enjoy this photo of me in my 20s hamming it up with Mirko’s
Roaring Lion II – not quite the “boss lady” that Guggenheim was in her photo!
Maurizio Nannucci, Changing Place, Changing Time, Changing Thoughts, Changing Future, 2003
The poster (above) and the original Magritte at the back of the gallery (below)
Photo Credit: David Head. Courtesy of Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Photo Credit: Andrea Sarti. Courtesy of Peggy Guggenheim Collection

There’s no real way to know what will resonate with a visitor to the collection, but a visit to the Guggenheim when in Venice is a must. The unique space and the cohesively 20th century collection make it a antidote to the over-the-top art and architecture of the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s.

We also stumbled upon the piece below during our visit – another fun discovery!

George Pusenkoff’s Single Mona Lisa 1:1 (Not in the Guggenheim, but on the streets of Venice)


The beauty of the Basque Country was a discovery for me. From rolling hills and picturesque farms (like the one below) to the beaches of Biarritz, this corner of France and Spain really has it all.

Photo Credit: Christine O’Donnell

Natural sights notwithstanding, one of the highlights of the trip was seeing the Guggenheim.

This iteration of the Guggenheim was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry and is considered a groundbreaking example of 20th century architecture.

For anyone wanting to know why the museum was built…

In 1991, the Basque government suggested to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation that it would fund a Guggenheim museum to be built in Bilbao‘s decrepit port area, once the city’s main source of income.[3][4][5] The Basque government agreed to cover the US$100 million construction cost, to create a US$50 million acquisitions fund, to pay a one-time US$20 million fee to the Guggenheim and to subsidize the museum’s US$12 million annual budget. In exchange, the Foundation agreed to manage the institution, rotate parts of its permanent collection through the Bilbao museum and organize temporary exhibitions.[6]


View of the other side of the museum, photo credit: Guggenheim Bilbao.

Koons-mania was in full-effect in 2007 when we visited, and these pieces are most likely still on view today, 13 years later.

Puppy by Jeff Koons
Tulips by Koons
A look at the indoor architecture
Jenny Holzer piece, I believe, although I cannot find info on it
Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time (my photo)
Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time (Guggenheim’s photo)

Serra’s The Matter of Time was commissioned for the Bilbao Guggenheim and was one of the only pieces in the permanent collection to start. This may no longer be true, though. It was a fascinating experience to walk through the various parts and envision the meaning and purpose behind Serra’s enormous curves of rusted steel .

Its home is in the ArcelorMittal Gallery, which I find to be a bit disingenuous, given that the piece is made of sheets of rusted steel and ArcelorMittal is a steel and mining company. Although it shows that no one is beyond turning up their nose at a good branding opportunity these days.

Bilbao’s Guggenheim was a great visit. I’d be curious to know what they are showing these days compared to almost 15 years ago, and how their collection is evolving.

Guggenheim Museums Around The World

There were/are now a significant number of Guggenheim Museums. (per Wikipedia)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York, United States (1937–present)
The Guggenheim Museum SoHo, a branch of the Guggenheim Museum located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood (1992–2001)
The Guggenheim Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico (2007–2009)
The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States (2001–2008)

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain (1997–present)
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy – originally the private collection of Peggy Guggenheim (1951–present)
The Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Germany (funded by Deutsche Bank; 1997–2013)

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a planned museum in the United Arab Emirates (under construction)

In short, the current list of Guggenheims open are: New York, Bilbao and Venice, with Abu Dhabi to come.

Illustration of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

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