Sections/Intersections: 25 Years of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection

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Conceived as a giant triptych, the exhibition Sections / Intersections is made up of three thematic sections that engage in mutual dialogue and permit a new vision and rediscovery of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection as it celebrates its 25th Anniversary. 

Marking History, on the third floor, features two of the cornerstones of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: the architecture of Frank Gehry in all its original luminosity, and some of the most outstanding pieces in the Collection, which individualize key moments in the history of art of the second half of the 20th century. 

Presented in various chapters, Unfolding Narratives, on the second floor, brings together the works of some twenty artists who offer an expansive vision of the paradigms of narrative through multiple timeframes, movements, and thematically grouped styles. 

Material Life, on the first floor, follows the trail of the fundamental elements of nature and observes their transformations, combinations, and forces in today’s complex context. 

In 2022, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is celebrating its 25th Anniversary with an ambitious presentation of its own Collection spread across all its galleries, with the sponsorship of BBK. Sections / Intersections. 25 Years of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection is conceived as a giant triptych with three thematic sections that engage in mutual dialogue and permit a rediscovery of the works that have historically defined both the interior and the exterior of the Museum.

For the first time in its history, all the galleries on every floor of the building, many of them normally used for temporary exhibitions, will host a panoramic view of the Collection acquired by the Museum from its foundation until the present day. The thematic cores of this major collective exhibition will be Marking History on the third floor, Unfolding Narratives on the second, and Material Life on the first.

Each of these themes will be based on a concept that is autonomous while also in dialogue with the others, suggesting multiple sections and intersections between the different geographies, timeframes, and areas of interest, and so enabling a new vision of the Collection.

Among the exceptional aspects of this exhibition project will be the presence of rarely exhibited pieces and new acquisitions, as well as the return to the galleries of recently restored large-format works. Visitors will thus find a new light shed on masterpieces like Marina (1998) by Gerhard Richter, Wall Drawing #831 (Geometric Forms, 1997) by Sol LeWitt; Lightning with Stag in its Glare (Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch, 1958-85) by Joseph Beuys; and Untitled (1988) by Jannis Kounellis, among some more recent additions to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection.


Marking History (Third Floor)

This display features two cornerstones of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: the architecture of Frank Gehry and a selection of works that individualize key moments in the history of art after World War Two.

With the clear ambition of amplifying both art and architecture, the diaphanous and luminous spaces on the upper floor of the Museum are celebrated through some of the most outstanding pieces in its Collection, which are reinstalled to reveal the original nature of the building after opening the skylights and removing the interior partitions added over the course of time.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Cristina Iglesias Untitled (Jealousy II) [Sin título (Celosía II)], 1997 Wood, resin, and bronze powder 260 x 350 x 300 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Marking History is inspired both by the works of individual artists and by the artistic movements that are so well reflected in the Collection through avant-garde figures whose contributions were decisive in their field. Each gallery thus offers an opportunity to see the work of a single artist or of several who explore similar concerns. The works of Cristina Iglesias and Sol LeWitt will be shown in spaces designed for specific installations, while other rooms will house thematic displays.

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing #831 (Geometric Forms), 1997 Acrylic on wall Site-specific dimensions Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

The first, dedicated to post-war abstraction in New York, brings together the works of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Clifford Still, Robert Motherwell, and Ellsworth Kelly, pointing to some of the most significant voices of a period when a radical vocabulary based on abstract expression was developed.

Another of the galleries offers us the chance to observe the evolution of abstract expression toward new languages that developed in the decades from 1960 to 1980 through artists recognized for their experimentation with new materialities, the incorporation of silkscreen, and the use of text in the artistic work. Among them are artists like John Chamberlain, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Sigmar Polke, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Basquiat JM Man From Naples 1982
Jean-Michel Basquiat Man from Naples, 1982 Acrylic and collage on wood 124 x 246,7 x 3,5 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

The next room highlights the way in which selected Spanish artists approach abstraction and its evolutions through works by Eduardo Chillida, Jorge Oteiza, Antoni Tàpies, Pablo Palazuelo, Cristina Iglesias, and Juan Uslé. The result is a stimulating meeting of artists from different generations with distinct languages who display shared concerns about space and materials.

An interest in the mass media and popular culture has been a source of inspiration for artists like James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Gilbert & George, and Jeff Koons, whose work can be seen in another of the galleries. These artists of diverse origins created works that have their own artistic vocabulary, although all show a constant interest in reflecting contemporary events of their respective periods and using popular culture as a raw material.

Also included in the presentation is the latest acquisition to have joined the Collection, Rising Sea. This expansive metal sculpture by the African artist El Anatsui reveals a unique focus through a global contemporary aesthetic. The artist develops an innovative technique for converting liquor bottle caps into large metal sculptures. He works with a community of people to flatten, twist, and crush this material, and afterwards to stitch the aluminum elements together with copper wire to create panels that are joined to form monumental sculptures.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
El Anatsui Rising Sea, 2019 Aluminum and copper wire 800 x 1400 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Rising Sea is one of the artist’s most recent and largest pieces, and one of the seven unique monochrome metal sculptures he has created to date. Its place in Marking History serves as an example of contemporary sculpture that transcends the division between culture and medium.

Unfolding Narratives (Second floor)

Narrative works often illustrate religious, legendary, historical, abstract, representative, or mythological events that yield different layers of meaning, resorting to individual experience as a means for transmitting shared stories, whether real or fictitious. Sometimes the narrative is articulated around subjects and characters, sometimes it is based on everyday objects and materials that are redolent with cultural associations, and occasionally it has its origin in fictions that activate the viewer’s imagination in order to complete or question it.

This type of commitment and reinvention of narrative forms by contemporary artists arises from a resistance to grand narratives, a term coined in 1979 by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, who explained how discourses, and with them experience and knowledge, were presented in a totalizing fashion as absolute truths.

With his resilient and to some extent emancipatory critique, Lyotard suggested focusing on micronarratives, or ‘petits récits’, whose representations are based on the fragmentary nature of cultural multiplicity and personal perspective. Artists in our contemporary society adopt this new perspective, amplifying and transforming the visual and poetic potential of narrativity, and so weaving their own stories and expanding traditional narrative in a localized way.

On this premise, the second floor brings together pieces by twenty artists produced between 1957 and 2019 in media like painting, sculpture, photography, work on paper, and installation. They offer an expansive vision of narrative paradigms stemming from various movements of the second half of the 20th century.

The rooms of Unfolding Narratives are thus presented as chapters through a coherent selection of works that run through many timeframes, movements, and thematically grouped styles. These chapters include Masking Identities, Transcending the Spiritual, Belonging to a Memory, Modes of Expression, Ambiguous States of Realities and States of Transformation.

Some of the galleries are devoted to individual artists with site-specific installations of great spatial and experiential dimensions, like those by Christian Boltanski or Francesco Clemente, while others highlight singular series from the Collection like those of George Baselitz or Alex Katz.

KieferASolo con el viento el tiempo y el sonido Nur mit Wind mit Zeit und mit Klang1997 OK
Anselm Kiefer Only with Wind, Time, and Sound (Nur mit Wind, mit Zeit und mit Klang), 1997 Acrylic and emulsion on canvas 470 x 940 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Other rooms show works that experiment with materiality and the notions of mythology, symbolism, or history, such as those by Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer, or they emphasize performative and corporal manifestations through subject, technique, and material, like the works of Yves Klein and Yoko Ono.

Klein Y La gran Antropometria azul ANT 105 La grande Anthropometrie bleue ANT 105 ca1960
Yves Klein Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) [La grande Anthropométrie bleue (ANT 105)], ca. 1960 Dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper, mounted on canvas 287,8 x 430 x 4 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

In other cases, there are groups of works that also converge under broader themes that expand the possibilities of narrative, with examples by Miquel Barceló, Jenny Holzer, Abigail Lazkoz, Juan Luis Moraza, Juan Muñoz, Ernesto Neto, Javier Pérez, Antonio Saura, Julian Schnabel, and others.

Neto Galerias El Arte y el Espacio
Ernesto Neto White Bubble, 2013–17 Polyamide, tubes, and glass beads 400 x 710,66 x 540, 66 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa Gift of the artist

Material Life (First floor, gallery 105)

In recent decades, the progressive rise of information technologies has led artists of different generations and origins to reconsider the materiality of our world, emphasizing its tangible and irreducible reality with their practice. Through a selection of works from the last fifty years of global art, the exhibition, almost like a landscape, presents the force of this recognition, which is also an inexhaustible reinvention.

The resonance of historic movements like Arte Povera or Conceptualism is key to the plastic developments of today, and is felt with special force in the realm of sculpture, without excluding other media and techniques.

The richness and drama of today’s panorama emerge indisputably from the amalgam of the natural and the constructed world, and from its ecological overburdening and its progressive influence on our lives, but also from the new science of materials fostered by the rise of technology. Within this complex framework, Material Life proposes an elementary point of view in the strict sense of the term.

Rather like an unfinished inventory, the exhibition follows the trail of the fundamental elements of nature and observes their transformations, combinations, and forces. The cultural discrepancy on the number of elements —four for Ancient Greece and Baroque alchemy, seven in the traditional cosmology of China, and five in Indian philosophy— allows an interpretive freedom from the outset that leaves a great deal of room for speculation and invention.

The question about the essential ingredients of the world and their combination is thus openly reformulated again and again. This room is therefore devised as a possible configuration of forces and forms, of materials laden with memory but also strongly present. Converging in it are pieces by artists like Doris Salcedo, Gerhard Richter, Mona Hatoum, Richard Long, Asier Mendizabal, Susana Solano, Itziar Okariz, Rodney Graham, and others.

Yayoi Kusama (First floor, Room 103)

Through a long-term loan to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the exhibition includes a work by the Japanese artist and writer Yayoi Kusama (Matsumoto, Nagano, 1929). A leading and pioneering figure in contemporary art, Kusama envisages art as a means of social change, and to this end makes use of performance, painting, drawing, sculpture, literature, and her celebrated immersive installations, the Infinity Mirror Rooms.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Room — A Wish for Human Happiness Calling from Beyond the Universe, 2020 Mirrored glass, wood, LED lighting system, metal, acrylic panel Ed. Nr.: 1/5 293.7 × 417 × 417 cm Courtesy Ota Fine Arts ©YAYOI KUSAMA

With Infinity Mirrored Room – A Wish for Human Happiness Calling from Beyond the Universe (2020), one of the last works produced by the artist, Kusama draws us into an immersive experience. The space projects Kusama’s hallucinations and the need for “self-obliteration”, making viewers into participants in her obsessive universe by inviting them also to disappear in the vibrant interplay of colored lights that multiply limitlessly on the mirrored walls of an infinite room. (Via Guggenheim Museum Bilbao)

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