Bilbao: The Absolute State of the Guggenheim

Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Machine Head – Aesthetics of Hate

More like the GuggenLAME.
More like the Go-On-Home.

Photography was strictly prohibited at the Guggenheim. Fortunately for you, I took detailed phone memos about the museum’s handful of kept artists, because I’m so dedicated to my craft.

Allow me to preface this little romp with this disclaimer:

I want to kick every abstract expressionist square in the dick.

And we’re off!

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Richard Serra (blog fodder)

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The first exhibit in the museum was devoted to Richard Serra, an American associated with the Process Art movement. They gave him a huge hangar-bay room with amphitheater acoustics, and he filled it with slightly bent sheets of titanium.

I thought one was a maze, and followed the curliecue all the way to the innermost point. It was empty. The art itself was that the sheets of metal were very large curlicues.

They all bent in strange places. As you can see, some of them were almost halfpipes, but stopped short of becoming good for something.

I understand art doesn’t need to fulfill a why. Art is art for it’s own sake.

But like… why?

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Lucio Fontana (blog fodder)

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Golden boy #2 at the Guggenheim was Lucio Fontana, Argentine-Italian founder of the Spatialism movement and proud owner of at least one knife.

His entire gallery was full of canvases he slashed a couple times. In the 1950s, this was the height of modern art. They called him a genius. In 2019, they would just call you Kyle.

The entire room was full of these twenty-second masterpieces, as well as battalions of well-dressed Europeans stroking their chins and saying “Hrmmm” with a little R in there so you know it’s extra fancy.

Art is supposed to evoke emotion, and this very much did. I was livid. It cost me €10 to get in here.

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Jenny Holzer (blog fodder)

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Deranged American LED queen Jenny Holzer classed up the joint and redeemed the first floor with with her Installation for Bilbao. It was 9 enormous two-sided LED pillars in a tall, dark room. The English text in red faced out, while the Spanish and Basque text in blue was on the other side, and you had to enter the room to see it.

I scoured the internet for a transcript of the poems she had running up, but they’re nowhere to be found. I suppose that makes sense. It would detract from the incentive to go see the piece in person.

The sentences she chose were succinct, most not even filling the length of the poles before they disappeared into the ceiling.

I went up to the second floor. It was closed. “Coming soon.” All right.

I went up to the third floor, which promised pieces by the “Old Masters”.

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Giorgio Morandi (blog fodder)

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Most of the level was Giorgio Morandi.

Friends, do you like still lives? You know, like paintings of bottles and fruit and shit. No fruit this time. Just bottles. Would you like them more if they were kind of wobbly, and not very good?

Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a hundred of them! Some of them were next to Renaissance paintings by the Italian Masters, subtitled with things like, “the city skyline in the background of this piece inspired Morandi’s configuration of bottles in this other painting of the same twelve bottles he painted for his entire career.”

It wasn’t all bad though.

Most of it was. Very bad. But aside from Queen Jenny, there were two other redemption arcs.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat (blog fodder)

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There was only one painting by American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, and it was explosive. Googling the rest of his gallery shows all his pieces are fraught with frenetic energy and anger. Shades of Steadman, too.

Basquiat was a political activist, as well as a neo-expressionist, a primitivist, and a street/graffiti artist. He died of a heroin overdose just in time to join the 27 club.

This piece is called Man of Naples and according to the plaque, Basquiat made it because he was sick of his Italian patron, who had earned his wealth through selling meat. He referred to him as a “pork merchant” and sent him this, which is probably one of the most colorful and public two-weeks-notices in history.

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Anselm Kiefer (blog fodder)

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The last and probably best artist in the museum was Anselm Kiefer, a German mixed-media artist who made paintings of things that actually looked like things, and expressed meaning concisely without your needing to read his biography ahead of time.

Sunflowers, above, is done entirely in black and white, but communicates the interplay of life and death, mourning and rebirth, pretty clearly.

Kiefer had a room all to himself, and his paintings were enormous and ambitious, painted woodcuts or shellaced oil paintings. One looked like a photomanipulation he did by hand with a brush. Kiefer alone was worth the price of admission.

And a damn good thing.

There’s a quote by Craig Darmauer that goes like this:

“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah but you didn’t.”

That about covers it. Why would I paint exactly three stripes on a canvas and call it done? That’s a con. That’s playing on the self-aggrandizement of your audience; you provide them virtually nothing and they project these elaborate unconscious schema onto your work, then herald you as a genius when all you did was–

Oh. I get it.

That’s pretty punk rock too, I guess, but you’re still no Basquait.

Next stop, London.



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