The Transformative Power of a Single Work of Art

The city of Bilbao, in the beautiful Spanish Basque country, was an industrial town down on its luck, in total decline, afflicted by a “rust-belt” type of image in need of radical transformation. The town’s people needed for their city to join the ranks of places like Seville, Madrid, Barcelona, The Prado Museum, The Alhambra, etc.

With that in mind, twenty-five years ago, the city’s fathers decided to launch a worldwide competition in search of an architect who would prodigiously transform the place into what we know today, the city of the “Bilbao Effect”.

And that was when Frank Gehry came in.  The famed Canadian-American architect who beat two other contestants in the competition, built in the Basque city The Guggenheim Museum, an extraordinary, extravagant assembly of titanium and stone, a mixture of a palace and a Spanish Galleon, which now stands in what used to be an abandoned junk-yard on the banks of the neglected river Nervion.

This transformational project has become the most influential building of modern times.  It has created what is best known in artistic and architectural circles as the “Bilbao Effect”, a phenomenon whereby a work of art completely transfigures the common space.  Thanks to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao has now joined the ranks of the most extraordinaries cities in the world, on the strength of the prodigious transformative power of a single artwork.

an art piece, Hercule's Wall, by Rodrigo Palacios in an abandoned building