The Art of our Time


September 23, 2014 - May 10, 2015


OPENING: September 23, 2014 - February 1, 2015 (Third floor) | October 23, 2014 - May 6, 2015 (gallery 105) and May 10, 2015 (Second floor)

The Art of our Time

The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections celebrates 20 years of partnership between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This exhibition, which echoes the museum’s inaugural presentation in 1997, reveals how the collections of the Guggenheim constellation of museums have grown and flourished over the years, and it also traces the how the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has evolved into maturity as an international exemplar.

The exhibition follows a certain chronology. The second floor houses, essentially, large-format works, such as the mural by Sol LeWitt exhibited in the gallery for which it was specifically created by the artist or the series of works by Anselm Kiefer, presented in the gallery for which these works were acquired.

Complementing the works above are the site-specific works in galleries 101 and 104, commissioned in keeping with one of the museum’s fundamental acquisition policies: Jenny Holzer’s Installation for Bilbao (1997) and Richard Serra’s sculptural group The Matter of Time (1994–2005). The exhibition also leads visitors outdoors to explore works on the museum’s grounds that strike up provocative dialogues with their surroundings: Yves Klein’s volatile Fire Fountain (1961, fabricated 1997) and Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.) (1998) in the pond; Louise Bourgeois’s monumental Maman (1999), Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree & the Eye (2009), and Jeff Koons’s Tulips (1995–2004) overlooking the river; Chillida’s Embrace XI (1996) on the second-floor terrace; Koons’s Puppy (1992) in the museum plaza; and Arcos rojos / Arku gorriak (2007), Daniel Buren’s intervention on La Salve Bridge.

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

The Art of our Time

Roy Lichtenstein
In, 1962
Oil on canvas
142.2 x 172.7 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift of the artist 99.5254
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Gallery 205

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The 1960s were some of the most turbulent years of the twentieth century, culturally and politically. The United States had become an industrialized society poised on the brink of the information age. The remarkable economic growth that occurred from the end of World War II through the Cold War era of the 1950s resulted in a newly invigorated consumer culture in America. A number of the artists who burst onto the scene, particularly in New York and Los Angeles in the early years of the decade, responded to this new commercialism. Pop art is often considered an essentially American phenomenon, but British artists and theorists first debated and formulated its main tenets in the late 1950s. The term pop, which spread to music and fashion, corresponded to a broader way of life among young people in the 1960s that became a significant sociological phenomenon and altered the course of the century.

In Pop art, the everyday replaces the epic and the mass-produced is awarded the same significance as the unique, effectively eroding the gulf between “high art” and “low art.” Cool, detached, mechanical illustrations of common objects, often appropriated from advertisements, and other images drawn from pulp and celebrity magazines, billboards, movies, television, comic strips, and consumer product packaging populate the work of Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol, among others. This imagery, presented with (and sometimes transformed by) humor, wit, and irony, can be seen as both a celebration and a critique of popular culture.

Robert Rauschenberg
Barge, 1962–63
Oil and silkscreened ink on canvas
203 x 980 cm
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and with additional funds contributed by Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum; the International Director’s Council and Executive Committee Members: Eli Broad, Elaine Terner Cooper, Ronnie Heyman, J. Tomilson Hill, Dakis Joannou, Barbara Lane, Robert Mnuchin, Peter Norton, Thomas Walther, and Ginny Williams; and funds from additional donors: Ulla Dreyfus-Best; Norma and Joseph Saul Philanthropic Fund; Elizabeth Rea; Eli Broad; Dakis Joannou; Peter Norton; Peter Lawson-Johnston; Michael Wettach; Peter Littmann; Tiqui Atencio; Bruce and Janet Karatz; and Giulia Ghirardi Pagliai 97.4566

Gallery 206

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Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly are two of the most prominent and influential artists of the second half of the 20th century. Both studied at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and by the mid-1950s they had developed their signature visual languages. In contrast to the heroic gestures characteristic of Abstract Expressionist painting, Twombly’s calligraphic marks, sometimes rendered simply in black on white painted surfaces, have frequently been compared to graffiti. This apparently abstract vocabulary could be infused with deep cultural significance, as Twombly often made direct reference to classical literature and mythology in his art. Rauschenberg can be considered a precursor to Pop art because his Combine works—part painting, part sculpture—feature everyday objects found on the street and images taken from magazines and newspapers. Yet Rauschenberg’s works typically reveal expressionistic traces of the artist’s hand that distinguish them from the cool, detached aesthetic of Pop. The pieces shown here are two of the artists’ most iconic—and monumental—creations. Barge (1962–63), which Rauschenberg painted in a single 24-hour period, is one of the best examples of the dynamic, silkscreened paintings he began making in the 1960s. The title of Twombly’s Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963) refers to the disastrous rein of Roman emperor Aurelius Commodus (ruled 177–192 CE). The work comprises multiple individual canvases that suggest a narrative of great passion through abstract imagery

Georg Baselitz
The forgotten Second Congress of the Third Communist International in Moscow 1920, on the right of the picture Ralf, next to him Jörg (Der vergessene 2. Kongress der 3.kommunistischen Internationale in Moskau 1920; rechts im Bild Ralf, daneben Jörg), from (Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale), 2008
Oil on canvas
300 x 250 cm
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Gallery 207

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Georg Baselitz first earned recognition in the late the 1960s for his signature paintings with upside-down motifs. He reoriented the subject, not the canvas, to reexamine it in a way that subverted traditional compositional rules and to move beyond the narrative connotations of his earlier paintings. In the 1970s he began applying paint with his hands, and later with his mouth and feet, a technique that underscores the painted image as a product of a body’s action and not only a conceptual or spiritual creation.

Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale (2008), a suite of sixteen paintings, is based on a repetition of the same compositional structure: two upside-down male figures sitting next to each other, their penises exposed and their hands resting solemnly on their thighs. The basic motif originates from Otto Dix’s renowned portrait The Artist’s Parents II (1924). As in many of his works, Baselitz referred to a specific art-historical precedent, reinterpreting it in his own way: in this case, replacing Dix’s figures with two dictators, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Each painting bears an individual title comprising a pun or an enigmatic phrase. None of the titles refer directly to the dictators portrayed; they were inspired for the most part by reflections upon, or encounters with, the work of modern and contemporary artists.

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

Gallery 209

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This section features pieces by Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer, two artists of different generations whose work shares cosmogonic themes and certain formal resources.

One of Beuys’s most theatrical installations, Lightning with Stag in Its Glare (1958–85) articulates the German artist’s abiding fascination with earth, animals, and death. Although Lightning with Stag in Its Glare—completed in the year preceding the artist’s death—evinces a number of the theories and mythologies from which Beuys drew throughout his career, the significance of this complex installation may ultimately be located in his definition of “social sculpture.” Intending his work to stimulate ideas, rather than represent them, Beuys hoped to rejuvenate—or illuminate—society with the fuel of creative thought.

Kiefer is a leading representative of German Neo-Expressionism, a movement that returns to the subjective heroism and textural brushwork of German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism. History serves as material in Kiefer’s oeuvre. He focuses on the recent history of his native Germany and that of vanished cultures, such as ancient Mesopotamia, merging the two in some cases. Kiefer’s habitually large-scale works transform into architectures in which we dwell and which dwell in us. They feature a virtually monochrome palette and are executed in a wide range of mediums, to which the artist often adds additional materials like ash, lead plates, plaster, seeds, soil, and straw. The organic merges with the inorganic, and the results are works of art whose monumental scale and rich interplay of textures enhance the solemn and transcendental nature of their content.

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

Gallery 208

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In the 1960s, the position that art could be generated by ideas rather than emotions was a radical one. For Sol LeWitt, this meant establishing systems of logic in the form of written instructions that governed the outcome of an artwork in advance of its execution. With his wall drawings, LeWitt ensured that his autographic touch was wholly absent by leaving the implementation to others. Despite their basis in impersonal sets of directions, the surfaces of the wall drawings nevertheless have the capacity to become visually sumptuous. While the early examples were executed in graphite, colored pencil, chalk, or crayon, LeWitt’s directives in later decades mandated the use of inks and colored ink washes (from the early 1980s) and acrylic paint (beginning in 1997), with increasingly bold, colorful results. Relatively austere combinations of straight and curved lines in the first works also gave way to increasingly irregular, playful shapes and patterns.

A site-specific work that LeWitt conceived for gallery 208 in 1997, and one of the earliest of the artist’s wall drawings to incorporate acrylic paint, Wall Drawing #831 (Geometric Forms) is rendered in highly saturated, vibrant tonalities of blue, gray, green, orange, purple, and red. The irregular and cropped geometric forms bend with the curved and sloping wall of the Frank Gehry–designed gallery, so that the painting both merges with and transforms its architectural setting.

Christian Boltanski
Humans, 1994
Photographs and lights
Overall dimensions variable
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Gallery 204

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Christian Boltanski began to make a name for himself in 1986 with unsettling installations of old photographs, clothing, and other personal belongings that he presented as artifacts and vestiges of the lives of others. The spaces he designs, with flickering lights and shadows that create an atmosphere reminiscent of a small theater or church, can inspire hushed wonder and a poignant sensation of loss and absence. Boltanski’s work often uses the mementos of individual lives to explore the recovery of collective memory in the wake of tragedy.

For Humans (1994), Boltanski culled photographs of more than one thousand anonymous people from archives and mass media sources. In so doing, the artist established a direct connection with reality, due to the human tendency to assume that a person depicted in a photograph must have existed. His collection of artificially aged portraits of unnamed individuals suggests death and disappearance while also offering a reflection on the loss of identity.

Alex Katz
Ursula Smiles 2, 1993
Oil on linen
243.8 x 182.9 cm
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Gallery 203

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The series Smiles (1993–94) by American artist Alex Katz comprises eleven portraits of women, all set against a black background. Katz often turns to his closest circle for the subjects of his portraits (his wife, friends, and so on, frequently identified by name in the painting titles). In this series, the cold, neutral backgrounds contrast with the sitters’ casual smiles, a dissonance that is heightened by the harsh lighting and that underscores the flatness of the pictures.

Moreover, the friendliness and familiarity of the facial expressions are occasionally contradicted by tense poses. Katz does not aim to represent the sitter’s personality, but rather to present a more profound reflection on the nature of representation and the perception of images. The complex figure-ground relationship and the large format of the portraits are both characteristic of his larger oeuvre. Though he is occasionally associated with Pop art, Katz has rejected this connection.

Miquel Navarro
Wall City (Ciudad muralla), 1995–2000
Aluminum and zinc
Overall dimensions variable
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Gallery 202

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Miquel Navarro is considered a singular voice in contemporary Spanish sculpture. Wall City (2000–01) is representative of his career-long interest in generating arenas for the confrontation of ideas. Navarro executed his first “city” in 1973, and has since continually proposed revisions to our notions of space, construction, place, and the human body as measure. Inspired by modern urban patterns, his sculptural landscapes feature architectural elements that act as formal vehicles to translate the experience of the cityscape. The artist invites visitors to circumnavigate his urban installations and consider the notion of human scale and the difference between the real and the cerebral. Highlighting order and disorder in industrial society, works such as Wall City capture Navarro’s particular take on the complicated relationship between architecture and sculpture. According to the artist, “Even my most schematic sculptures, without entirely abandoning the figurative, always bear the marks of man.”

El Anatsui
Earth’s Skin, 2007
Aluminum and copper wire
Approx. 449.6 x 1000.8 cm
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
© El Anatsui

Gallery 105

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This gallery presents recently acquired works by emerging and contemporary artists. The selections, drawn from Cambodia, China, Ghana, and Korea as well as from Europe and the United States, reflect the museums’ growing interest in global artistic production. Together these works explore a wide variety of themes, such as identity, exile, memory, the poetics of architecture, the dynamics of the built environment, and physical violence and repression.

The first room in the gallery brings together the work of artist Mona Hatoum, whose Home (1999) is linked to her personal experience as a Palestinian born in Beirut and living in exile in London, and Danh Vo, whose Das Beste oder Nichts (2010) relates to his family’s desire for a better life as Vietnamese immigrants in Denmark. In the second room, Lee Bul’s sculptures and Julie Mehretu’s paintings illustrate how artists can use different mediums to address interconnected concepts such as visionary architecture, urban construction, and the effects of the built environment on individuals. The third room includes pieces by Ai Weiwei, Ik-Joong Kang, and Sopheap Pich, artists who use materials in expressive ways to make reference to biographical, historical, and political conditions. These works, along with Cristina Iglesias’ installation, engage in a rich dialogue with contemporary issues and cultural traditions around the globe.

The Art of our Time

A series of audiovisual vignettes on display at the exhibition´s educational space will give voice to the many people who have accompanied the Museum over its exceptional 17-year history and have been an essential part of this project: thousands of visitors, collaborators, artists, educators, Museum Members and volunteers, plus the people of Bilbao as a whole. Here you will soon be able to see just a sample of their experiences and perspectives, an open and diverse interpretation of the Guggenheim Collections and the evolution of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

The Art of our Time


Discover the most relevant works in...
The Art of our Time. Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections

CURATORIAL VISION From Modernism to Minimalism (3rd floor)

Álvaro Rodriguez Fominaya

KEY CONCEPTS From Modernism to Minimalism (3rd floor)

Lucía Agirre

CURATORIAL VISION From Pop Art to Current Trends (1st and 2nd floors)

Luz Maguregui

KEY CONCEPTS From Pop to Current Trends (1st and 2nd floors)

Marta Arzak

Meeting point: Information Desk. Time: 6:30 to 7 pm. Tickets: €3, Members €2 for (Museum admission fee not included; online booking required). Minimum group size: 8 people.

*Sponsored by Fundación Vizcaína Aguirre.


To mark the exhibition The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections the Museum will present an exceptional concert performed by Ensemble Kandinsky-Switzerland, in association with the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel.

- Piano: Benjamin Engeli
- Clarinet: Nils Kohler
- Cowbells: Iñaki Tellería
- Soprano: Sarah Kollé
- Violin: Kamilla Schatz
- Violin: Malwina Sosnowski
- Viola: Zvi Carmeli
- Cello: Pi-Chin Chien

Directly related to the show, the program includes a repertoire of pieces for clarinet, piano, viola, violin, and cello by composers including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, Arnold Schönberg, and Morton Feldman. Join us on a melodious journey from classical to contemporary music.

Time and place:
Museum Auditorium, 7 pm
Tickets available at the ticket office and on the website: €8, Members €5.

On October 22 and 23 exhibition visitors will also have the chance to enjoy pieces performed by the ensemble in the Museum galleries. Check for times at the Museum information desk.


A creative, multidisciplinary art festival organized to celebrate the Museum´s 17th anniversary and the major exhibition of the Permanent Collection The Art of Our Time, with a variety of activities for audiences of all ages.

Information and tickets: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 2 pm, at +34 944 359 080 or the Museum website.

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