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Crown Cruise Vacations | March 1, 2024

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Guggenheim Museum’s Puppy Sculpture celebrates 25th anniversary

Guggenheim Museum’s Puppy Sculpture celebrates 25th anniversary
Jackie Sheckler Finch

The famous “Puppy” standing watch outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has been sporting a new floral coat to celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary.

“In honor of the Guggenheim Bilbao’s 25th anniversary, I worked closely with the talented team at the museum to unveil a new planting of flowers for Puppy in celebration of this incredible milestone,” artist Jeff Koons said in a news release.

“My original concept for Puppy was based on a white terrier, so our planting is a harmonious composition of mainly white flowers in the spirit of the original model,” Koons said. “There are some yellow, orange, red and blue flowers that add definition to the swirls and folds of the fur and form of Puppy but primarily the flowers are white.”

The usual process of replacing the 38,000 plants that cover the floral Puppy sculpture takes place twice a year. This is the first time the sculpture has worn this white design.

Instead of flowers being arranged on the gigantic Puppy sculpture to create spots of color, the huge West Highland White Terrier puppy wears a predominantly white coat, while some colored flowers highlight its outlines and texture.

“This monochrome arrangement conveys peace, renewal and love,” Koons said. “It continues to communicate acceptance and the live flowering plants are symbolic of life’s energy.”

Since it was installed, Puppy has embraced millions of visitors at the entrance of the iconic Guggenheim Bilbao. “So it is a sincere honor to have Puppy become a part of the anniversary celebration and greet visitors in this fresh new way,” Koons said.

New life for Bilbao

But it wasn’t so long ago that travelers shunned this historic city in northern Spain.

“If you didn’t see the way Bilbao used to be, you wouldn’t believe it,” said Mikel Mugalari of Tours by Basques. “It didn’t look like this at all.”

Chartered in 1300 along the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao grew slowly but steadily with a strong economic base built on shipbuilding, steel and chemical industries. At the beginning of the 20th century, Bilbao was said to be the wealthiest city in Spain.

Then the bottom fell out.

When the steel and shipbuilding industry floundered and industrial decline set in, Bilbao was hit with a deep economic crisis. The once-bustling waterfront became derelict. Decades of industry had left the city grubby and polluted. Bilbao was the pits.

For some cities, that might have been a death blow. But Bilbao turned the tide.

“What happened was the Guggenheim,” Mikel said. “It is what changed Bilbao.”

Guggenheim was spark that lit revitalization

Opened in October 1997, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was designed by Frank Geary and cost an amazing 130 million Euros paid for by the Basque government. The county was in the midst of a crisis, Mikel said, and some people thought it was crazy to spend that much money. But it worked.

How in the world did Bilbao officials convince the renowned Guggenheim to build in their city and to have famed architect Frank Geary do the design?

Why Bilbao instead of Paris or London or Athens? Because Frank Geary himself came to Bilbao and said, “This is the place, next to the river.”

The result is an eye-popping shimmer of titanium, glass and limestone that looks like a magnificent winged ship sailing down the old port. “It reacts differently to the different light,” Mikel said. “Sometimes it looks like silver, sometimes it looks like gold. We never get tired of looking at it.”

The location was ideal. The river was the reason Bilbao exists so it just seems right that the city was honoring the river again. It reminded people of Bilbao’s tradition to the sea.

The museum exterior is dazzling as is the artwork surrounding it. An eerie spider creeps nearby.  Named “Maman” – the French word for Mother – the sculpture by artist Louise Bourgeois measures more than 30 feet high and 33 feet wide with a sac containing 26 marble eggs.

The spider is a tribute to her mother, both protector and predator. The spider’s silk is used both to construct cocoons and also to bind prey. The artist’s mother was a weaver.

Guggenheim is home to art by world masters

Inside the Guggenheim are soaring outer galleries plus a suite of 10 galleries in the building’s core that house a permanent collection of works by world masters like Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell, Paul Klee and Roy Lichtenstein. The structure was created to make maximum use of natural light.

Following the success of the Guggenheim, other major projects took place and many of the world’s best architects joined in – Santiago Calatrava, Arata Isozaki, Norman Foster and Philippe Starck among them. An exemplary new metro system was added.

With the Guggenheim as a major draw, visitors discovered the new splendor of Bilbao. Within four years, the cost of the project had been recouped and the economic impact continues to be huge. More than a million people a year now visit the museum.

Thankfully, visitors also find that the old Basque soul of Bilbao is still alive and well. Historic architecture blends seamlessly with new. Traditions are honored.

“Traditions are very important to us,” Mikel said. “We connect with our traditions just as we welcome the new.”

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

  • Puppy is a flowering sculpture made by Jeff Koons. (cover)
  • Puppy will be given a new monochrome coat in honor of the Guggenheim’s 25th anniversary. Photo courtesy of Guggenheim Museum
  • Opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum was designed by Frank Geary.
  • The Guggenheim features art both inside and outside the museum.

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