Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum and Its “Pet” Exhibit, Puppy

Journey to Bilbao, Spain, and the city’s celebrated Guggenheim Museum, and you’ll no doubt find yourself charmed by the modern-art museum’s “pet” exhibit, Puppy.

The 12 meter-tall canine (about 40 feet), modeled after a West Highland White Terrier pup, is comprised of thousands of flowers. It stands guard in front of the shimmering Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry, and opened in 1997.

While I’m sure Puppy is probably effective at eliciting smiles from most passersby, I was personally fond of the flowery topiary since it reminded me of childhood dogs, Jenny and Bonnie, both Westies and real-life versions of Puppy.

Puppy’s creator, Jeff Koons, used computer modeling to design Puppy, and when we visited, the canine sported blooms ranging from begonias, to marigolds and petunias.

Walking around the titanium, glass, and limestone exterior of the museum, we also glimpsed other creative sculptures – ranging from a gargantuan spider, to glimmering stacked balls, and a bouquet of fluorescent tulips. Inside, I found myself most taken by two works of art:  The Matter of Time by Richard Serra and The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson. The former is made of large curved sheets of weathered steel, which create a maze of sorts, and fascinating acoustics. These features invite visitors to get lost among them, and perhaps even hum a tune to see how sound bounces off the sculpted forms.

The Visitors, on the other hand, is a video installation featuring nine different screens. (Unlike The Matter of Time, it is just a temporary exhibition.) Walking into the room in the middle of the 64-minute program, we were introduced to nine different characters – each playing a musical instrument in a different room of a classic upstate New York home. In one room, for example, a man played a guitar in a bathtub; in a living room, a man tickled the ivories of a stately grand piano, and in a formal parlour, a woman passionately belted out the tune on an accordion. What united the actors is that they sang or played the same song, making observers feel as though they were perhaps attending a concert, or even pacing from room to room to glimpse the activity in each sumptuous interior. I loved how it invited participants to physically move from screen to screen, in a choose-your-own-adventure fashion.

While some of the exhibitions inside did not appeal to me quite as much as Kjartansson and Serra’s work, we appreciated how the museum’s holdings got us thinking more creatively. And just as it’s worthwhile to visit the Guggenheim at different times of day to observe how its exterior changes color under varying types of light, we never grew tired of seeing Puppy.

Puppy Guggenheim Bilbao

Guggenheim Dog Topiary Puppy

Puppy Guggenheim Dog Topiary Bilbao

West Highland White Terrier Bilbao
We saw a plethora of West Highland White Terriers roaming the streets of Bilbao, with Puppy no doubt popularizing the breed among Bilbao residents.
Puppy Guggenheim Dog Topiary Bilbao Museum
A Scottish Terrier named, not surprisingly, Puppy.
Puppy Topiary Reflection Guggenheim Bilbao
Puppy’s reflection is broken into a mosaic-like pattern on a building across the street from the Guggenheim.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Spain

Guggenheim exterior Bilbao
Schoolchildren on a field trip flock to a musician belting out tunes on his clarinet, as water vapors lend a mysterious air.

Guggenheim stainless steel balls
Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree & the Eye, made of stainless steel and carbon steel.

Guggenheim Maman Spider Sculpture Bilbao
Maman, a  bronze, marble, and stainless steel spider, by Louise Bourgeois, is about 27 feet (9 meters) tall.

Guggenheim Bilbao Sunshine

Guggenheim Bilbao Promenade

Bridge Guggenheim Bilbao

Guggenheim Bilbao

Guggenheim Tulips Bilbao Jeff Koons
Tulips, another permanent exhibit created by ‘Puppy artist,’ Jeff Koons.
Guggenheim Museum Tulips Bilbao
Shawn, his mother and me reflecting on our visit to the museum. :)

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

Thanks & Disclosure:

The Bilbao Tourism Board hosted us on a walking tour of the city, and the Guggenheim Museum offered us complimentary tickets to enjoy the museum.

To them we say Eskerrik asko – or simply, thank you.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

44 thoughts on “Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum and Its “Pet” Exhibit, Puppy

    1. Mary Ann, it sure was! I wonder if Shawn and I might show up in the collage of images from Yoko Ono’s exhibition with the pillow cases? :) We were lucky to have seen The Visitors before it leaves the Guggenheim too, as it’s only there for a few more weeks.

  1. Tricia, how lucky of you to see Jeff Koon’s art work, which I do admire a lot. My most favorite picture of all of yours, is the one with reflection of the Puppy, that is really amazing. Earlier on in one of your posts when I told you how much Bilbao’s Museum reminded me of Frank Ghery’s work of the Disney Hall in Los Angeles, here you might see what I mean.…in-los-angeles/

    1. Cornelia, I’d never seen any of Koon’s art before, but enjoyed Puppy and the Tulips. Is some of his work on display in your area too?

      Thanks also for sharing the link to Gehry’s Disney Hall. His style is indeed apparent in both structures.

    1. Hi Dale! Puppy is a crowd pleaser. :) Ever since our visit I’ve been curious what Puppy looks like during the winter months – were there colorful blooms like this, or perhaps an evergreen look?

      The Bilbao locals told us that it can get pretty grey and wet there during the winter months, hence those lovely glassed-in balconies which they told us were popular for harnessing what light there is.

  2. Fabulous building, would love to see it. The shape and textures changing in the light must renew the image of the building on a regular basis so that it never has exactly the same appearance.

    Fascinated by the puppy. I wonder what provided the inspiration for that? Westies look cute, but can be snappy, yelpy wee dogs with uncertain temperaments. Though I have to admit to being biased as many years ago my aunt had one which, for absolutely no reason and with no provocation whatsoever, bit me on the foot. Our new neighbours have one which introduced itself to me by standing in front of me and growling menacingly. The Koons version is much more to my liking.

    1. Dorothy, I never did happen upon why the artist chose a Westie as his model, but I’m equally curious. It’s funny that you should mention the breed’s sometimes-bad behavior. My family had two Westies when I was growing up. I distinctly remember getting bitten as a child, but I think that’s because I was being quite naughty myself, and tugging at poor Bonnie’s tail. My family’s second Westie, Jenny, was a sweet dog. Later in life she pulled through an unusual illness, which necessitated that she have a leg amputated. The veterinarian assured us she’d be okay with three legs, and indeed she got along quite well after the surgery. When I saw Puppy, I naturally couldn’t get the vision of a three-legged flowery version out of my mind. :)

  3. I have always wondered how that incredible outside architecture enhanced the artwork inside. Does it allow for unusual exhibition spaces, more light on the artwork, or a different layout for visitors?

    1. Bespoke Traveler, I do remember reading that the design does allow for more light, but it seems that the windows must have UV protection of some sort too to protect the artwork.

      Inside, there were many vast spaces, as you would expect, but intimate ones too. The latter spaces were especially nice for the more participatory exhibitions. We visited on a gloriously-sunny day, but I’m wondering how the lighting would feel inside on one of Bilbao’s gloomier days, which the locals said are quite common during the winter months.

      Have you seen any of Frank Gehry’s other structures? A few readers have mentioned that the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA is quite spectacular.

      1. I have not been to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. However, there are two Gehry designs I have seen: the Ray and Maria Stata Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago. Though very different features, he has a unique style which unmistakably mark his architectural pieces. The Stata Center is a smaller piece, which while not awe-inspiring, felt fun and whimsical to me.

      2. It’s fun to hear of others’ Gehry structure-sightings and favorites. :) While I’ve not seen it in person, the Stata Center reminds me of Prague’s Dancing House, one Gehry design that Terri of Gallivance pointed out. Did you see the Pritzker Pavilion by night? It certainly looks dramatic bathed in colorful lighting!

  4. Tricia, Bilbao’s Guggenheim is one of my favorite buildings – ever. And “Puppy” just makes me smile – over and over. :) Your beautiful photos make me want to return. ~Terri

    1. Terri, Puppy is indeed a fantastic anti-depressant, and I think his natural composition makes him the perfect complement to his metallic museum neighbor.

      As a Guggenheim-groupie :) have you and James seen any of Frank Gehry’s other structures?

      1. Tricia I just checked the list of his buildings and it appears that the only other masterpiece we’ve seen is the Dancing House in Prague – love it! :) I want to see the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. The photos look incredible. ~Terri

      2. Terri, ah, now I remember seeing Prague’s Dancing House years ago. I hadn’t made the connection that it was also Gehry’s design until recently though. What a fitting nickname!

  5. We went at Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum in 1997, I see that Puppy is still in good health :)
    It’s funny, we went in June in Seou, South Korea, in Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art and we were excited to see “Maman” spider, but she was no longer there. Glad to know that we can go to Bilbao to see a “Maman” spider.

    1. Hi Narita, a pleasure to connect. :) It’s interesting to hear that there are ‘Maman’ cousins in other corners of the world. When you saw Puppy back in 1997, was she sporting a similar hairdo to what she has now? I’m curious how the flowery styles evolve from season to season, and year to year.

      1. Hello Tricia, well I found the album with the photo of the Puppy. I was there at 1998 and not at 1997, as I said. You can see a photo of puppy here (it was analogic photo) at 20th August 1998:

      2. Narita, thanks for sharing Puppy’s 1990’s look – it seems as though the gardeners have transitioned to a more vibrant-colored style these days. :)

        Hope you’re well and enjoying the last days of summer!

    1. Anotherday2paradise, thanks so much, though I must defer credit to the masterful subject matter. :) Speaking of all those flowers, I’d be curious to see how Puppy’s grooming sessions work. Impressive how the flowery contours are just perfect so as to achieve the Westie look.

      1. It doesn’t get cold enough for long enough to grow tulips naturally. The bulbs have to be refrigerated at very low temperatures and even then the flowers don’t last very long. It’s not worth the effort. Other bulbs like daffodils grow quite well though.

      2. Carol, I guess that makes tulip sightings elsewhere in the world even more special for you. Interesting to learn that daffodils have different temperature preferences than tulips. I’ve always associated them with my birthday, since they’re my month’s birth flower and usually emerge then. :)

  6. I have drooled over Bilbao ever since I watched two programs: “Spain on the Road Again” and “The Art of Spain”. I would like to do an extended road-trip throughout the country to soak in the history, art & architecture, food & drink, and of course, get to know some of her people.

    1. Hi there, Henry! Ah, a road trip through the country does sound like a dream, because up until now, our visits to Spain have been mostly long-weekend jaunts. I certainly feel fortunate to have done those, but I’d love to engage in some slower travel. I was initially most curious about digging deeper into Andalusia, but now that I’ve seen a bit of Basque Country and Galicia, my curiosity has been piqued elsewhere.

      Can’t think of anyone that’s more deserving of such an adventure. I hope you’ll get the chance soon, Henry. :)

    1. Big Cities Bright Lights, thanks for stopping by and for your compliment. When you walked through The Matter of Time did you find yourself wanting to test out the acoustics too? :) It’s a work that’s also a delight to enjoy with a bird’s eye perspective.

Join the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: