Foraging for art: Bilbao off the beaten path

My tattered copy of The Rough Guide to Spain 2007 has a glossy selection of the country’s best of the best. The very first colored photo in a list of “42 Things Not to Miss”? The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

Beyond the Guggenheim, however, lies a delightful trail of creativity.  For starters, there are even more museums. A rainy weekend made the museum offerings quite attractive, and I spent my Saturday afternoon perusing a fine mix of El Greco, Zurbarán, Goya, Cassatt, Sorolla, and Zuloaga in Bilbao’s Fine Art Museum. In the final galleries of contemporary art, I even had my first look at sculptures by Basque son Eduardo Chillida.

Rainy afternoon? A museum stroll is fine by me

While up top I used the word “foraging,” the idea of seeking out art was only half of our experience. In reality, art came to us.

Our first afternoon in Bilbao happened to be the only time we saw the sun. While sitting at an outdoor cafe, a well-groomed gentleman joined the terraza at a neighboring table. He began to sketch, sending glances our way often enough to make us wonder if we’d become his collective muse. He suddenly stood up, ambled over, and proudly unfurled the following:

Spanish mullet: check

The group stared in polite astonishment. Was it a picture of Megan? Of Ely? Of me? Surely not of Matt…? In a non sequitur that left the drawing behind, the artist started babbling about his brother.

“Haven’t you seen his film El dia de la bestiaLos crímenes de Oxford? Balada triste de trompeta?” We humored him, nodding yes and no when he paused for air. The truth was that we could barely follow his train of thought. Contemplating his slur, we wondered if our new friend’s coffee was laced with Bailey’s or vodka or rum.

Agustín, as he was called, turned his attention back to the caricature. He tore the page out of his sketchbook and scrawled his signature before handing the masterpiece over to me. Yes, it was a picture of yours truly.

“I’m really better with color,” he apologized.

As soon as we got back to the apartment, Ely googled his last name. It turns out that this personajillo really and truly is the brother of a famous film director, Álex de la Iglesia. The name alone didn’t ring a bell, but suffice it to say that ole’ Álex has made movies with the likes of Javier Bardem and Elijah Wood.

With this screen in El Alhóndiga, you can disobey your mamma and stare straight at the sun. Note: The library is on the second floor yet visible from the first.

Speaking of brilliant characters, let’s have a chat about El Alhóndiga. This multi-purpose center, which is housed inside an old wine warehouse, is off of the main tourist radar. While the outside is striking in a what-is-that? sort of way, the interior is the real attraction. Go inside. The insides were completely revamped before the building was opened to the public in 2010. Now the social space includes a library, a swimming pool, a gym, eateries, auditoriums, a movie theater, and a gift shop.

Renaissance-style column at El Alhóndiga

You don’t need to be a member of the gym to enjoy the daring columns that shoot upward from the first floor. The 43 columns, which reflect styles from cave art to art deco, were designed by various artists.

More examples of the 43 columns

Along with the Guggenheim, add the fine art museum and El Alhóndiga to your Bilbao to-see list. Finding your own caricature artist is entirely up to you.

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  1. I think your artist friend would do better with his Crayolas, too! HA! That’s definitely a keeper for the scrapbook!

  2. Cassandra

    I’m elated that no one thinks it looks like me!

  3. LOVE El Día de la Bestia!

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