BILBAO, Spain — My wife and I are concluding our trip through Spain in a grand way. I am bowing to her wish that we see the celebrated Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The museum is devoted to the most up-to-date modern art, and she likes modern art. I like it, too. It usually shows me how our arty elites have decayed, and how some of our billionaire philanthropists are being taken to the cleaners by conmen and self-promoters. Far better that they should give their billions to the hucksters of art rather than some other category of modern crank, say the urban terrorists or jihadists.
Thus we find ourselves in the Guggenheim, a vast building that, as far as I can see, has no right angles, arches or any columns that one usually associates with grand museums. It is a modern colossus, designed by Frank Gehry, a self-absorbed primate who has designed many modern colossi, and whose design for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., is now immobilized in controversy. That is all to the good, for the controversy has thus far spared us his inanities, though it also has spared us any memorial to Ike's exemplary citizenship. Well, that is the price we pay to keep Washington bereft of one more cultural disaster.
Gehry's work in Bilbao actually looks like a disaster. It is a ghastly multi-formed creation covered mostly with titanium, a metal that seems to shine even in the gloom of Bilbao, and from afar looks like a huge jetliner has just crashed into the city. On a regular basis, the Guggenheim even gives off clouds of smoke. What the point of the smoke is I did not bother to discover, but apparently it is as harmless as is all the art included in the museum. The place is PC to the utmost. The result is, of course, childish. Even the museum's efforts at pornography are childish. One of the artists depicts himself having sex with his wife in some sort of sculpture with butterflies and flowers all around — utterly childish. Even Larry Flynt would not be sexually aroused.
The first salon — if that is the word to describe one of Gehry's rooms — that we entered aroused a look of alarm on the guards' faces. They informed us that we were entering the children's collection and that it was meant for the children while their parents pursued the serious stuff. Yet the guards relented, this museum being so PC, and allowed us to look around at the balls on the floor, the stuffed animals, the inflated toys, and the garbage and graffiti on the walls. My wife insisted that we go on to the adult exhibits.
They were indistinguishable from the children's room. The first we entered was some flapdoodle by one Jeff Koons. I believe the first creation that we beheld was the Mona Lisa of pop art, some sort of inflatable lobster. Then we went on to a room filled with the aforementioned pornography, complete with more inflatable stuff and weakly colored flowers and butterflies all enshrouded in ugly drapery. Before leaving Koons' infantile fantasies, my wife was won over. She pronounced the collection "trivial" and "frivolous." As we went from room to room in record time, her judgments were validated again and again. The Guggenheim is utterly trivial. It may boast to having the most up-to-date modern art, but it is harmless. No museum I have ever entered has been so harmless. It is like a museum dedicated to the great moments of "Sesame Street."
The work of no artist — or whatever they might call themselves — on display in the Guggenheim will ever be remembered in a hundred years. In fact, the building itself will probably be bulldozed and replaced by a parking lot or, better yet, a children's playground. City planners will find no better use for Gehry's titanium.
We went on for 20 more minutes or so. Nothing we saw was memorable. All have been pretty much skewered by the critics. The most noteworthy are the critics on the left, writing in The Nation, The New York Review of Books and The Guardian. Even on the left, art critics are not fetched by philistines such as Koons. There was one of the Guggenheim's guys whom they went easy on. He was a kid from Brooklyn, Jean-Michel Basquiat. He is of Haitian origin, and so these heirs to our colonial heritage really had to defer to him. Still in the main like Koons and the rest of the Guggenheim frauds, Basquiat's output is trivial. It included graffiti, a brief film about his walking the streets alone with a clarinet in his hand, years spent in petty crime, that sort of thing.
If you go to the Guggenheim, you will read that Basquiat died alone in his sleep at 27. That is all. I researched a little more deeply. He lived the life of a small-time criminal and did indeed die in his sleep. The cause was a heroin overdose. Thus passes our arty elite's notion of a modern-day Michelangelo.