The Business of Art: After Nyne Meets Petra Joos, Chief Conservator, Guggenheim Bilbao

Following on the heels of the artist’s monumental landscape exhibition in 2012, David Hockney arrived back at the Guggenheim Bilbao in November 2017 in the form of his exhibition 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life.

An extremely personal exhibition based entirely around portraits of people who are close to Hockney, the work shows an artist who has no plans to slow down his output. Engaging, and diverse in their choice of subject, the work shines in the Guggenheim Bilbao which was itself celebrating its 20th anniversary year.

Our editor Claire Meadows met Petra Joos, chief conservator at the Guggenheim Bilbao for a very special lunch to commemorate the launch of the exhibition, and the continuation of the museum’s partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts.

Petra have you been pleased with the response that the Hockney exhibition has received so far?

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has experienced the best year in its history during its 20th Anniversary. The year 2017 has been exceptional for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao thanks to the public’s avid support during this year. Both the number of visitors who came to see the exhibitions and the massive attendance at the events to celebrate the Anniversary with citizens, coupled with the strong public participation in the TopARTE cultural activity program and the recognitions it received this year, all point to the Museum’s robust health and the appeal it still holds after two decades of history.

The number of visitors beat the historical record with a figure that even surpasses the total amount of visitors in 1998, the first whole year the Museum was operating, when it was constantly in the media spotlight. This figure shows the sustainability of its success and its ability to draw visitors to the region.

1,322,611 people visited the Museum in 2017, 13% more than in 2016—which, in turn, was the second-best year in its history—meaning a total of 153,207 more visitors. This year the Museum has overtaken the record figure of 1998, with 15,411 more visitors. And from November 10 to December 31, 125.262 people visited the David Hockney exhibition, which is receiving excellent reviews both from the press and from the public.

What factors did the curation team have to take into account when transferring this exhibition from London?

The different spaces of both institutions. In Bilbao all portraits stay together in one open space (which is an unique and overwhelming experience) while in the Royal Academy and Ca’ Pesaro the works had to be distributed in different rooms.

Who have been the key figures involved in this latest exhibition?

The curator, the artist and his close collaborators in his studio, Royal Academy staff as well as all the whole team in Bilbao.

This is the latest in the Guggenheim Bilbao’s Royal Academy transfers; can you tell us about the origins of the partnership?

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has a long lasting and close professional relationship since 2000. We shared the exhibitions:

–       Amazons of the Avant-garde with Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Royal Academy of Arts, Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2000)

–       Giorgio Armani with Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Neue Nationalgalerie, Royal Academy of Arts, Terme di Diocleziano, Mori Arts Museum, Shanghai Art Museum y Triennale di Milano (2001)

And partnered with Royal Academy the following exhibitions:

–       Paris capital de las artes: 1900-1968 (2002)

–       Anish Kapoor (2010)

–       David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (2012)

–       Abstract Expressionism (2017)

–       David Hockney. 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life (2017/2018)

 Why did the Guggenheim want to work with the Royal Academy?

The Royal Academy and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao share a great affinity in their exhibition program. Both focus on major surveys of crucial periods in artists’ career or of groundbreaking artistic movements in Art History of the XXth Century.

What have been the highlights of the partnership so far?

–       Anish Kapoor (2010)

–       David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (2012)

–       Abstract Expressionism (2017)

Have there been any significant differences in the way both organisations work?

The organisation structure of both institutions works perfectly together. Curators discuss directly with each other the exhibition contents and develop them together (checklist, catalogue, exhibition materials as walltexts, press texts etc), organizational departments are coordinated by exhibition managers.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Guggenheim Bilbao. What have been your stand-out memories of this year?

The figure of visitors in 2017 shows the sustainability of its success and its ability to draw visitors to the region. Likewise, more than 300,000 people enjoyed the live show Reflections, which turned Frank Gehry’s building into the canvas for a sensorial journey through the history of the Museum and the city for four nights. In addition to the audience who watched it firsthand and then spread it virally around the social media, millions of people from all over the world were able to see it via the media. This was the crowning moment of a year packed with activities around the Anniversary. Not only did citizens pour their efforts into it, so did local agents from different fields (art, culture, retail, media).

With regard to recognitions, last December the Bilbao City Hall named the Museum an “Ambassador of the Town of Bilbao”; in November the Museum was awarded in Berlin the distinction of being the “European Cultural Brand of the Year” by the Cultural Brands and also the “Cambio 16 Arts Award”; in September it was recognized for the third year in a row as the “Most Transparent Museum in the Country” by the Fundación Compromiso y Transparencia; and in June it received two Laus Design Awards, one of them for the 20th Anniversary website.

The Museum’s main draw for visitors in 2017 was the artistic program designed for its 20th Anniversary. Bill Viola: A Retrospective had 710,995 visitors between July and October and the second-highest average number of daily visitors in the history of the Museum, only surpassed by China: 5,000 Years in 1998. Likewise, the exhibition Paris Fin de Siècle: Signac, Redon, Toulouse-Lautrec, and their Contemporaries was enjoyed by 569,673 people between May and September, and George Baselitz: The Heroes, which was on at the same time as the Bill Viola retrospective, was visited by 534,221 people between mid-July and October. Also, worth noting was attendance at the exhibition Abstract Expressionism (exhibition organised by the Royal Academy in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao), which attracted 356,641 people between February and May, a high figure for that time of year.

Can you tell us what the Guggenheim have planned for 2018?

Here is a selection:

Henri Michaux: The Other Side
Six decades of experimentation by Henri Michaux, an unclassifiable figure in art and literature
2 . 2 . 2018 >> 13 . 5 . 2018

Esther Ferrer: Intertwined Spaces
A presentation of projects never seen before in an exhibition space
16 . 3 . 2018 >> 10 . 6 . 2018

Chagall. The Breakthrough Years: 1911–1919
A selection of the works from the period of Marc Chagall’s greatest development as an artist and a person
1 . 6 . 2018 >> 2 . 9 . 2018

Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World
Experimental Chinese art between 1989 and 2008, the most transformative period in recent history
11 . 5 . 2018 >> 23 . 9 . 2018

Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective
Sculptures, paintings and drawings from the entire career of Alberto Giacometti, a benchmark artist for countless generations of creators
19 . 10 . 2018 >> 24 . 2 . 2019

Joana Vasconcelos. I’ll Be Your Mirror
A direct, humor-filled vision of the world through works with open meanings
29 . 6 . 2018 >> 11 . 11 . 2018

David Hockney: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life is on at the Guggenheim Bilbao until February 25th