PRINT Summer 2001

Applause and Effect

TWO YEARS AGO I made the trek to Bilbao to find out what all the commotion was about. I went with my critical antennae poised because the slavish adulation was getting irritating. The Bilbao Effect was visible everywhere, from professional journals to travel magazines to middlebrow glossies (the New Yorker was organizing group tours), from the cover of the New York Times Magazine to polemics like Victoria Newhouse's Towards a New Museum. Newhouse's book culminates with Frank Gehry, of course, and the allusion in her title is to Le Corbusier's revolutionary tract (was she implying that museums like Gehry's could save the world?). Other critics were blathering in metaphors: exultant eruption, frozen explosion, stormy volumes, floral splendor, titanium tentacles, Tower of Babel, a Basque bomb, “Lourdes for a crippled culture;” the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe (these last two from the

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