Ten years ago—before Bill Gehry architecture dotted the landscape like so many Golden Arches—a man I never met persuaded me to fly 3,500 miles to visit the Guggenheim Bilbao.
Unfortunately, I won’t get the chance to thank him for the experience. Because Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for The New York Times from 1992 to 2004, died on Tuesday.
I won’t critique Muschamp’s body of work as a critic. (He was a modernist and not to everyone’s taste.) But his writing was so personal and provocative that it inspired me to think about architecture in new ways. He opened up my mind to the pyschology behind the steel.
When I read about Muschamp’s death, I went back to the Times article that lured me to Bilbao. Here’s the lede:
If you want to look into the heart of american art today, you are going to need a passport. You will have to pack your bags, leave the U.S.A. and find your way to Bilbao, a small, rusty city in the northeast corner of Spain. The trip is not convenient, and you should not expect to have much fun while you’re there. This is Basque country. A region proudly, if not officially, independent from the rest of Spain, it is also bleakly free from Spanish sophistication. Oh, and by the way, you might get blown up.
Well, I didn’t get blown up. (A reference to Basque-region tensions at the time.) But I was blown away. Experiencing Gehry’s masterpiece come to life at sunrise is still one of the seven wonders of my world.