Press Release

Acquisition: The Red Arches, by Daniel Buren

On 19 October 2007, it will be ten years to the day since the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was inaugurated. To mark the occasion the Museum presents The Red Arches, by Daniel Buren, an art intervention on La Salve Bridge that enhances the city’s art heritage and provides a new work for the Museum Collection, conceived specifically for one of the most remarkable areas in the GMB building’s immediate surroundings.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was built on a triangular site, with La Salve Bridge, carrying one of the city’s major access roads, cutting through one vertex of the triangle. When architect Frank Gehry began work on the design for the Museum building, he decided from the beginning to include the bridge. A colossal arm-like edifice slips under the bridge and ends in a stone tower that rises on the other side of the bridge in an extraordinary embrace.


The new project is also set to become a permanent part of La Salve Bridge thanks to an agreement with the bridge’s owner, the Vizcaya Provincial Council. Last June 2006, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao invited several internationally acclaimed contemporary artists, including Daniel Buren, Liam Gillick and Jenny Holzer, to present their proposals for an artwork that would permanently transform the bridge. All the invited artists had long experience in working on a monumental scale and were renowned for their highly personal creative idioms and materials. Finally, Buren, Gillick and Holzer decided to present proposals.

A project Selection Committee, including representatives from the Basque Government, the Vizcaya Provincial Council, Norman Rosenthal, Exhibitions Secretary at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Thomas Krens, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Director General Juan Ignacio Vidarte, announced its final decision on 19 December 2006.

But the Committee members were not the only ones to have a say in choosing the art intervention for La Salve Bridge. Management at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao felt that, given the sheer size and scope of the project, its visual and popular impact and its integration into the city’s architectural profile, everyone visiting the Museum should have a chance to take part in the selection process. Over a two-month period, visitors to the Museum were asked to vote for their favorite proposal.

Models of the three projects were on show at the Museum from early October to late November 2006, together with a range of support materials provided by each artist, to explain to visitors their conception of the project and giving a brief overview of their careers to date.

The majority opinion of Museum visitors counted as an extra vote on the Selection Committee, which finally plumped for the project submitted by French artist Daniel Buren, defining his creation as a “visually captivating work, simple and impeccable.” The Committee felt that The Red Arches strived successfully to soften the powerful contrast between the bridge’s original H-like arch and the elegantly curving lines of the Museum building.


The Red Arches is the official title of the new site-specific artwork by Daniel Buren. It is based on the artist’s belief that the only element that distorts the perfect harmony created by Frank Gehry between the Museum and the bridge is the latter’s iron arch, which, according to the artist, “has no visual connection with the elegance of the Museum.”

This is why he has concentrated on transforming the arch’s structure, covering it with a colored “skin”, as a sort of sculpture, modifying its form and shape without affecting its original function in any way. As Buren himself says, “the change opens a dialogue between the functional nature of the bridge and the aesthetics of the sculpture that embraces it.”

The bright red Buren has chosen for the panels covering the arch is in sharp contrast to the green of the structure, and strikes up a chromatic connection with Gehry’s building. Black and white stripes, the artist’s trademark, have been fitted to the laterals, to contrast with the red panels.

Buren’s project first had to be OK’d by engineers and specialists in this type of structure. The French artist’s design took account of the bridge’s movement and the strength of the wind, which required some very detailed calculations. The most striking thing about the installation is that the covering isn’t actually anchored to the bridge, which provides support at a few select points. No holes or anchoring devices have been added, as one of the conditions for the project was that the structure of the bridge should remain completely untouched.

To begin with, Buren proposed a synthetic material similar to the one used to make large tents or marquees, but for maintenance and conservation reasons, an almost indestructible type of Formica with a ten-year guarantee was chosen. Basically the Formica consists of sheets of paper stuck together and pressed to achieve panels of the required thickness that look rigid and are proof against the cold and heat. Besides being resistant, the material is durable and easy to maintain, making it ideal for this particular piece.

Metal boxes containing light-emitting diodes have been fitted to the laterals and covered by translucent methacrylate plates with black adhesive vinyl stripes. Besides the static lighting projected onto both sides of the “red sculpture”, another more complex and dynamic lighting system fitted inside the laterals generates an effect of constant movement up and down the structure’s inner and outer edges. The river reflects the lighting to create a highly suggestive, almost magical effect.

Buren is happy to leave interpretation of the work to the spectator. “The bridge is clearly one of the main entrances to the city,” he says. “You see the Museum as soon as you come onto the bridge, and I liked the idea of the viaduct structure being covered with a deep red arch, through which vehicles and pedestrians would have to pass to get in and out of Bilbao. As if it were a huge open door connecting the city with the rest of the world.”

The Red Arches on La Salve Bridge is the latest phase in the spectacular transformation of the old industrial cityscape, a metamorphosis that began to take shape exactly ten years ago.


Daniel Buren received last October 16, 2007 the "Praemium Imperiale" in the painting category. This prize was awarded to the French artist in the presence of Japanese Prince Hitachi, Emperor Akihito’s brother. Daniel Buren received this prestigious plastic and performing arts award for “introducing a breath of fresh air into the world of conceptual art with his pioneering site-specific works.”

Among previous Praemium Imperiale laureates are Ingmar Bergman, Leonard Bernstein, Antoni Tàpies, Marta Argerich, Norman Foster, Maya Plisetskaya, and Mstislav Rostropovich.


Daniel Buren was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, in 1938. He trained as an artist in a range of media at the L’École des Métiers d’Art (1957–60) and L’École National Supérieure de Beaux Arts before finally settling on painting in 1960.

In 1965 Buren began to use unconventional painting supports, producing paintings on pre-printed linen with alternating white and colored strips. He reduced his works to their simplest visual and physical features, emptying them of both illusion and subjectivity. His interest in the literal components of the work, surface and support (front and back), was to lead him to explore the material and ideological aspects of his art.

Rooted in the political and social changes of 1960s Europe, Buren’s work has been linked from the beginning to a profound reflection on the function of art and of the artist, without neglecting the means and modes of creative expression and their relation to the social context in which they exist and are exhibited. The artist describes his works as highlighting the limits at which things are produced and the limits at which artist and spectator find themselves in relation to the works.

For more than forty years Daniel Buren has worked in what he defines as “in situ” art, works executed in the place where they are to be installed, where they are to be seen or in unusual exhibition venues. This way, Buren is able to ponder the power relationships surrounding the presentation of an artwork, posing questions about how the work interacts with its physical and social context, analyzing too its presence and perception by the spectator and calling into question the artwork’s visual and ideological autonomy.

Buren has repeated one particularly significant feature almost constantly in his works: the use of 8.7-centimeter-wide vertical fabric or paper bands, which he applies on different kinds of supports. These bands or strips of color, originally inspired by the supports traditionally found in France, became a visual tool the artist used to reduce pictorial content to its minimum expression, a metaphor by which he implied that the world could be reduced to an extremely simple duality, space and band. He found he was able to alter the structure of buildings and impact on the space into which the artwork fitted by using simple dabs and touches of color.

Daniel Buren is an internationally acclaimed artist, winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial in 1986. Today public and private organizations throughout the world continue to solicit his highly praised personal spatial interventions, whether for permanent or temporary installation. Recent clients include the Guggenheim’s New York HQ, where Buren worked in 2005.


One thousand square meters of compact laminated Formica that now cover La Salve Bridge were made by Bilbao firm Construcciones Lomsa, which put up the successful bid in a call for tenders announced by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao some months ago. Also helping in the process was Bilbao-based engineering firm IDOM, which was also involved in building the actual Museum ten years ago.

The laminated Formica® Compact Exterior is an innovative material made by a layering process conducted under pressure of 10 Mpa (100kg per square centimeter) at 140ºC. Each panel comprises a core of sheets of hard paper impregnated with heat-stable resins and covered with a decorative sheet (red, in this case) on both sides. Impregnated in high resistance, heat-hardened resin, the surface sheet of paper is further protected by an ultraviolet-blocking film to prevent color fades.

The result of all this is a compact, flat, unchangeable self-supporting laminate that is extremely weatherproof and impervious to ultraviolet rays, guaranteeing total color solidity and stability (red, in this case) over time, with a minimum (extendible) ten-year guarantee.

Being non-porous, the material resists damp and pollution and needs no maintenance.

Two firms, EBI and Susaeta pro lighting were entrusted with covering 400 meters with light boxes containing 6,732 two-watt light-emitting diodes. LED were chosen on account of their higher quality and because they suited the artist’s requirements better.


  • Bridge height: 55 meters
  • Width: 28 meters
  • Radius of circumferences: 12 meters
  • Total surface covered by compact laminated Formica panels: 1,000 square meters
  • Formica panels: 8 mm thick each one, measuring 1.53 by 1.53 meters and weighing 11 kg per square meter.
  • Total surface covered by light boxes: 400 square meters
  • LED: 6,732 units.
  • Lines: 87 mm-thick adhesive vinyl in black and white.
  • Inauguration: 19 October, coinciding with the Museum’s Tenth Anniversary.
  • Budget: final cost: 1.6 million euros



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