By Matías Helbig, corresponsal en Europa

The Guggenheim-Bilbao Museum breaks new ground in terms of exhibition possibilities. Within the framework of the exhibition dedicated to the artwork of Vasili Vasilyevich Kandinsky (Moscow, 1866 - Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1944), and as an extension of it, the Basque institution presents a 360º virtual tour of the three galleries on its website. 

The museum presents the project as a complement to the physical exhibition that allows visitors to approach Kandinsky's work in depth and bring it closer to the widest possible audience within the context of the health context that the world is going through. This is the first edition of the 360º visit implemented by the Guggenheim-Bilbao, but it will not be the last.

David Díaz, the Museum's Information Systems Coordinator, tells us about the details of the Kandinsky 360º project and the work being done by the Guggenheim-Bilbao in relation to new technologies. "In the last three years we have understood that digital transformation is one of the main tools for the museum’s strategic plan," he explains. "Since then, we have started to implement all kinds of technologies to think of new ways of bringing exhibitions closer to the public. When the pandemic broke out, we were already prepared".

Ph: Guggenheim-Bilbao.

. Was there a collaboration between the curatorial team and the web development team to realize the project?

We developed a first design that had to be validated by the curators, both in New York and here in Bilbao. In addition to the participation of other departments of the museum that have provided the information and the audio-guides for the construction of the visit. In that sense, it has been a collaborative project in which several departments of both museums have been involved.

.Why did the museum decide to develop this experience for the first time with the artwork of Kandinsky and not with another artist?

It is true that on previous occasions we had already worked with Google Arts & Culture on the recording of 360º works, but this is the first time that we have applied it to a complete exhibition.  Firstly, because it is a very powerful exhibition and we had to make the most of it. If we were going to do it, we'd better do it with an exhibition that could have a lot of impact. Ultimately, what we are looking for is to invite people to come back to the museum.

On the other hand, the artworks and the layout of the space lent themselves very well to the implementation of the software. So the decision to take Kandinsky as the firs experiment was almost necessary.


Curated by Megan Fontanella, Modern Art curator and Provenance at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, from where most of the paintings that make up the exhibition have been brought, Kandinsky is conceived as a visual tour through the Russian artist's career. Vasili Kandinsky was one of the great figures of painting, and of art in general, during the 20th century. His artistic production shifted the language of painting towards the margins of classical structures in accordance with the artist's inner quest.

The 62 artworks on display at the Guggenheim-Bilbao are part of the holdings of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation located in New York. Throughout his life, Kandinsky was forced to migrate from one place to another because of the war conflicts that threatened Europe. From Moscow he travelled to Munich, where he began a period of chromatic experimentation from 1900 to 1914, when he was forced to return to the Russian capital dew to the First World War. In pre-revolutionary Russia he became obsessed with the utopianism of the avant-gardes and began to give definitive form to what would become his pictorial language until the end of his career: the development of a universal language.

When the Bauhaus was founded in Dessau, Walter Gropius invited Kandisky to join the teaching staff, but in 1933 Nazism closed the school and the Russian artist migrated to Paris. It was in the French capital that his work began to take on the characteristics of Surrealism and the natural sciences, without abandoning the Bauhaus conception, which held that art had a transformative capacity within society.

It was during this pilgrimage that Vassily Kandisky met Solomon R. Guggenheim, by then a leading figure in art collecting.  As a result of this relationship, the foundation in New York now has a unique collection of Kandinsky's work.



. How has the virtual exhibition been received?

We are working on measuring the traffic. We can't yet give specific data as the virtual opening is very recent. However, it is having a huge impact on social networks.

As soon as we have concrete data we will really know if continuing with this type of initiative is worthwhile. I think so, audiences are really liking it.

. What would it be like to continue with these initiatives?

One of the fundamental ideas is the possibility of keeping these exhibitions permanently on the museum's website. It would be wonderful to have a section dedicated to previous exhibitions that can be revisited. A sort of archive.

That's why one of the main objectives would be to implement this technology in the most relevant exhibitions of the museum and preserve them indefinitely. But of course, that also depends on the loan conditions of the artworks and the indications that the curatorial team gives regarding what can and can't be done with specific oeuvres. 

Another idea we have in our sights is the digitialisation of the permanent collection of the Guggenheim-Bilbao in a 360º tour and the development of exterior tours of the museum. When we did the registration for Kandinsky, we took the opportunity to develop a virtual tour of Louise Bourgeois' spyder, for example.

In addition, Díaz explains the possibilities that this type of technology allows internally: "You can generate an entire exhibition virtually. Let's say the curator is in New York, for example, he or she could visit it virtually without moving from where he or she is.” This is one of the projects that the museum's IT department is working on to see if it is viable and profitable. Díaz has no doubt that it is.

On the other hand, these new ways of working also make it possible to reduce the carbon footprint that collaborative processes between institutions from different parts of the world entail. Not to mention, of course, the permanent dialogue it allows between the agents involved in each project, regardless of their geographical location.



. As a new exhibition language, what does the implementation of this virtual tour add to the visitors' experience?

A new vision. There are things that can be experienced in Kandinsky 360º that are not possible in the physical exhibition. By this I mean the quality of detail in some of the paintings; the artworks can be viewed very closely and in very high resolution.

However, the idea is not to replace the physical exhibitions. The proposal is oriented to prepare your visit, or to revisit the exhibition after having visited the museum.

. And finally, with the exhibition underway, what things do you think can be corrected when it comes to repeating this experience in future projects?

There is little we can improve. We are very happy with the result of the exhibition. Perhaps questions of lighting can be corrected, because it is always very complex to make it exactly the same as in the hall, and questions of integration with the web and the mobile view. All of these are issues that we are already working on.

But the reality is that we have put a lot of effort into this first experience, and what has taken us a month and a half of work, will probably take us half of it in a second edition.