Experience Bilbao and La Rioja 7th – 10th October 2021

Encountering Art and the World with All Senses. The Story of a Journey.

Bilbao. On the first evening the group slowly sets off into town. On Santiago Calatrava’s Zubizuri Bridge I take a look towards Guggenheim and Puenta da la Salva, and the space that the bridge stretches over and under.

Kodobika Jauregi, Zaldi

‘Zaldi’ the dancing horse, by artists Koldobika Jaurei and Juan Manuel Lumbreras, welcome us at the entrance of the Lumbreras Gallery. We work through the rooms, discovering the slow-moving head made from plywood by brothers Fernando and Vicente Roscubas. In the office the models for Mikel Letxundi’s large-scale sculptures are lined up, with pop art by Victor Arrizabalaga on the desk. Lumbreras opens more rooms where he shows us his treasures. Erramen Mendibelanda, the artist of the current exhibition, is there and presents his multi-layered images and three-dimensional collages with infectious enthusiasm. The farewell is very heartfelt.

The Nervión River was the life blood of the city and lined with factories, with it now being a place for people to stroll along. Rocked by six civil wars and industrial changes, Bilbao was destroyed and rebuilt time and time again. Embellished with many stories, our Spanish guide Miguel describes this in his charming English the following day.

We come across art on every corner. The large sculpture ‘Variante Ovoide’ by Basque artist Jorge Oteiza spans a huge room near the town hall. Further down the river we go to a large, hyper-realistic head of a woman by Rubén Orozco Loza, who stands stoic with the ebb and flow of the tide. As we stand under the massive spider ‘Maman’ by Louise Bourgeous, the shiny coat of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim is already very close, as is Anish Kapour’s ‘Tall Tree & The Eye.’ The list of big names is never-ending.

Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer, Installation for Bilbao, 1997.

Inside, this giant sculpture of a building draws our attention upwards. The enormous glass front on one side opens the view to the outside. The professional guides at the museum take us closer to the building, and to both artists who are permanently exhibited there: Jenny Holzer with her ‘Installation for Bilbao’ and Richard Serra, who fills the largest exhibition room. Richard Serra’s sculpture plays with us, making us wide and narrow, centring us and making us uncomfortable. By encountering the art, we encounter ourselves. I then walk in between the LED ribbons of Jenny Holzer, which have words running up and down them. They seem to move towards me. I immerse myself in the blue, looking out past the room to the amorphous structure beyond. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Richard Serra
Richard Serra, Snake, 1996.

On the bus we cross the Sierra Cantabrica. As the view widens, we see it: La Bodega Ysios. The architect, Santiago Calatrava, insisted on placing this building against the backdrop of the Sierra. Here, two powerful forms play with each other. We approach in the red light of the evening sun.

Silvia del Campo from Ysios tells us about the different soils and about the visionary projects in the rocky vineyards. After the guided tour we keep climbing up to a wine tasting with chocolate. The building here juts out into the landscape like the bow of a ship. Silvia serves us two glasses of Tempranillo red wine. My favourite is ‘Los Prados,’ whose grapes were grown in rocky vineyards. It is ruby red and strong. The sun, the air, the earth; it all develops on the tongue.

Bodega Ysios
La Bodega Ysios

In Logroño the lively evening crowds take over the Spanish town. In the old market hall, the home of the ‘SCULTO’ sculpture fair, we meet artist Odnoder-Pablo Redondo. sculpture network selected him for a prize out of all of the participants of SCULTO 2021. Unfortunately, he won’t be there on Saturday. We see his joy over the prize, and encounter and admire the clarity of his delicate wooden sculpture. Beatriz Carbonell Ferrer, organiser of SCULTO and country coordinator for sculpture network has organised this meeting for us.

The large foyer is brightly lit as we arrive at the Bodega FyA in Navarrete. Together with the artists, gallerists and the team from SCULTO we were greeted by several speakers. On two levels I discover ceramic pots by Tono Naharro, who I meet with again the next day at SCULTO.
Later, with wine and plate after plate of tasty Pinchos, my conversations circle back to sculptures, dance, and poetry.
With a large collection of old wine vessels, the Bodega honours tradition and relays old knowledge in the form of the ‘Tinaja’ in modern wine development. Maria Sáez from FyA explains to us the different steps the wine has to go through.

With Miguel and a small group of fellow travellers, the next day I set off to explore Logrono’s past which has a Celtic origin and dates back to the 1st century. Like in Bilbao, parts of it were destroyed and rebuilt multiple times.

In a large square on his horse, the general and politician Baldomero Esperto looks down at us from his pedestal. A few metres further the modern sculpture ‘EN MEMORIA Y RECUERDA DE LAS VICTIMAS DE TERRORISMO’ by Augustín Ibarrola in 2008, presents itself differently. Without pedestal at eye level, he confronts us in the middle of the market square. It amazes me that the back is decorated with containers.


Logroño is an important station on Jacob’s Way, and Santiago is present in many of the churches. Miguel couldn’t show us much more as SCULTO was waiting.
The corridors in the market below are full when Beatriz and her colleagues greet us at SCULTO. First stop is the installation, which Isidro López-Aparicio created especially for this fair. With everyday objects such as suitcases, rope, ladders and pencils, he explores the theme of migration, relating it not only to current waves of refugees, but also seeing it as part of our humanity.

Almost in every room there is a connection and conversation.  I let myself wander from sculpture to sculpture and enjoy this staging of art. I am pleased to learn that some of the artworks have been sold to members of our tour group.

Ilaria Specos, our trip leader, skilfully guides us from event to event. After the intense enjoyment of art we head off to lunch in Logroño. Authentic Spanish dishes are served there, including patatas riojana, delicious white beans and as always, a lot of meat. After the hearty meal I sit on the bus, a little tired. We travel west for about three-quarters of an hour. A couple more steps and we open the door to the ‘Castillo de Cuzcurrita’ vineyard. Marcos Chacon Madrazo greets us and leads us through the estate in a calm, cordial manner. We wander through the meadow filled with old trees. Large shadows stretch across the grass. In the background massive pines arch in front of Castillo. Next to that, the vines are already changing for autumn. I am not the only one who has become quiet. We’ve immersed ourselves in this place.

Ibon Aranberri, Ornate and rigid (galvanized), 2007

Time and time again we are surprised by modern sculptures from the Bergé Collection. They lie in the meadow, lean on old walls, wait in the corners of rooms and blend in as naturally as if they were made for this place.
Later we go down into the wine cellar. It was literally cut into the rock as the sandstone offers a regulated temperature and moisture level.
We obviously have to try the wine: Cerrado de Castillo and Senorio de Cazcurrita. Discs of chorizo and triangles of cheese are delicately and artistically arranged. Despite it looking completely effortless, time is taken to consider every small detail. Both in small groups and alone we enjoy the wine, the air, and the slow sinking of the evening sun. Not until the sun has set, we leave.

Castillo de Cuzcurrita

At last the enjoyment of art is again in the spotlight: the large portal of Monasterio de nuestra Señora de la Piedad in Casalareina. Afterwards we go to our final meal in ‘La Vieja Bodega’. Enjoying ourselves, chatting, still exchanging contact details; the atmosphere is dense. Tomorrow it’s over.

What remains? The intense experience of contemporary art, immersion in the past of Bilbao and Logroño, the encounters with such a range of people, the company of Ilaria and Miguel, the taste on La Rioja on my tongue, everything that is retained in my memory. And the contact details in my pocket? I am excited to see where they may lead. 



Gabriele Maria Friederichs is a poet and leads writing workshops for children and adults.

Translation: Hannah Griffiths


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