History - Foundation History

When Peggy Guggenheim died in 1978, the Guggenheim Foundation began to operate more than one venue at the same time, and this expansion became an important part of the foundation’s identity. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in Venice on the Grand Canal, opened to the public in 1985, the same year the United States selected the Guggenheim Foundation to operate and maintain the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, which is today owned by the foundation.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (America), 1994. Installation view of Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America at the U.S. Pavilion, 52nd International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2007. Photo: Daniele Resini

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Photo: David Heald

Thomas Krens and Frank Gehry at construction site of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Photo: David Heald

The next broadening of the Guggenheim Foundation’s holdings occurred in 1991, with the addition of the Panza Collection. These works of the 1960s and 1970s were acquired from the vast collection assembled by Count Giuseppe di Biumo in collaboration with his wife, Giovanna Panza. The Panza Collection was the first major acquisition by Thomas Krens, who became director in 1988, and its emphasis on abstract sculpture and painting was a natural fit within the historical parameters of works acquired by the foundation. The Panza Collection includes many definitive examples of Minimalist sculptures by such artists as Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd; equally strong examples of Minimalist paintings, by Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, and Robert Ryman; and a rich array of Post-Minimal, Conceptual, and perceptual art by Robert Morris, Richard Serra, James Turrell, and Lawrence Weiner, among others.

During the course of the 1990s, Krens oversaw a greater than 50 percent increase in the Guggenheim Foundation’s collection overall. Perhaps more important than the quantity of acquisitions has been the broadening of the collection’s scope to include contemporary photography, which had been all but ignored by the foundation, and multimedia art.

Without losing sight of the foundation’s deep commitment to expanding the permanent collection, one of Krens’s most significant initiatives was to build on the institution’s distinctive international presence. The Basque government proposed Bilbao as the site for a third Guggenheim Museum, and in 1991, California-based architect Frank Gehry was selected to design the building. When it opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao—a spectacular structure made of titanium, glass, and limestone—was greeted with glowing praise from critics around the world. Having just past its tenth anniversary, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has presented more than 90 exhibitions to over ten million visitors. In addition to highlighting its permanent collection that includes works by modern and contemporary Basque and Spanish artists like Eduardo Chillida, Juan Munoz, and Antonio Sauro, as well as works from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has organized multiple special exhibitions and featured exhibitions curated by the Guggenheim Museum in New York. These shows have included monographic exhibitions of artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Nam June Paik, and in-depth historical surveys such as China, 5,000 Years and Russia!: Nine Hundred Years of Masterpieces and Master Collections.

Frank Lloyd Wright

View an interactive time line documenting the design and construction of the Guggenheim Museum.

Wah Nu and Tun Win Aung, Four Pieces (of White), 2012

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