Going Global

The International Journey of Basque Culture and Literature 1

Authored by: Mari Jose Olaziregi

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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One of the international bestsellers about Basques, The Basque History of the World (1999) by the American journalist and writer Mark Kurlansky, recalls a well-known joke about bilbainos and their excessive pride. “According to a popular Bilbao joke, a bilbaino walks into a store and asks for a ‘World map of Bilbao.’ The shop owner unflinchingly answers, ‘Left bank or right?’ ” (Kurlansky 1999, 4). I do not know whether Basques have ever thought of themselves as being at the center of the world or believed the world to revolve around them, but among the ways in which Basque culture has projected itself onto the world stage, few initiatives have had such international (or profitable?) repercussions as the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao on October 18, 1997. The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum is the best example of the fact that the cultural policies favored by Basque nationalist governments have also been influenced by the dominant market logic in the new world scenario. A desire to regenerate the great Basque metropolis, Bilbao, and transform it into a city geared toward services that would make it attractive to tourists led Basque politicians to “fall for” the seductive charm of Thomas Krens (Zulaika 1997, 11). Yet this desire was also based on locating Bilbao “within the global culture of travel and consumerism, bridging transatlantic distances, linking New York with Bilbao, and thereby facilitating traffic in modern art, museum franchises, tourism, and reformulated urban images” (Douglass and Zulaika 2007, 344). It was precisely this visibility and profitability that justified the major local investment underpinning the project: the creation of an architectural landmark, a masterpiece, whose artistic attraction was unquestionable and that helped to put the Basque Country on the world map for a reason other than its so-called “troubles” (the terrorism of ETA). Kurlansky (1999, 299) mentions the fact that 85% of published news items about Basques in the last decades of the twentieth century in the United States referred to the terrorism problem. The data concerning the appeal and profitability of what has been termed the first global museum are beyond any doubt: it had a million visitors in 2012, and the museum is now one of the world’s top-ranked culture infrastructures for self-financing.

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