In The Stone Raft, Portugal's Nobel Prize-winning novelist José Saramago conjured a scenario in which the Iberian Peninsula cracks off from the rest of Europe and floats out to sea. If that were to happen, Spanish and Portuguese art lovers and connoisseurs of modern architecture would still be satisfied.
In the decade that followed the opening of Frank Ghery's extraordinarily progressive Guggenheim Museum (tel. (+34) 94 435 90 80; www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/ingles/home.htm) in Bilbao, Spain, in October 1997, Spain and Portugal have been following suit by commissioning top architects to design modern landmark museums for exceptional art collections.
Most recently, the Bilbao effect has manifested itself with the new annex of Madrid's renowned Museo del Prado (tel. (+34) 91 330 2800; www.museodelprado.es), by far the museum's most significant expansion in 200 years. Designed by Rafael Moneo and officially opened by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sof'a, the Jerónimos Wing expands the museum by more than half.
The Prado now encompasses the original neoclassical building linked via an underground connector to the neighboring 17th-century Cloister of the Jerónimos, whose exterior has been restored and its interior turned into new museum space. The opening exhibition, "The 19th Century in the Prado: A Collection Rediscovered," celebrates 19th-century Spanish art.
The original Prado is a grand old museum filled with works by Old Masters, a noteworthy assemblage of Greco-Roman marble and a major inaugural exhibition called "Velázquez's Fables. Mythology and Sacred History in the Golden Age." This original section has been cleaned up and fixed up to be a worthy anchor for the gleaming $209 million, 237,000-square-foot new wing.
Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (tel. (+34) 91 774 10 00; www.museoreinasofia.es) is Madrid's temple to modern art, and one of the world's largest contemporary art museums. The collection is housed in an 18th-century hospital flanked by two modern glass towers and now an enormous, three-structure expansion designed by Jean Nouvel that more than doubled its size.
The Reina Sofia became internationally known when it became the permanent home of Pablo Picasso's monumental and iconic Guernica, which he painted for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World's Fair. New York's Museum of Modern Art returned the monumental painting portraying the violence and senselessness of war to Spain only after the death of dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (tel. (+34) 91 369 01 51; www.museothyssen.org) began in 1920 as a private collection started by a nobleman. It spans eight centuries of European art from the Middle Ages through the 21st century and geographically from Spain and Italy to Holland and Flanders. Manuel Baquero and Francesc Plá's new addition to the historic Palacio de Villahermosa opened to display both permanent and temporary exhibitions.
In Lisbon, the capital of neighboring Portugal, a new museum opened in June for another private collection. The Museu Colecção Berarado (tel. (+351) 21 361 2878; www.museuberardo.pt) was created out of former exposition space within the Belém Cultural Center, which also houses the city's main performing arts center. José Berardo was born on Madeira in 1944, made a fortune from gold mining and currently has interests ranging from environmental restoration to vineyards and wineries. His collection comprises 862 works by important Portuguese and international artists. Christie's has valued Berardo's exhibited works at nearly $423 million -- and that was before the US dollar's decline.
Curators, who have identified 70 artistic trends from expressionism to hyper-realism, meet the challenge of frequently changing individual pieces or entire galleries to present Berardo's works in eye-opening combinations. Among the 500 artists represented are Picasso, Dali, Warhol, de Kooning, Miró, Hockney, Lichtenstein and other marquee names.