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Newest Guggenheim hovers over historic Spanish area

The talk of architecture circles, the newest Guggenheim Museum soars over the site of former shipyard warehouses in a fantasia of titanium-sheathed curves.

Art critics lavish praise on its 300-work permanent collection.But to many residents of Bilbao, the museum opening Saturday at a ceremony attended by King Juan Carlos is a powerful symbol of the rebirth of their city.

The futuristic design by American architect Frank O. Gehry is meant to reflect both the northern city's industrial past of steel mills and shipbuilding and a vision of the future.

"It is a great sculpture that later became architecture, comparable with the greatest works of the last century," says Abraham Hassan, a prominent architect in Madrid.

The Bilbao museum has more exhibition space than the three Guggenheim museums in New York and Venice, Italy, combined. It will feature works by Eduardo Chillida, Marc Chagall, Vasily Kandinsky, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Klee, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Amselm Kiefer.

One attraction the museum won't be able to count on for its opening is Picasso's mammoth "Guernica" - it's too fragile to be moved from Madrid. Authorities said Wednesday that ETA guerrillas planned to bomb the new museum Bilbao during its weekend opening by Spain's king and queen.

The Guggenheim foundation vowed to open the museum on schedule Saturday despite the death of a policeman, shot Monday when he disturbed guerrillas, posing as gardeners, trying to plant remote-control grenades in flower pots for a giant plant sculpture in front of the building.