Guggenheim lost £4.5m in art sale

The authorities at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum are facing intense criticism over the botched purchase of a sculpture by Richard Serra that cost millions in public money.

Instead of paying for the work in euros, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Tenedora Museum Modern of Contemporary Art decided to pay in dollars. The only problem was the bad exchange rate meant they lost more than €6m (£4.5m).

The Material of Time, a 1,034-ton sculpture by Serra, an American artist, occupies centre stage alongside his earlier work Snake in the museum. The works cost the authorities a total of €20.3m (£15.4m) in 2005.

After questions were asked in the Basque regional parliament, a legal investigation was launched by the Basque Tribunal of Public Spending, which reported yesterday that the transactions were "legal".

Juan Ignacio Vidarte, the Guggenheim's director, admitted that the total loss was €6,036,000. Miren Azkarate, the Basque culture minister, who has refused to resign over the affair, said the operation was "correct and perfectly legal, but mistaken".