“Lisbon Has Become One of Europe’s Hottest Art Capitals. How Did That Happen?”
Last year shortly after this headline appeared on ArtNet, Lisbon bookended our visit to other destinations in Portugal and Spain’s Picos de Europa. At the beginning of our trip In the cab on our way into Lisbon, we stopped at Zest Books to pick up the company’s two volumes and accompanying maps of Street Art Lisbon. But during our first two-day visit, we didn’t see much art, unless you count exploring Pessoa’s literary art. So we were looking forward to our return.
Many of Lisbon’s attractions are in the southwesternmost part in the district of Belém, a two-hour walk from the Alfama district where we’d rented an apartment. “Let’s make a day of it and go early,” Magellan said, “and let’s take a taxi.”
Near the top of our Belém list was the collection of international contemporary and modern art at Museu Coleção Berardo. Although it’s Lisbon’s most-visited museum, you wouldn’t know it on the Tuesday we were there. Up to photograph the sunrise, we jubilados were at the door before the museum’s treasures were unlocked to the public.
Three things about Berardo struck us as unique: the creative way the art is organized, the informative text accompanying the artworks, and the international depth of the collection.
Exhibited on two levels, permanent works from 1900-2010 are organized chronologically around 70 movements in modern art, familiar ones like Cubism (Pablo Picasso, Marcel DuChamp) and more obscure branches like CoBrA (Asger Jorn, Karel Appel), along with Minimalism (Donald Judd, Don Flavin), Traumatic Realism (Louise Bourgeois, Rebecca Horn), Group Zero (Lucio Fontana, Otto Piene) and Presentness is Grace (Morris Louis, Anthony Caro).
We’ve all been to museums with incomprehensible, inadequate or ingratiating text accompanying the artworks. Not here. “This writing is so concise. What a joy—even an engineer can read and understand it,” commented Magellan not long after we’d started working our way around the first floor. André Cariou, AnaMary Bilboa, Jean-François Chougnet, Ana Dinger, Pedro Lapa, Rita Lougares and translator Ruth Rosengarten deserve to be mentioned for the artistry of their wordsmithing. Like the introductory sentence to The Constructivisms. “Appearing for the first time in Russia with Vladimir Tatlin’s counter-reliefs (1913-1914), Constructivism developed in that country and, in response to the 1917 revolution, acquired a subversive ideology with specific characteristics.”
The art, about 1,000 works from 500 artists and valued at 316 million euros, is considered among the best of private collections in the world—in the company of galleries like the Tate Modern in London. It was amassed by José Berardo, a wealthy Portuguese businessman who made an agreement with the government to house and purchase part of his collection at the Centro Cultural de Belém. The spacious Museu Coleção Berardo opened in 2007.
Photography is permitted, so here, presented chronologically, are a few of the pieces that caught our attention.
Abstraction Between the Wars
Otto Freudlich, Untitled, 1934
César Domela, Relief, 1938
Salvador Dalí, White Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1936
Man Ray, Talking Picture, 1957
New School of Paris
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Composition,1948
Nicolas de Staël, Paysage, 1953
British Pop Art
Anthony Donaldson, Take Away, 1963
Allen Jones, La Sheer, 1968
American Pop Art
Tom Wesselmann, Great American Nude, 1963
Nam June Paik, Wrap Around the World Man, 1990
The 90s Decade
Frank Stella, The Broken Jug, 1999
One of the best surprises of seeing the Berardo Collection happened as we were gazing out a window on the second floor.
“Look at that. It’s one of the street art images I really wanted to find,” I exclaimed.
What a vantage point from which to see Guaxinão (Big Racoon), a three-dimensional painting sculpted from old tires, computer parts, home appliances and other assorted urban garbage.
I wonder—has the museum’s considered adding another movement, Street Art, with this single piece by Lisbon’s own Boradalo II?
Bordalo II, “Guaxinão” (Big Racoon), 2015
The Museu Coleção Berardo has an excellent website.
Here’s a bit more about Boradalo II (Real Boradalo, his grandfather, was a watercolorist).
Zest Books publishes Street Art Lisbon, although we got their last copy of Volume 1.