Lisbon offers the visitor grandiose vistas from its seven hills, gastronomic pleasures from the sea, Old World charm, friendly people, fado music and relatively mild weather. For the art seeker, Lisbon’s most iconic artform – hand-painted tile or azulejos – is in plain view. However, tapping into the contemporary art scene takes some sleuthing. I did some digging and uncovered some real finds.
PART I : SKIN DEEP
Lisbon owes much of its charm to the tiles that grace the exterior and interior walls of its buildings. Turn down the alleyways of Chiado or Baixe and the tilework will take your breath away.
The infinite variety of imaginative graphic designs are reminders of the city’s early Moorish influence when the Berber and Arab armies conquered Lisbon in 714 AD.
Christian crusaders invaded in the 12th century, bringing their traditional aesthetics that were eventually reflected in tile art over the next few centuries.
Unfortunately, Lisbon was totally destroyed in 1755 by an earthquake and tsunami. All the wondrous tile facades around the city therefore date back only to the mid-18th century yet they still impart the city’s eclectic history. I was told that Lisbon’s current mayor encourages international graffiti artists to add their contemporary marks on the city’s ancient walls.
PART II :BEYOND THE WALLS
A visit to theColeção Berardo Museum of Contemporary Art in the Belem district is like walking through a visual Cliff Notes of 20th century art – the line up was impressive: Giorgio de Chirico, Tom Wesselman, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Torres-Garcia, Morandi, Philip Guston, Rothko, Jean Tinguely, and ad infinitum.
The Gulbenkian Foundation is a must-see for its twin museums (modern and contemporary) located within a lushly landscaped property in the center of the city. It appears to be a favorite Sunday outing for Lisbon families and it was lovely to see kids on scooters and little tricycles riding past some seriously avant garde art.
Although I highly enjoyed these museums I was beginning to despair of finding some fresh new galleries and underground art scene. I lucked out at a restaurant one night when a fellow diner pointed me in the direction of Galeria Graça Brandão in the sleazy bar and night club area. The gallery represents young local artists working in installation and video. From there I was directed to the little known Carpe Diem, a magificent, crumbling palace whose ornately detailed rooms now house cutting edge conceptual works.
I’ll wrap up with a few recommended galleries in the Xabregas enclave : Murias Centeno, Baginski, Filomena Soares and Ar Solido. In the Campo de Ourique district, check out Caroline Pages Gallery and Bajinsky. A reminder to any readers who have favorite art haunts in Lisbon – please share. And to the beautiful city of Lisbon and the cute airbnb apartment I stayed in, I say, obrigada!
According to one influential art critic, “Go big or go home” was the underlying theme at this year’s FIAC – the French International Fair of Contemporary Art, celebrating its 40th year in Paris. Anxious to re-establish its relevancy, FIAC seems to be making a comeback on the global art map. Judging by the oversized artworks on display, I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s FIAC showstoppers could be seen from space.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree (above) is a good example of FIAC’s supersized sculptures. Weiwei is by far one of my favorite contemporary artists. He likes to think big – very very big.
However, while talking to a talented fellow ceramicist today, I was dismayed by his blanket statement about there being no point in his trying to get into galleries because “they just want big”. I take issue with that. Artists these days have to be wary of falling into the trap of thinking that ‘bigger is always better’.
One successful artist who has followed his passion for the other end of the size spectrum is Thomas Doyle who, in his own words, sculpts in “1:43 scale and smaller” (see image below):
Publications such as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal laud Doyle’s illustrious international career based on his tiny worlds. I was naturally very excited to have him select one of my 4″ high figurines (see below) for the upcoming Small Worldsexhibition opening December 7th at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria.
Likewise, my tiny 5″ x 5″ portrait entitled Le Parisien (below) just won second place in the small format section of the Mortimore Prize for Realism in Australia.
Thinking on a gargantuan scale often means that the artists cannot possibly produce the works by themselves. They need to hire a team of assistants to create their masterpieces. I personally would miss making things with my own hands – after all, that’s what drew me to art in the first place.
So for those of us artists who often enjoy creating on a small scale, and for those art appreciators who like to experience artwork of an intimate size, let it be known that we are notgoing home!