Casa Das Historias Paula Rego
Lisbon offers an abundance of world class museums and galleries, and on my previous trip, my friend and I visited some excellent ones like National Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, Fado Museum and the wonderful Puppet Museum. On this trip though, the seaside resort Cascais turned out to be a prodigious surprise for me. Aside from Casa Das Historias Paula Rego, I did not have any concrete plan for the day, and yet I ended having quite an ‘art-full’ day!
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Portuguese artist Paula Rego‘s stunningly-designed museum. It was impossible to miss the earthy red pyramid-shaped towers from a distance! Designed by Portuguese architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura (chosen by Rego herself), the building was inspired by the region’s historical architecture (i.e. the twin chimneys of the National Palace in the nearby Sintra) and it is surrounded by a lush garden.
Architecture aside, the museum’s current exhibition is ‘Parodies – Paula Rego/ Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro’ (until 12th April), a non-illustrative dialogue between the works of the two artists, separated by over a century, yet both express a critical view of the Portuguese life and customs of their times through their art.
Rego and Bordalo Pinheiro‘s works share a great deal in common despite living in two completely different era. Both artists’ works frequently feature humanised animals and animalised humans; they are dark, perspicacious, critical with a sense of sarcastic humour. This is a thought-provoking exhibition that reveals the creativity of two important Portuguese artists and how they used/use art to express their critical voices towards politics and society.
Centro Cultural de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Bryan Adams exposed; 4th & 5th rows: Carlos Marques; Bottom middle & right: Painted glasses of red hall
After some random sightseeing, I stumbled upon a massive dark pink building, which turned out to be the Centro Cultural de Cascais. Housed inside the former 19th century Palace of the Viscondes da Gandarinha, the centre has been turned into an art centre with permanent and temporary exhibitions. While I was there, I saw the photography exhibition ‘Bryan Adams exposed’ (which I missed in London) and discovered the singer’s talent in creating powerful images through the lenses. Downstairs, there was also a fascinating exhibition by Portuguese artist Carlos Marques, who created a set of shrines dedicated to different artists as his tribute towards them.
Next door at the Casa Duarte Pinto Coelho, there is a small but intriguing exhibition “Painted glasses of red hall” (until April), which showcases some East-meets-West paintings from 18th century China. The production of glass and painted mirrors were introduced to China by Jesuit missionary G. Castiglioni in the early 18th century, and soon after glass paintings developed into a highly skilled art form in China. These works were commissioned by Europeans, and they were intended primarily to satisfy the West’s passion for Eastern-inspired products. Although glass-blades were produced in Europe, particularly in England, they were being sent to the factories of Guangzhou in China where they were painted after returning to the Western market. This manufacturing process is not so different from how things are made today in the 21st century! Perhaps the world has not changed THAT much after all!
Cidadela art district
As I was walking down the road back towards the town centre, the Cidadela art district signage by the old fortress wall caught my eye and so I decided to explore the district ‘hidden’ behind it. The art district is part of the Pousada de Cascais, Cidadela Historic Hotel set within the walls of the historical fortress of the emblematic 16th century Citadel of Cascais. The Art District comprises six galleries, including six Open Studios where artists can be seen during their creative processes.
Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Frenéticas no pós-guerra exhibition; Bottom row: Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória
Within the same square, there is the Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais, a former summer palace for the Portuguese monarchy until 1910 when the country became Republic. Neglected for fifty years, restoration and renovation work by the architect Pedro Vaz was commissioned by the President of the Republic, and the palace was opened to the public in 2011. The former palace now serves as the summer residence of the President of the Republic, but the public can visit it when it is not being occupied. Usually a minimum party of two is required for a guided tour around the palace, but the friendly staff kindly offered to show me around, hence I was able to enjoy a private tour of the palace with a humourous and knowledgable guide.
Due to the recent renovation, the palace looks newer than most other palaces that I have visited. One notable aspect is that the wall hangings are mostly contemporary art works including some unfinished tapestry drafts. This is highly unusual but quite refreshing to see as most palaces are just filled with old Master paintings or simply ‘old’ paintings. Another surprise is that Eastern-style objects and antiqes are ubiquitous; from tiles to furniture, lighting and decorative pieces, this again reveals the Portuguese’s passion for Eastern style as previously seen at the glass painting exhibition earlier. The tour ended at the stunning baroque style Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória, with azulejos on both sides of the walls depicting Portugal’s glory past.
The palace also hosts temporary exhibitions, and during my visit, I saw ‘Frenéticas no pós-guerra’, an exhibition showcasing more than 100 articles, objects and original documents from the 1920s post war period in Portugal. The main focus was on women and so there was an interesting selection of fashion garments, accessories and some wonderful art deco style objects on display.
A free exhibition of Christmas trees made by recycled materials in Cascais
Top row: Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista in Evora; Bottom two rows: a paper craft exhibition at Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval
In the historical town of Evora opposite the Temple of Diana stands a beautiful 15th century church, Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista, which belonged to the monastery Convento dos Lóios. Now the monastery has been converted into a historical hotel Pousada dos Loios and the church became part of Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval.
It would be hard not to be awestruck by the church’s sublime floor-to-ceiling of blue azulejos by António Oliveira Bernardes (early 1700s), which depict scenes from the life of São Lourenço Justiniano, founder of the Lóios order. This church is considered to be one of the most beautiful private churches in the country, and it certainly does not disappoint. The palace next door however, is pleasant enough and has some interesting art work and artifacts, but it lacks the grandeur that one would expect from a ‘palace’. Without much antipication, I followed a set of narrow staircase that led me up to the attic… which turned out to be the space for a temporary exhibition called ‘Four corners of the world’. The die-cut cardboard installation of architecture from around the world was not what I was expecting and it immediately brought a smile to my face.
Top & 2nd rows: Fórum Eugénio de Almeida – As high as the eye can reach exhibition; Bottom: Carriage Collection
After visiting the historical Cathedral and its museum, I decided to skip Museu de Évora and opted for something more contemporary opposite – Forum Eugenio de Almeida. The contemporary art and cultural centre was endowed by the privately-owned Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, as part of the scheme to regenerate and restore the city of Évora.
Their current exhibition ‘As high as the eye can reach‘ (until 15th March) proposes a cross-reading between sacred art and contemporary art, marking the culmination of more than a decade of inventorying the artistic heritage of the Archdiocese of Évora and dissemination of contemporary art. The exhibition approaches the question of the relationship between art and transcendence in the past and present day. This is an ambitious exhibition, however, the lack of context esp. with the contemporary art works was an issue for me. Perhaps I am biased as I am not a big fan of contemporary art, but instead of feeling stimulated, I left the exhibition feeling somewhat apathetic. I applaud the curators’ effort in tackling a subject that is quite inscrutable and provocative, though I think they have only scratched the surface of a complex subject.
The foundation also owns the nearby Páteo de S. Miguel, a group of buildings including the Paço dos Condes de Basto (the Palace of the Counts of Basto), the Eugenia de Almeida Archive and Library, the Coach Collection and the S. Miguel Chapel. The palace, library and archive can be visited by appointment with a guide, whereas the Carriage Collection is open to all. The small Carriage Collection has an interesting display of coaches, carriages and harnesses of different styles and traveling from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Museu do Artesanato e do Design
On the other side of town, I walked past the Museu do Artesanato e do Design (Museum of craft and design) and was curious to see what was inside. The museum is not very big, but the display includes a wide range of locally made crafts, ceramics and furniture etc. Aside from local crafts, there is another section that displays an impressive selection of household and industrial objects designed by world-renowned designers like Dieter Rams, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Kenneth Grange etc. It’s not exactly MOMA, but it is worth visiting if you happen to be doing some sightseeing nearby.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Back in Lisbon, I was keen to visit one of Portugal’s best museums, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian as I missed it on my last trip. I did not anticipate to spend most of my day there (but I did), and so I ended up feeling like I had completed an epic art marathon. I had not realised that the museum is connected to Centro de Arte Moderna, and the complex is enormous, so be prepared to spend hours here! At the museum, the ‘A Shared History: Treasures of the Royal Palaces of Spain‘ exhibition showcased significant art works and artifacts from the Spanish monarchy spanning 350 years. The historical ties between Portugal and Spain could be seen at this exhibition through portraits, drawings, paintings, furniture and even decorative objects.
Centro de Arte Moderna – Top two, 4th middle & right, 6th left: António Dacosta; 4th left: Paula Rego’s ‘The Vivian Girls as Windmills forms’ & 5th row: Paula Rego’s ‘Proles wall’; 6th row right: Julio Pomar’s ‘Le Luxe’; 7th & 8th rows: Salette Tavares
At the Centro de Arte Moderna, there were several exhibitions taking place at the same time including: ‘António Dacosta 1914 I 2014‘, ‘Salette Tavares: Spatial Poetry‘ and the ongoing ‘Arshile Gorky and the Collection‘ (until 31st May). It was a great opportunity to see the retrospective of Portuguese artist António Dacosta, and a small selection of works by Arshile Gorky. However, it was Portuguese artist Salette Tavares‘ (1922-1994) work that blew me away. I have never heard of this artist before, but her visual exploration of text and poems still seems ground-breaking in today’s standards. I love the fact that she experimented with a wide range of media and materials, I am merely astonished that she was not as recognised internationally.
Shadows of Asia at Museu do Oriente
The Portuguese first established their roots in India around 1500, and gradually they moved eastwards and became a dominant powerhouse in the region through force, religion and trade. Even today, we can see the influences and imprints left by the empire in their former colonies like Goa, Malacca, Macau, and Nagasaki in Japan. Not many people acknowledge that the beloved Japanese tempura (the Portuguese version: Peixinhos da horta) was introduced by Portuguese Jesuit missioneries when they founded Nagasaki during the 16th century. And the popular Chinese egg tarts that are ubiqutious in Hong Kong and Macau today can also trace its origin back to the Portuguese custart tarts (pastel de nata).
Opened in 2008, the Museu do Oriente is situated in a massive former 6-storey factory used for the processing of salted cod (bacalhau) by the port in Alcântara. Originally designed by Portuguese architect João Simões Antunes in the 1940s, Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos was commissioned to convert the factory to a museum containing a collection of artworks from Portugal’s Asian colonies. The museum has an impressive array of historical artifacts, paintings, furniture, crafts and puppetry and over 13.000 pieces were donated in 1999 by Paris’ Musée Kwok on after its closure.
I have never seen such an extensive range of shadow theatre puppets before. The permanent collection here is diverse and extraordinary, and the collection focuses on China, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malasia and Turkey where shadow theatre played was seen as a highly significant form of folk art.
Top right: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ and the rest: Lisbon impact by Deviprasad C Rao
The two temporary exhibitions that took place while I was there were: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ on traditional ikat textiles from Indonesia; and ‘Lisbon impact’, a solo exhibition of Lisbon-inspired art works created by self-taught Indian artist, sculptor and muralist, Deviprasad C Rao. The artist created his perspective on Lisbon through abstract drawings, paintings, photographs and a video installation. His works capture the city’s vivid colours, density, geography, architecture and essence stupendously and it is hard not to be amazed by his metculous abstract streetscape of Lisbon.
Museu do Design e da Moda – ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’
Housed in a historical building that used to be the headquarters of the bank BNU in the city centre, it is worth visiting the MUDE (Museu do Design e da Moda) for its architecture/ interiors alone. The building has had several major transformations, first in the 1920s by architect Tertuliano Marques and then by Modernist architect Cristino da Silva in the 1960s. The third transformation took place around 2001 but the project was abolished after its interiors had been demolished. Finally in 2008, Lisbon City Council acquired the building and commissioned Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos to create a new contemporary space while conserving the historical elements.
The ‘deconstructed’ museum space reminds me of Paris’ Palais de Tokyo where the concrete structure is exposed rather than being painted over. The industrial rawness allows the design objects and colourful fashion articles to stand out more. And this is best demonstrated at one of its current exhibition ‘De Matrix a Bela Adormecida’ or ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ (until 29 March), which showcases around 300 pieces (clothing, hair props, jewellery and shoes) designed by Portuguese set designer, costume designer and artist, António Lagarto. The stunning dresses, architecture and lighting all work brilliantly (see above), creating a theatrical effect that is immensely captivating.
Museum of design and fashion – Top row: From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty
The ground floor of the museum houses its permanent collection, providing a chronological history of design through its display of fashion items, furniture and other classic design objects. I was lucky to be able to catch the two Japanese-themed exhibitions before it ended: ‘Naked shapes‘ and ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘.
At the ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘, 54 pieces of kimonos, purses and tatamis created by the traditional Japanese technique Boro method were on display. The technique consists of stitching and weaving different fabrics together (like patchwork) and subsequently dyed with indigo. The technique was employed especially by peasants from the late eighteenth century to mid-twentieth century. It also embodies the Japanese motto of ‘mottainai‘ or ‘waste not‘ as it creates garments that are eco-friendly and practical.
At ‘Naked shapes‘, I was thrilled to see the 200 aluminium household objects, home appliances, furniture, and toys manufactured in Japan between 1910 and 1960. The minimalist designs reflect the Japanese aesthetic values perfectly, and the beauty of these objects lies in its simplicity and bareness. Functionality, craftsmanship and material are the priorities here, and so little design is required for their creations. I am sure that design guru Dieter Rams would appreciate them too!
Last but not least is the exhibition on eyewear ‘Behind the shadows‘ (until 29th March) in the basement of the museum. The setting of the exhibition is the highlight because over 400 vintage eyewear are displayed inside the safety deposit boxes behind the bullet-proof steel door! It is no doubt one of the coolest exhibition venue that I have come across, what a playful and cool idea!
Atelier Museu Julio Pomar
The best thing about Lisbon is that you can wander around the city and you will always come across something interesting. After a disappointing visit at the Casa Fernando Pessoa, I came across Atelier Museu Julio Pomar by chance, which I think is a well hidden gem in the city.
Housed inside a former warehouse, the spacious and bright museum was designed by the same architects behind MUDE, Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos (see above). The collection here includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, ceramics, collages and assemblage by Portuguese neo-expressionist artist, Julio Pomar. On the ground floor, there are many of the artist’s delightful woodblock prints, while the larger and more abstract paintings are upstairs. You can also find his other well-known works at the Centro de Arte Moderna (see ‘Le luxe‘ above).
British Council: 3rd row: The tile panel at the entrance by José António Jorge Pinto
Being curious can be a positive trait as it often brings me surprises (pleasant or not)! I was intrigued by a pink building as I was walking uphill in Estrela district (which has strong British roots and connections), and when I saw the British Council sign, I decided to go inside to explore further. After walking past the gate, I was immediately drawn towards the two long panels of azulejos that depict rural farming scenes from the past. I later found out that they were designed by José António Jorge Pinto, a Portuguese Art Noveau artist.
The current site of the Coucil was once the Palácio do Menino de Ouro, and it was acquired by the British Council in 1942. This historical building has quite a fascinating story behind it. Originally built by José Luís Seixas Fernandes in 1885, who was a collector of art and porcelain, and therefore transformed his home into a private art museum for himself. Three years after his death in 1925, the building was purchased by Alves dos Reis, a famous fraudster/criminal who printed counterfeit notes in London (of all places!) in the name of Banco de Portugal (Bank of Portugal). Considered to be one of the largest frauds in history, the ‘Portuguese bank note crisis‘ has inspired TV series in Portugal and Italy in recent years.
Once inside, I asked the receptionist if it was possible for me to visit the building and she said ‘fine’ as long as I didn’t take photographs inside. And to my surprise, the building is filled with works of art by an amazing array of famous artists including a huge painting by Paula Rego (who studied and lives in London) in the foyer. Currently on display is a selection of British contemporary art in the last 60 years, and you can find works by Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Julian Opie etc.
Unfortunately, aside from the structure, foyer and main staircases, most of the rooms have been turned into MFI style offices and classrooms except for the former music room (now a conference room) at the back. The room has wooden panels, exquisite early 20th century tiles made by the Sarreguemines factory in France, and some exceptional stained glass windows.
After my self-guided tour, the receptionist urged me to visit the garden at the back. As I expected, the garden is well-maintained with some outdoor sculptures, a traditional well, lemon trees, exotic plants and a lovely groomed hedge around the back stairs.
This British Council must be one of best hidden gems in Lisbon as it is not even listed in guide books! This is the reason why a guide book is not needed to explore Lisbon, all you need are a pair of comfortable shoes (for walking up hilly cobbled streets) and your eyes, then you will uncover a city that is full of history, beauty and charm.