The focus of the Serralves Collection is contemporary art produced from the 1960s to the present day. Art produced before 1960 may also be considered in relation to its relevance to the Collection and artists represented therein. The inaugural exhibition of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in 1999, ‘Circa 1968’, served to highlight the 1960s and 1970s, a historic period of political, social and cultural change that took place around the world, as seminal decades out of which emerged new paradigms in art making and the beginning of the post-modern era.
Helena Almeida (Lisbon, Portugal, 1934)
One of the most renowned artists in Portugal, Helena Almeida uses her body as an extension of drawing, painting and photography. In her Inhabited Drawings, the artist resorts to horsehair as a tangible three-dimensional element that leaps from the photographic surface to engage in a dialogue with the viewer.
Sónia Almeida’s (Lisbon, 1978) abstract paintings are the result of a set of actions through which the artist converts everyday visual experience into a series of ambiguous forms that defy the viewer’s perception. Red Signal (2013) could be read as representing either a double helix, the symbol of infinitude, or a sign.
Almeida’s paintings often derive from images and objects from her daily life. Once recorded in her sketchbooks, these elements are fragmented, stylized, reframed or overlapped, appearing as pictorial compositions that frustrate any attempt to organize them into intelligible sign systems. Almeida’s works are involved in a sophisticated game of approach and withdrawal based on painting’s two major historical traditions: its representational vocation and formal exploration."
Luís Noronha da Costa (Lisbon, Portugal, 1942)
This work by Noronha da Costa stands between landscape painting and architectural painting. In a style that is deliberately impersonal and precise, the artist depicts an implausible situation in which immaculate white walls (seen through a greenish filter evocative of the passage of time) seem to replicate the walls of a museum gallery.
David Goldblatt (Randfontein, South Africa, 1930)
From 1964 until the early 1990s, David Goldblatt built a vast photographic testimony of the social and cultural structures of complex South-African society under the Apartheid regime and, subsequently, under the new social order that emerged in the country.
The series Particulars focuses on a set of close-ups of gestures and attitudes of various women before a photographic camera. ‘Particulars’ questions the traditional role of the portrait, reducing it to the body language details of each photographed subject that nevertheless suggest their personal characteristics and circumstances.
Dan Graham (Urbana, USA, 1942)
Resorting to the daily distribution system of mass media,' Detumescence' is a newspaper ad — a short text written in clinical language — in which Dan Graham states that he wanted to hire someone capable of describing what happens to a man’s body and psyche in the post-coital experience.
This description of the emotional and physiological aspects following a man’s sexual climax evokes eroticism and sensory experience to address a subject that, according to the artist, was repressed in the specialist literature of the period. In his words, the work sought to expose this ‘suppression, this psychosexual-social conditioning of behaviour’.
Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, Germany, 1945)
The painting Ohne Titel (Landschaft mit Pfeilen) [Untitled (Landscape with arrows)] was made in the year Anselm Kiefer began painting landscapes, to which he systematically juxtaposed graphic elements. This was his method of turning landscape painting into a stage to evoke history and mythology.
Kiefer was one of the protagonists of the so-called return to painting in the 1980s. A student of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf in the early 1970s, he was inspired by the artist and teacher’s interest in cultural myths, metaphors and symbols capable of illuminating the identity and the recent history of Germany. A recurring theme in his work is also the duplicating nature of representation, frequently made explicit by the application of objects and graphical elements over the canvasses on which they are also reproduced.
Untitled is simultaneously precise, physical and expressive: the brushstrokes are rigorous but nonetheless demonstrate their manual nature. It draws on Loureiro’s research, namely on the pictorial space and on its multiplication. The painting may be viewed as a manifestation of the internal geometry of any canvas, usually a rectangle formed by straight lines and right angles.
Marwan (Damasco, Syria, 1934 - Berlin, Germany, 2016)
Situation reveals an intensely individualistic practice: an isolated figure, standing in a kind of non-place, seems to wait for the unfolding of an action locked in a fragmented state of existence. ‘Situation’ belongs to an important series of paintings made by the artist at night while he worked in a furrier’s studio during the day.
Albuquerque Mendes (Trancoso, Portugal, 1953)
Collage, combined with painting, is one of Albuquerque Mendes’ preferred media when experimenting with the meanings implicit in images. In this work the artist uses cut outs from a 1950s American crime magazine and from a 1980s brochure of Porto’s Marques e Soares department store. Juxtaposed and set against a desolate urban architecture, the figures depicted convey different messages from those that might have been originally intended: the policeman’s bonhomie is suspicious and the models in pyjamas resemble criminal suspects photographed by the authorities.
A Portuguese commemorative stamp, glued to the lower part of the canvas, alludes to the transmission of ideas that the painting promotes between the artist, the author, and the viewer. The old frame, which was restored and painted by Mendes, encompasses the painting giving it an object like condition.
Albuquerque Mendes has been producing work since the early 1970s. His work includes painting, performance, happenings and installation. Mendes explore themes from pop culture, folk tradition, religious forms and rituals as well as the social-historical conditions for the circulation, legitimizing and reception of the artwork. His painting, which often includes collage, reflects the appropriation and quotation of styles and iconography that marked art from the 1980s onwards. By appropriating the manner of renowned painters, such as Picasso, Arnulf Rainer, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, the paintings of Albuquerque Mendes exemplify the shunning of a personal style that defined much of the art produced at the time. Indeed, by applying a post-modernist logic of deconstruction with hints of neo-Dadaism and surrealism, his oeuvre showcases a substantial part of the history and art history of the twentieth century.
Bernd & Hilla Becher
Hilla Becher (Potsdam, Germany, 1934 - Dusseldorf, Germany, 2015
Bernd Becher (Siegen, Germany, 1931 - Rostock, Germany, 2007)
Preparation Plants, 1962 - 1974
9 b/w photographs mounted on paper
90 x 105.5 cm 23,5 x 30 (each)
Coll. Fundação de Serralves - Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto, Portugal. Acquisition 2001
The Studio (2013) by Jorge Queiroz
(Lisbon, 1966) continues the artist’s exploration of the subconscious as the engenderer of disquieting images. Working between abstraction and figuration and using a palette of acidic colours, the artist presents landscapes and diffuse, undefined figures, as well as threads of narrative whose meaning is never explicit.
Queiroz’s world is formed by a mysterious imagery with characters and situations creating a permanent ambivalence between the real and the fantastic, and constantly challenging the interpretation and construction of a coherent meaning. This testing the limits of what is and is not recognizable or representable, together with a working process favouring the unconscious and free association that gives priority to the random and chance, explains Queiroz’s continued association with a surrealist legacy.
Joaquim Rodrigo (Lisbon, Portugal, 1912 - Lisbon, Portugal, 1997)
Paris - Orio is an example of the numerous itinerary-paintings in which Rodrigo establishes a mnemonic, subjective map through a grammar of signs that represent the trajectory of that journey. The diagrammatic composition, made of pictograms and words rendered in a simplistic, childlike manner points to his interest in primitive, aboriginal art and is accentuated by a chromatic range (including ochre, white and black) that is reminiscent of his studies in agronomy.
Ed Ruscha (Omaha, USA, 1937)
Working on the metaphorical interaction between the shape of words and their linguistic meaning, Acting Silly displays a series of letters, arranged in parallel diagonals painted in blueberry extract. This painting showcases two essential features of Ruscha’s work: the use of uncommon materials as pictorial matter and the mediation between word and image, the letters apparently following the playful suggestion of the work’s title.
Julião Sarmento (Lisbon, Portugal, 1948)
Dias de escuro e de luz [Days of Dark and Light] is the first series of a larger body of works that, under the general title of Pinturas brancas [White Paintings], Julião Sarmento produced during the 1990s. This painting depicts a female figure slightly parting one of the black dresses that are emblematic of the artist’s iconography. On the left, she is accompanied by her double (shadow or spectre), and on the right, by a roundish geometric shape and an arum lily, a flower with clear phallic connotations.
The sober incisive drawing, associated with the neutrality of the white background, manifests Sarmento’s intention of eliminating the descriptive and impacting effect of colour in order to obtain ‘the simplest forms with the maximum effect. '(...) I tried to eliminate all points of attraction, because I was not interested in them. I wanted one’s eyesight to be caught only by the essence of what was there. And what was there was the simplest form possible that would translate and transmit the idea that I wanted’.
Shown for the first time at Galeria Pedro Oliveira, in Porto, the series Dias de escuro e de luz reveals a pictorial shift in Sarmento’s work, in which an exuberance of form and an expressive saturation of colour, the hallmarks of his production of the 1980s, give way to formal restraint and tonal sobriety. The title of this new series echoes changes that occurred at the technical level but also the artist’s ongoing interest in the semantic indeterminacy of images. His works can never be explained by themselves; by representing actions that are about to happen or, on the contrary, just happened, they always contain a latent ambiguity, therefore opening to different meanings depending on the viewer observing them. Overlapping layers of different kinds of white pigment, mixed with earth and other materials, create a surface that the artist considers a ‘memory of the skin’ and upon which are inscribed graphite drawings that function as scars, reminiscent of the experiences lived by the body.
The skin, as a zone of sensorial contact between conscious surface and the depth of the real, is of great relevance to Sarmento’s incursions into the territories of desire. It appears in the guise of animal fur, in close-ups of the human body captured by the camera and in the titles of some works. The impossibility of attaining the deepest regions where the meaning of things is formed is revealed in the exploration of suspended, fragmented narratives, that translate into the sequential logic of the artist’s post-conceptual, photography-based works of the 1970s, in the various scene paintings of his 1980s collages, in the symbolic investment of the sparse figures that came to occupy his subsequent painting and also in the sculptural installations and the films and videos produced throughout his career.
The protagonist par excellence of Sarmento’s works is an archetypal woman, almost always faceless and surrounded with referents of spatial enclosures (architectural plans without entry or exit points, stairs and paths that lead nowhere) and objects (daggers, tables or flowers) that convey small disturbing stories around actions such as stalking, attacking, fleeing or falling. Sarmento seeks to represent the often voyeuristic, narcissist and transgressive, instinctive nature of the gestures of seduction. References from cinema and literature, with direct allusions to famous authors and characters, such as Raymond Carver or Gustave Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, stem from a deep interest in visual and symbolic resources that permit the transformation of moods into gestures and things with physical substance.
António Sena (Lisbon, Portugal, 1941)
Sem título is a revisiting of Man Ray’s Poème phonétique [Phonetic poem, 1924], a ‘silent’ poem in which words are replaced with segmented lines that mark the rhythm and metre. While Man Ray’s work consists of black segments over a white background, Sena inverts the image by covering the canvas with black paint and leaving the line segments in white. In this painting the silence of Man Ray’s poem is reaffirmed through the phonetic impossibility of its message, in which words are replaced with their memory and become present in absence.
Nikias Skapinakis (Lisbon, Portugal, 1931)
This painting belongs to a series entitled Metamorphoses of Zeus, that Nikias Skapinakis developed during the 1970s. In this case, symbolic themes in the history of art - such as mythological painting or the female nude - are desacralized and trivialized through visual exploration similar to the graphic aesthetics of the poster, with a clear pop art influence.
Simon Starling (Epsom, United Kingdom, 1967)
The installation of sixteen photographs was originally produced in 2001 for the exhibition Squatters, presented at the Serralves Villa and other different locations in the city of Porto and later that same year at the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam).
Simon Starling (Epsom, United Kingdom, 1967)
After visiting the Serralves Villa and the Combatants League Museum, which both had pink walls, Starling photographed, in a purposely-built studio, ten objects from the first and second World Wars, as well as from the Portuguese Colonial War in the collection of the latter.
Paul Thek (Brooklin, USA, 1933 - New York, USA, 1988)
Paul Thek’s paintings clearly reflect the intention of imposing artistic production as the expression of the transitory nature of life, an intention here particularly reinforced by the use of newsprint paper as surface.
Thek started painting on newspaper in 1969, a method that he continued to use, with occasional pauses, until the end of his life. On these two pieces of newspaper, the artist has painted elements that we associate with fragility and natural degradation: a spider web, sketched over a monochrome background, and a potato, a humble and unusual object as the protagonist of painting, whose protuberances suggest that it is already rotting.
Wolf Vostell (Leverkusen, Germany, 1932 - Berlin, Germany, 1998)
Erdbeeren [Strawberries] originated in one of the series of street actions that Wolf Vostell started in 1958 aiming at tearing down the barriers between art and life. The happening consisted of a bus circulating on the streets of Berlin for three days; the vehicle was completely clad in lead and communication with the outside was only possible by television monitors mounted on the sides of the bus showing a live transmission of what happened inside it: a strawberry plantation trying to survive in an environment deprived of natural light or air.
In the street, Vostell interviewed Berliners about what pleased them most in the city. Erdbeeren is a metaphor for Berlin life in those years: conditioned, isolated and divided by a wall that constituted the most visible manifestation of the political-ideological iron curtain that separated the West and the East from the end of the war until 1989.
As part of a continued research and development of the Collection in the twenty-first century, the Serralves Collection aspires to further distinguish itself through its focus on contemporary art´s relationship to performance, architecture and contemporaneity in the context of a post-colonial and globalized present. While resonating with the art and ideas of our recent past, the Collection aims to reflect on how the art of today also anticipates its future.