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Interviewing the directors of Lisbon Art Weekend

Umbigo Magazine spoke with Marc Kean Paker & Merve Pakyürek, coordinators of Lisbon Art Weekend.

With 22 sites and 19 participating galleries, Lisbon Art Weekend is not only in its first edition, but the first of its kind for the city. Marc Kean Paker and Merve Pakyürek discuss their motivations and intentions for this weekend, while giving their insights into the city, its art scene and the gallery weekend as a format for exhibition.

Myles Francis Browne – Lisbon is enjoying something of a cultural renaissance. It seems as though there is an incremental growth in the number of both national and international artists showing, and exhibition spaces appearing in the city. For what reason(s) have you chosen Lisbon to do this gallery weekend?

Marc Kean Paker & Merve Pakyürek – Well, as a matter of fact the reason is quite innocent, we were visiting gallery weekends and contemporary art fairs throughout Europe and we were looking for a gallery weekend in Lisbon or any kind of event that is dedicated to contemporary art in a similar format in order to assist to it. We stumbled upon the absence of such an event and of the void that it seemed to create in the development of the local scene. We thought that such a format would accommodate itself very well to the city, but also as you mentioned, to its developing and ever-growing contemporary art scene.

As founders of the event, both working within the contemporary art field, we were eager and enthusiastic about being able to bring our contribution. And while in the beginning we intended to develop a Gallery Weekend, we modified our stance for a more inclusive format, by changing the terminology and structure towards an Art Weekend.

MFB – What will be the format in Lisbon?

MKP & MP – For Lisbon, the format will be very similar to Gallery Weekends in the world. Except, as mentioned above, the event will be more inclusive in that it’s an Art Weekend that also hosts nonprofit art spaces.

It will be a three-day event, the first edition will take place on 15th, 16th and 17th of November. And during these days, participating spaces will host at least one event and keep their doors open for the public to experience the exhibitions, works and themes addressed.

We will host an opening cocktail on Friday night, and a short talk panel on Sunday. The rest of the program is entirely dedicated to the participants and, we intend for visitors to assist to public and private guided tours as well.

For this edition, we decided to limit our parallel program only to the cocktail, the talk panel, and private and public guided tours. For future editions we would like to add a special circuit designed for performances, and if possible, host video art showings on open air screens.

MFB – How many galleries will be participating and will any present special art projects?

MKP & MP – There will be nineteen participants, in twenty-two locations if we consider the four open spaces of Galerias Municipais. Each participant will host a special event for the occasion.

MFB – Lisbon Art Weekend has implemented a selection committee with members of various experiences and perspectives. What was it about these specific members that you felt would be important in the formation of the Art weekend, and how was the selection process done?

MKP & MP – It was indeed very important to us to have a selection committee to select the various participants. The idea behind that is that we wanted the selection to be well executed and non-biased. The members whom we have asked to participate in the committee were chosen carefully and include professionals who are knowledgeable of the local art scene. Indeed, Carolina Pimenta is a visual artist who is based in Lisbon, Adelaide Ginga is a senior curator at MNAC, Carlos Durán is the director of Senda and Espai2Nou2 galleries as well as the founding co-director of LOOP video art fair among others, Deborah Harris is the former deputy director of the Armory Show and is currently based in Lisbon and Luiza Teixeira de Freitas is a prominent curator from Lisbon who has curated various private collections among others. We felt that together they formed a diverse selection committee that would be able to make an objective and experienced selection.

For the selection process, some of the participants have been chosen through an open call. We submitted the applicants from the open call to the selection committee, and individually the members determined various grades through several criteria. With some margin for commenting and appreciating the intricate differences in qualities of the applicants. When all the committee members had made their notations and cons, we aggregated them, and included a limited number of participants, who were above a certain threshold, to the Art Weekend.

MFB – What do you feel are the defining qualities of the art scene in Lisbon in contrast to other European cities?

MKP & MP – We believe as you mentioned earlier that the art scene in Lisbon is experiencing a kind of a renaissance that is due to many different intertwined factors.

It seems to us that the fact that the scene is still human sized compared to other cities in Europe is quite beneficial in the sense that it allows for more maneuverability notably when it comes to its direction. It is actually one of the main reasons we insisted to be more inclusive with the idea of the art weekend rather than a more exclusive gallery weekend in order to preserve, to a relative extent, the scene’s authenticity as well as promoting it in order to encourage its development. We feel that the Lisbon Art Weekend format would be able to participate in achieving that, particularly through continuity and future editions.

MFB – Comparatively, London and Paris are host to art scenes that are largely commercial with the presence of monolithic galleries such as Phillips and Gagosian. Do you feel the absence of these commercial entities makes the scene here in Lisbon disruptive? Liberated?

MKP & MP – As a matter of fact, this question, we believe, hits the nail right on the head of the issue. Indeed, the absence of such entities as, the appropriately named, mega-galleries in Lisbon, in our opinion, instead of creating a void allows for a lot of potential that such commercial entities in some cases can obstruct. We would argue that it does indeed, for the moment liberate the scene. Nevertheless, it could be said that if such an entity appears in the Lisbon scene, it could have quite a positive effect on the rest of the field in terms of international promotion and recognition. As it is, however, it is one of our objectives to, humbly and to a relative extent, help in the development of the Lisbon art scene and of all its disruptive, authentic and natural aspects.

MFB – What gallery weekends would you reference as having been inspirational for you in creating Lisbon Art Weekend?

MKP & MP – We wouldn’t say that Lisbon Art Weekend will be quite like any other event of the kind. First of all, one of the main differences is that it is a nonprofit project, and as such, we do not ask remuneration from participants as opposed to most gallery and art weekends that exist. In fact, in many ways, we feel that the mentality and mindset, of the event is closer to that of the nuit blanche in Paris that is an event dedicated to culture during which participating spaces are open all night long. We would situate it somewhere between this nuit blanche concept and the Berlin or Madrid gallery week ends for example that are very well executed. In order to have an experience that is interesting, both for casual visitors who want to learn about the scene and for art professionals from Lisbon and abroad who want to visit and potentially collaborate with one another. Of course, the scope as of now, is quite lesser than those three events and is more human sized and, hopefully, more comfortable to navigate and experience.

MFB – What are the galleries or artists that you are most excited to see featured at the art weekend?

MKP & MP – We are extremely honored regarding the willingness of all participants to associate themselves to the Art Weekend. Each one of them contributes to the authenticity of the event. The projects that were suggested by the galleries and exhibition spaces are all very exciting. It will be the occasion to assist to various openings, cocktails and brunches, guided tours of the exhibitions by the artists or curators themselves and performances that were conceived for the occasion. Every participant has at least one event that is scheduled during the three days of the art weekend, and we can’t wait to share them with you.

Lisbon Art Weekend runs from the 15 to the 17 November.

Myles Francis Browne is an arts journalist & writer, originally from London, now based in Lisbon. He has worked with such publications as Nicotine, TANK, Vogue Portugal, and now currently writes at Umbigo magazine.

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