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From the everyday to the extraordinary, with João Laia António Cachola’s collection

Those who often attend the exhibitions of Galeria Municipal do Porto, designed in 2001 by the architect José Manuel Soares, and assume curatorship as a craft, cannot feel unsurprised with the approach of João Laia in 10000 ANOS DEPOIS ENTRE VÉNUS E MARTE, an exhibition held between December 9th 2017 and February 18th 2018. António Cachola’s collection (which won the 2016 Prémio A, a collecting award of Fundación Arc), with epicenter at Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas (MACE), is the starting point of the curator’s proposal, which gathers artists from several generations and also displays the most recent acquisitions of the collector. The show unfurls in the context of the 10th year anniversary of the MACE and reflects the spirit of the collection, primarily of Portuguese art produced after the 80s, which is commonly referred as “Freedom collection”.

But what amazes us on João Laia’s apparatus is the way he approached the built space, taking advantage of the large glass panes, of the two floors available, creating an exploratory journey of the authors, challenging the public to interact with the items, while not neglecting the rhetorical exercise that, on the one hand, the contemporary art requires, but, at the same time, unleashes the contemplative tension through the balance established by proposals and their sensory and emotional stimuli.

The spatial relationship between the works of Joana Vasconcelos, João Tabarra, Von Calhau!, Carla Felipe, Pedro Neves Marques, Ana Manso, Musa Paradisíaca, Catarina Dias, Gil Heitor Cortesão, Diogo Evangelista, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Marta Soares, Mariana Silva, Nuno da Luz, António Júlio Duarte, Joana Escoval, João Queiroz, Francisco Tropa, Vasco Araújo, Diana Policarpo and Luís Lázaro Matos (Floor 0); Pedro Barateiro, Mauro Cerqueira, Mariana Caló e Francisco Queimadela, Ana Santos, Andreia Santana, André Romão, Rita Ferreira, Claire de Santa Coloma, Filipa César and Gabriel Abrantes (Floor 1), the curator (who retrieves, for the title of the exhibition, the homonymous album released in 1978 by José Cid) sums an atmosphere between the dream, the hallucination and the utopian imagination of the simple shapes, which he intensifies with the lighting decisions and the sound contagion that he allows between the several installations and video-installations that dominate the gallery image-wise.

In the introductory text, João Laia tell us that this is a “speculative proposal” and that “the works presented analyze different domains of daily life”, questioning our interactions with the real and its interpretation. The Socratic speculation is, as a matter or fact, the best strategy for amediation between what is shown and the audiences which are obliged to simmer sensitivities and eliminate aesthetic-artistic preconceptions, when in touch with works as disturbing as Tesouros Submersos do Antigo Egipto (2008), of Francisco Tropa (n.1968) or Composição sobre tela (2017) of Claire de Santa Coloma (n.1983), through which we step into the journey and get surprised with the delicacy and the skill in handling the matter and the creation of beauty that questions the conventional.

Among the highlights, we also have João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, a collective that I wrote about in 2009, when they participated in the 53rd Venice Biennale, which now shows us photography and video, with A Mola Paleolítica and A Coluna de Colombo, respectively, within the experimental and mundane realm, which, at some point, takes us to the motto of René Magritte (1898-1967), “From the everyday to the extraordinary”, relying on present-day technologies and the uniqueness of small metaphors.

Vasco Araújo (n.1975) should also be emphasized, a very interesting artist whose multidisciplinary work is a serious and nonpolitical reflection on colonialism and post-colonialism. There is also the presence of the collectives Musa Paradise and Von Calhau!, with relevant work in the field of performance, and which are settled here to explore the potential of natural materials and combining the natural with the artificial at the service of artistic practice. The discreet presence of Filipa César (n.1975) is also an indicator of the path marked by an extremely intellectual and plastic consistency, which the artist has been developing and, finally, Cama Valium (1998) of Joana Vasconcelos (n.1971) must be mentioned, which may have been one of her earliest works, but also a piece where we can already see a repetition of objects of everyday life in the creation of new forms and, above all, messages on the feminine, traditional and daily life realms.

In short, those who did not have the chance to experience this intricate, daring and intelligent curatorship of João Laia should not miss the new steps of António Cachola’s collection, which is currently able to create a map, to dictate trends and, above all, to support artists, encouraging them not to give up on the idea of pursuing the avant-garde route.

Helena Mendes Pereira (n.1985) is curator and researcher in artistic and cultural contemporary practices. Often, she adventures at dramaturgy and collaborates, as a producer, in projects related to music and theatre, where she has many of its professional bases. Has a degree in Art History (FLUP); attended the specialization in Museology (FLUP), and the post-graduation in Arts Management (UCP); has a Master's degree in Communication, Art and Culture (ICS-UMinho) and is doing a PhD in Communication Sciences with a thesis about Art Market after 25 April 1974. He is currently chief curator of shairart and Professor of Contemporary Art while maintaining effective collaboration in various projects of curating and education and cultural mediation, with Cerveira Art Biennial Foundation, entity which took her first steps in 2007.

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