The conspiracy of shapes, at the Porto Cruise Terminal of Leixões

Art is born outside of museums and galleries, that is where artists imagine, create and produce. So, an exhibition held in alternative and unusual locations can be understood as going back to the roots, to the place where they came from. A great cultural institution can stand out if it decides to acknowledge this reality and, in line with that, takes the initiative to spread its own collection around, letting it occupy and inhabit other spaces. Serralves Foundation is a prominent example of an institution that knows art and its possibilities.

For the second time, Porto Cruise Terminal of Leixões is the setting of an exhibition of Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, this time brought by Gabriela Vaz-Pinheiro, whose aesthetical sensitivity and awareness are properly revealed in this curatorship. She recognizes the importance of space and context, identifying these two elements as crucial in the selection of works and for the project as a whole.

In line with this, and having a seamless and unexpected result, some of the works exhibited occupy quite naturally their own area, as if they belonged to it, which is particularly curious, given that this place was not designed to hold an exhibition. It happens with Narrow White Flow (1967-68) of Hans Hacke, whose constant undulating movement mingles with the surroundings, both with the terminal’s interior flow and the exterior, the deep Atlantic Ocean. The same goes for Bruno Pacheco’s Shoreline (2009), which depicts great whale on the shore, with the sea as background, suggesting a reflection on the current condition of the water, ecosystems and the planet’s future. Also, the work of José Pedro Croft, assembled in 2008 using iron, glass and mirrors, installs itself in a clear way, almost blatant, reflecting the magnificent building of the architect Luís Pedro Silva, as well as the exterior, the sea, the port structure and whoever decides to walk in that area.

The latter, the exhibition’s audience, varied and plural, not necessarily the usual museum attendance, more educated and familiar with art and culture, is composed by any individual who passes by this place between their commutes. This exhibition is an object of long, attentive, interested and knowledgeable stares, and also those short-lived and fleeting, establishing contingency-tarnished relations between the works and the viewers, as explained by the curator.

The vast audience of this exhibition gets that same plurality back, reflected in the varied, national and international authorship, and also in the image, structure and formality of each piece, which are heterogeneous, dynamic and representative of different areas of the contemporary art scene. Serralves collection has been diversely developed since its inception in the 80s and is a sample of the artistic production of this country and the world. The institution’s itinerant program, organized by Marta Moreira de Almeida and Ricardo Nicolau, makes this goal more attainable, whilst reinforcing important partnerships, in this case with APDL (Administração dos Portos do Douro, Leixões e Viana do Castelo).

As for the national artists in this exhibition, Pedro Cabrita Reis, with Echo der Welt (1993), gets the protuberant spot at the entrance hall. As mentioned by the curator, the work in question has a fierce spatial reference in relation to the environment and to its own representation, i.e., the deconstruction of a space. Nearby, we find the works of Rita McBride, and visible from the inside, a marble sculpture of Jene Highstein, made in 2000, establishing a communication between the interior and exterior, reinforcing the concept of outdoors.

Beside the vast central ramp, there is a work of Rui Chafes, adding a notion of scale in relation to the building, whilst introducing the artist who has another piece in the upper floor. The latter, an unusual iron structure, looks like a set of confession boots and challenges the viewer with the most diverse levels, visually, physically and conceptually. Installed with impact, it establishes a unique strength and authority, quite absorbing. We also have Cildo Meireles and António Barros, both adding their recurrent political and critical trait, as well as Ana Jotta, Bruce Nauman, Damián Ortega, José de Guimarães, Leonor Antunes, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Artschwager, Rita Magalhães and Susanne Themlitz.

This event takes the artistic creation to a global and individual level, where each one piece conquers a new life. The works are reborn in this new context and reveal characteristics and possibilities that were concealed before, leading to new interpretations and experiences. As Gabriela Vaz-Pinheiro refers, the exhibition tries to redefine the meaning of piece and, and based on the perennial book of John Berger, Ways Of Seeing (1972), brings the idea that art objects, when they are produced in a recent past, are related to the present and ensure their freedom in the future.

The curator explains that, as the title implies, in the Porto cruise terminal of Leixões, we see a conspiracy of shapes that must be understood, taking the several senses and meanings of each image and material, which challenge, confront and demand from the spectator a certain commitment and availability to reach several different readings and interpretations. With this exhibition, Gabriela Vaz-Pinheiro also declares her intent to have “each one of these works unleashing a new way of seeing the world”.

Constança Babo (Porto, 1992) has a PhD in Media Art and Communication from Universidade Lusófona. Her research focuses on new media arts and curatorship. She has a master's degree in Art Studies - Art Theory and Criticism from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto and a degree in Visual Arts - Photography from the Porto School of Art. She has published scientific articles and critical texts. She was a research fellow in the international project Beyond Matter, at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe, and was a researcher at Tallinn University, in the MODINA project.

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