Voyage to the Beginning and Back

The 30th anniversary of the Serralves Collection as part of the Portuguese Contemporary Art


Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of its collection, one of Portugal’s largest and most important. It gathers a wide array of works, more than 4300, over 1700 belong to the Foundation and the rest, in deposit, was brought from other collections, both private and public. This is an important contemporary art acquis, dating from 1960 to the present.

This milestone is particularly relevant, not only for the institution but also for the national context. The event is celebrated in the form of a back-to-the-origins exhibition, inviting one to dive into a journey to the beginning.


The present-day extensive and well-established collection was born forty years ago, when the purchase and aggregation of works were part of beginning stages of the Serralves Museum. At the time, there was an urgent need to create institutions for the exhibition and projection of Portuguese artists. Museu do Chiado had already been founded in 1911 and the first exhibition-devoted initiative was launched at Casa de Serralves in 1987, two projects that, although they pointed to contemporary artistic production, were still attached to modern art.

That same urgency propelled the collection that would then integrate and strengthen a new project, the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. This was perfectly conducted by Vicente Todoli as director and with an equal commitment by João Fernandes. Both museum directors, in different moments, affirmed and established the acquis as a coherent, structured assembly, geared towards the national creators, without neglecting the production abroad. The collection was publicly revealed during the museum’s grand opening, with Circa 68 (1999). The latter, announced as an exhibition-manifesto, depicted the historical moment experienced between the 60s and 70s, marked by international political, social and cultural changes, fuelling new creative realities, known today as contemporary art. The exhibition was distributed throughout the then-inaugurated main building, authored by Álvaro Siza Vieira and Casa de Serralves. This spatial occupation model is now reproduced, to which are added the museum gardens, the Leixões Cruise Terminal and the Oporto City Hall.


The current exhibition of 30th anniversary of the Serralves collection was opened on July 10 by Philippe Vergne who, unashamedly enthusiastic and proudful of the institution he now runs, praised the acquis and thanked all those who contributed to it, including the Board of Directors and the different Serralves partners. The museum director also thanked the artists, revealing his “utmost recognition and admiration”, declaring they “allow us to get to know our time and age better”. In turn, Marta Almeida declared that the artists, along with the public, are the raison d’être of the museum efforts and emphasized the complicity between the former and the institution, referring to the recent exhibition as a “vital testimony of this circle of trust”. The assistant director emphasized the investment made in the collection conservation, as well as its visibility and continuous proximity to the public, consummated in several exhibitions.

A conversation then took place, conducted by Marta Almeida and Ricardo Nicolau, with five of the artists who are part of the show: Augusto Alves da Silva, André Cepeda, André Guedes, Albuquerque Mendes and Charlotte Moth. The artists were introduced and invited to share their experiences throughout the museum’s production and exhibition processes. The occasion was a unique opportunity to learn more about their work, as well as the relationships unfurled between the artists and the Serralves museum, including all those who are part of it, from curators, directors and assembly teams. Simultaneously, taking into account the considerable range in terms of age, artistic practices and the five projects mentioned, it was also possible to envision the collection’s visual, plastic, formal and expressive plurality and comprehensiveness, as multidisciplinary and hybrid as its initial quest, proportionally representing contemporary art itself.

After this meeting, Tango, by Albuquerque Mendes, continued the inauguration at Casa de Serralves, a performance that occurred in 2001 in the same place.


From the exhibition currently assembled at Serralves Museum, devised and curated by Marta Almeida, Isabel Braga and Ricardo Nicolau, one must appreciate the selection of works and the curatorial concept, as they both provide an impressive exhibitive range. The most prominent, in addition to the artists present at the inauguration, are the works of Alberto Carneiro (1936-2017), Álvaro Lapa (1939-2006), Christian Boltanski (1944-), Lothar Baumgarten (1944-2018), Nick Mauss (1980-), Pedro Cabrita Reis (1956-) or Richard Serra (1938-). Although it is difficult to mention just a couple of names, considering the breadth of the acquis, these names consubstantiate the importance of visiting the exhibition. It takes time and dedication to contemplate and wander through the different objects. Without those, one runs the risk of entangling the physical, visual and perceptive elements of the different works.

As explained by Ricardo Nicolau, the current exhibition results from the quest to ascertain what symbolizes the collection. The assistant director said that it was evident that “most of the works shown were thought, conceived and purposely designed for Serralves”. This feature is significant and rare, justifying itself as the starting point and structural element of the current exhibition, while also determining how the occasion and the collection themselves are understood, pondered and received by the public.


The creation of the Serralves Foundation was born in 1989, when it established itself as an institution that, although private, has a role of public interest, in an attempt to contribute to the growth and visibility of the national artistic creation, while supporting its internationalization. The museum collection is found inside and outside the museum itself, as well as in Oporto and throughout the country, with several exhibitions in different places, institutions and cities, expanding its reach and audience.

Serralves is celebrated, particularly the various artists and their works that are part of its remarkable and wide acquis, until 3 November, 2019.

Constança Babo (Porto, 1992) has a degree in Photography from the Escola Superior Artística do Porto [Porto Superior School of Art] and a Master's Degree in Artistic Studies - Theory and Criticism of Art from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto. It already has an important number of critical texts, mostly published in the online magazine ArteCapital, from 2015 to the present, with some texts of exhibition guides related to galleries, as well as the production of press releases. In addition to the writing work, she also dedicates himself to the photographic work of exhibitions and art events.

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