Public and private collectionism of contemporary art – The contemporary art collection of the Fundação PLMJ
The art markets in Portugal, particularly the contemporary art market, are going through a challenging period. It was an opportune moment to hold the conference of Fundação PLMJ, entitled Coleccionismo público e privado de arte contemporânea – Public and private collecting of contemporary art, and the presentation of its collection at its new headquarters on December 5. It included the performance of dancer Nina Botkay, who captivated the attention of the entire audience, and the presentation of the work Convivio Glacé by the artist Mariana Gomes, distinguished in 2011 with the honourable mention of the Fidelidade Mundial – Jovens Pintores award.
The collection of Fundação PLMJ has more than 1300 works of art in more than 50 exhibitions. Soon its itinerant collection programme will begin, continuing the objective of promoting Portuguese culture and artistic creation at national and international plateaus. Founded in 2001, its merit has been recognized, as evidenced by the distinctions in 2017 and 2018 in the Corporate Art Awards.
There must be better access to art and culture, as the Minister for Culture said at the inaugural session. However, in addition to strengthening relations between private and public institutions, it is necessary to strengthen intersectoral relations, an issue that is relegated to the background. There are sectors that benefit from culture, such as tourism and restaurants, which use the cultural image of the Portugal brand. If, on the one hand, tourism has grown 11% in the last two years, cultural visits to museums have fallen by 12% in Portugal, according to El País. What explains this discouraging cultural scenario in Portugal? Why is tourism valued as the golden hen and culture remains in the shadows, despite its essential contribution to the tourist offer in Portugal and to the Portuguese identity?
In this almost cultural drought (despite the fact that Portuguese culture is alive), some oases of companies are emerging that, with their collections, promote, disseminate and feed the contemporary art markets in Portugal (and also their main players, particularly artists and art galleries). In this context, the motto of Fundação PLMJ is “a law firm as an area of culture”, among many others, such as the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation or Fundação EDP. In a sui generis conference (in a good sense), comprehensive and focused on the main challenges of collecting, the invitation made to 11 speakers with different roles in the art markets allowed to achieve the goal. Moderated by the journalist Maria João Costa, the conference had a representative panel of speakers, including the artists Ângela Ferreira and Fernão Cruz, the curators João Silvério and Adelaide Ginga, the art historian Cristina Tavares, the gallery owner Pedro Oliveira, the president of the VERITAS auction house Igor Olho-Azul, the collector António Cachola, and public speakers such as the city hall councillor for culture Catarina Vaz Pinto, and the director of MNAC, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Emília Ferreira.
According to gallery owner Pedro Oliveira, “the national scenario is a challenge, contemporary art markets are historically fragile, and collectors (especially private ones) are vital to support these markets. The president of the Veritas auction house, Igor Olho-Azul, says there have been changes in tastes and a major correction in prices of various types, especially antiques. It is now necessary to sell many more pieces at auctions. While new artists, like Fernão Cruz, seem to sell works of art from an early age, in a change of paradigm, Ângela Ferreira, an artist from the previous generation, did not sell works of art either at 20 or 30 years of age. Times change, but behaviours take longer to alter. Although there is active private and public collectionism (on the part of public institutions) leaves much to be desired. There are museums without budgets or with meaningless funds to acquire works of art. Those who go to Paris already know the Louvre, those who go to Madrid already know Prado. Do tourists (and the Portuguese) know the MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) or the MNAC? The number of museum visits seems to indicate that they do not. What cultural strategy is there for Portugal? It is a question for all art market players. And we should also ask ourselves, Portuguese and Portuguese companies, if we value our culture and art.
To quote artist Ângela Ferreira, in addition to educating audiences about culture, corporate education and the particular example of Fundação PLMJ, it is essential for more companies to support culture, art, artists and create collections that stimulate the contemporary art markets. More oases are needed in this desert, but we are the right track privately. At a public level, a cultural strategy is lacking, starting by quantifying the value of the art markets in Portugal. We must start at the beginning. Cultural sustainability and the end of a drought that will continue through inertia and ineptitude are needed.
P.S.: Thank you to Fundação PLMJ.