São Bento opens its doors to Art

At the Prime Minister’s official residence, the 3rd edition of Arte em São Bento is currently taking place, until the end of the year. The artistic works are from the collection of Norlinda and José Lima (entrepreneur of the footwear sector). It is one of the largest private art collections in the country, based in São João da Madeira. This collection comes from the passion of José Lima who, at the beginning of the 80s, decided to make it part of his daily professional life. He admits that he usually buys on impulse and that art is emotion and a state of mind. He can’t find the words to describe the fascination he feels about art, nor can he explain when it all began. As this businessman said, with a few words about collecting, at the inauguration of this exhibition: “Artistic taste is common, but material values are not so much and, sometimes, it is not possible to have the paint that we lack. The collector never has the collection he wants, he has the one he can have”. When a large number of pieces have been acquired, it is necessary to present them to the world, and this is what he did, sharing them generously with the community. As Kathleen Gomes (cultural advisor to Prime Minister António Costa) says, this collection has an intervening and educational role in society. This is how the multipurpose and creative artistic centre Centro de Arte Oliva emerges, where the collection is located, with temporary exhibitions, the first of which took place in 2013, entitled Traço Descontínuo.

A collector never has the collection he wants; he has the one he can have (J. Lima)

As for this exhibition, Isabel Carlos (curator of the event) made a selection according to several criteria: the balance between authors, equal between men and women, a dominant note that has guided her activity as curator; the choice of living artists, where contemporary creation prevails (the oldest is Cruzeiro Seixas); and, finally, national authors, to value the expression of Portuguese culture. The works were designed on different supports and materials, including the oldest made in 1965, created by Lourdes Castro, and the most recent of 2018, by Ana Jotta. The first one has typical traces of her style and the second is formally purified. In the exhibition route, we discover works about portrait and landscape, two classic genres of figurative art.

Isabel Carlos developed a personal discourse, with surprising results. For example, in the triptych photography of a landscape by Daniel Malhão, the image seems to extend beyond the room. The work of greatest value is the one of Paula Rego, entitled A Árvore de Dubuffet, with a hybrid nature, in a transition between portrait and landscape. Isabel Carlos placed it in a passage in the entrance hall, next to the staircase that gives access to the upper floors of the palace, in a metaphor in relation to the lack of definition of the type of work itself. With great dimensions, the photograph of João Louro, Highway, shows panels with city names on highways, which were replaced by philosophers’ names, in a recurring conceptual attitude in his work. One of the most visible works is the unmistakable painting by Eduardo Batarda, in the prominent audience room. In the most reserved spaces of the palace, the curator decided to distribute several pieces created by women: Graça Morais; Marta Wengorovius and Ana Luísa Ribeiro. It’s clear the curator had the freedom to plan this exhibit nucleus. Adding pieces according to the functionality of each place, with current works of art, was one of Isabel Carlos’ challenges.

The opening of the official residence of the Prime Minister is a way to promote the approximation of citizens to art. Schedule the visit to the exhibition this month, which is open to the public on Sundays, from 10am to 5pm, until December 29, with free admission. It’s a must-see opportunity: it’s the first time that the works in this collection are in Lisbon.


Manuela Synek has collaborated with Umbigo magazine for over ten years. As the years go by, it identifies itself more and more with this consistent, ever-changing, innovative, bold and consistent design in its editorial line. She is a Historian and Art Critic graduated by the Superior Institute of Artistic Careers of Paris in Critique of Art and Aesthetics. She is also graduated in Aesthetics from the University of Paris I - Panthéon – Sorbonne and has the "Postgraduate Course in History of Art, Contemporary Art Strand", by Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Manuela is the author of books on authors in the area of Plastic Arts and has participated in Colloquiums as Lecturer related to Artistic Heritage; Painting; Sculpture and Design in Universities; Higher Schools and Autarchies. Lately she specialized in the subject of Public Art and Urban Space, with the analysis of the artistic works where she has made Communications. She writes for Umbigo magazine about the work of artists in the area of the visual arts who appear in the field of exhibitions and also the dissemination of emerging Portuguese values with new supports since installation, photography and video, where the body appears in its various aspects, raising pertinent issues.

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