Constellations II, or how to contaminate a collection, at Museu Coleção Berardo

If a work of art is timeless, can a permanent collection (without new acquisitions) have no end; be infinite?

This seems to be one of the most debated questions by museum institutions in recent years. It is also discussed by Ana Rito and Hugo Barata, curators of the exhibition Constellations II: a choreography of minimal gestures, at the Museu Coleção Berardo, the second moment of an endless exercise.

The word exercise seems adequate to describe the proposal of Constallations. This exhibition tries to create new links between works belonging to the collection and works on loan. In an anachronistic narrative, the formulated constellations function as parentheses, which influence the historical reading of the works. Often imprisoning, they are replaced by an illustrative and/or chronological function.

This is the case of Rothko’s small canvas [Untitled (Artist and Model), 1937-38], which recovers the singularity of the artist’s figurative period. Perhaps because it diverges from the Colorfield Paintings, which we hope to find in any museum or collection of international art of the 20th century, it is rarely explored. This painting, here isolated on a wall in the nucleus entitled feminismos, has a different relevance from what it normally shows along with its contemporaries.

Also in this room, Angel Vergara, Cindy Sherman and Sarah Lucas dialogue with other works from the Berardo Collection. Including the panel of paintings by Chantal Joffe (Untitled, 1997-98), which was not shown since 2008, underlining the importance of this curatorship. Besides the encounters, the dynamism of a collection opens the possibility of reunions and revisions. And, above all, to carry out the permanent study of the works, fundamental to better understand the objects and create new visions.

In the first edition, Thomas Ruff’s photograph, placed at the entrance of gallery -1, was a portal to a constellation. Now, this place is occupied by the work of João Tabarra (Miroirs grotte, 2015), an abstracting underwater landscape, which emphasizes the interpretative subjectivity of Constelações. In front, Douglas Gordon with I cannot remember anything, inscribed on the wall, underlines the importance of memory in this curatorship; its horizontality allows the interconnection of different ideas, resorting to fantasy, and abolishing rational limits. This is how we conceived sidereal space from the beginning: infinite and absolute. It makes sense, then, to return to Reinhardt and Malevich. The latter presents a surprising set of double-sided drawings, properly exhibited by the side of the frame.

The exhibition model explores various connections between the authors. Dom-inó (2019) by Os Espacialistas directly challenges Carl Andre’s piece (144th Travertine Integer, 1985), as if it were an ironic response; or the artists’ unfinished dialogue with the history of art.

On the other hand, the video record of Jemima Stehli’s performance in 2005 returns to its origin, in front of Larry Bell’s sculpture (Vertical gradient on the long length, 1995). Its meaning is duplicated, reproducing the place of materialization and forcing the dichotomy between real space and virtual space.

There is also the meeting of Joseph Kosuth (One and three plants, 1965) with the photographic work of José Maçãs de Carvalho (Beirut 06, 2007-2016). It is oddly contaminated by the neon lights around, emphasizing the synonymy between contaminations and constellations.

There are nineteen constellations now drawn on the museum’s map, and a third moment is already confirmed. The intervention will take place on floor 2 (1900-1950s). Curiosity increases as the conversations get further apart in time, making the accommodated exhibition structures tremble. This is even more important in troubled times. The courage of these exercises is vital to stimulate the important institutions in the national artistic panorama and prevent them from stagnating, without ever jeopardizing their collections.

Constellations II until May 31, at Museu Coleção Berardo, in Lisbon.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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