Interview with Pauline Foessel – Underdogs

Pauline Foessel is the director and co-founder of the Underdogs gallery in Marvila, Lisbon. The project, originally associated with urban art, has increased its reputation in this scene, filling a space they identified in the Portuguese artistic reality. During the pandemic, we did a retrospective and talked about the uncertain present, having as a backdrop the online group exhibition Right Now, available until June 13. An invitation for the artists of the gallery to reflect on the present moment. Among them, ±MaisMenos±, Abdel Queta Tavares, Clemens Behr, Francisco Vidal, Pedro Matos, Teresa Esgaio, Vhils ou Wasted Rita.


Francisco Correia – Underdogs emerged at a difficult time, during the economic crisis, and is still going. What is the balance of the project?

Pauline Foessel – The project has evolved a lot during these seven years. In the beginning, there was no space in the city similar to ours. There was the gallery of Montana, which made mini-expositions with artists of the Movement, but did not work their representation.

The situation in Portugal was not the same in 2013, the period of the economic crisis. The initial idea was that the project would last for a year, but, in the end, we decided to continue. We realised that we could play an important role for local artists. To start representing them and selling their work. And, over the years, artists who were designers or who worked in advertising companies, left those activities to dedicate themselves only to art.

On the other hand, the public art programme has grown a lot during these seven years. We have over thirty walls, counting with some already destroyed. The program has grown with the attention of the city and the people. Today, we have many followers of the project and the artists – the artists are really growing. And we have a very positive response from the international artists who, in the beginning, came here because of Alexandre Farto’s (Vhils) network. Now, however, they know the Underdogs by name. Today, we have a recognition that is not only national but also international, by the urban art Movement.

FC – The gallery has revealed artists coming from urban art or even illustration. Is this one of the project’s backbones?

PF – Yes, it is. We have a great interest in artists who have started working in the street, because they have a remarkable artistic affluence. They are talented people who can work with many kinds of media and materials. And they travel a lot, being deeply open to what goes on in the street and the cities.

We are also interested in and work with artists who didn’t start on the street and are not part of the Movement. But the DNA of the project is still linked to urban art.

FC – About its context, does Underdogs want to be part of the mainstream circuit of visual arts, or, given that the focus is on less common artistic expressions, is it looking for a different space, outside that reality?

PF – We are part of the circuit because we work with artists and collectors; we have participated in fairs; we have projects with other foreign galleries, etc. We do the same work, we have publications, sales and projects.

On the other hand, we are in a Movement that is considered – in my opinion, wrongly – as being further away. Which is not true. If we look at the world, there are more and more urban art artists in museums or contemporary art galleries. For me, we are all making contemporary art: they are artists of the present reflecting on their time.

FC – The fact that Underdogs is associated with intervention in the streets is still an attempt to democratize art, to be closer to mass culture, and to escape the more traditional system – fairs, biennials and museums?

PF – For me, there is no separation. We are doing a common effort, which is to put art on the streets and in the cities before an audience. It works the same way everywhere. If you think of the Venice Biennale, for example, people are in the street moving between pavilions. It’s exactly the same thing. We’re making art for everyone. There’s no division between trying to do things for the art world or everyone else. In the end, artists want their creations to be seen by as many people as possible. Few artists do stuff to keep it in secrecy.

Sure, putting pieces on the walls, on the street, is democratization – if we want to use that term – but public art has existed for centuries and we are simply continuing it.

FC – The online exhibition Right Now is currently available, which intends to show how the gallery’s artists have handled the current moment. Do you believe that the future of galleries will pass through the digital format or is this just another simplifying tool?

PF – Online tools are inevitable. Will things only take place online? I don’t think so. Art spaces will continue to receive people and show art physically. But I believe that having an online presence, with exhibitions like this, or being on platforms like Artsy, is inevitable. As in all companies, when you’re in a physical place, the network can’t grow infinitely. But the online [format] allows you to contact people from all over the world and show the artists’ work to many people who can’t physically visit the gallery.

FC – As a gallery director, what impact is this pandemic having and what are the fears for the future?

PF – I think we did a good job to react to the situation. We had an incredible team that thought of ideas and accomplished them. We did different projects than usual. In one of them, entitled Projecta, we asked people from all over the world to screen pieces of artists purposely created for the occasion. It worked very well. We also did the online exhibition Right Now. And we had the curatorial weeks, where we chose four pieces from the gallery, which could be editions or unique pieces. These are initiatives that were born because of the pandemic.

We will continue and I think this really is a “push forward” to do a lot more things. There is one piece of advice: now we can’t do what we were doing before and the social media, the online platforms, are necessary for today’s art world.

FC – Is hope greater than fear?

PF – There isn’t any fear. It’s a great opportunity to transform a very local world into a more international one. After all, the world of the arts today is international anyway. It’s a fact. There are fairs everywhere; collectors travel a lot; galleries have spaces in Paris, New York, Hong Kong, etc. It clearly is an international world. This is neither fear nor hope. It’s a reality. And it will continue to grow.

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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