Interview with António Pinto Ribeiro and Sandra Vieira Jürgens
The exhibition Feast. Fury. Femina – Works from the FLAD Collection marks the 35th anniversary of the Luso-American Development Foundation. It is almost entirely composed of works by Portuguese artists. Feast. Fury. Femina is the largest exhibition ever made based on the Foundation’s collection – it has 228 works selected by the curators António Pinto Ribeiro and Sandra Vieira Jürgens, taken from over 1000 in the collection.
Rui Gueifão – Initially, I felt some curiosity about this triptych composed by FLAD, MAAT and António and Sandra, as curators of the exhibition. Where did this partnership begin?
António Pinto Ribeiro – The current president of FLAD invited me last year to talk about the artistic activity of the foundation, this “asset”, using economic jargon, which is the FLAD collection. Very little was known about it, but FLAD wanted to invest in it and publicize it. We had several conversations on the visibility and treatment of the collection. Then Rita Faden, who is the president, invited me to curator an exhibition based on the collection. I accepted and invited Sandra to be co-curator. Several reasons led me to invite Sandra. On one hand, I already knew a lot about her work, and I esteemed it immensely. On the other hand, I already had some experiences in other shared curatorships and always thought that they were much more productive from an intellectual and outcome standpoint, compared to one-person curatorships. They were not simpler or easier – unlike this one – but I think it is important, because a dialogue and an intensity in the quest for the issues – a way of looking at them – end up emerging. We stop being dogmatic (which happens a lot when we are alone). And, on the other hand, it is also very productive from an intellectual point of view, because we are from different generations and genres. In Portugal, this is still not quite common, and who benefits are the visitors, us and the collection. The relationship with MAAT resulted from negotiations between FLAD and MAAT. The same will happen with other institutions with which FLAD wants to establish partnerships. We did not intervene except in the assembly and layout stages.
RG – This is the largest exhibition in FLAD’s collection to date. Of the approximately 1000 works, 228 will be on display. How was the selection made? Did you have any “obligation” to FLAD, or did you have “carte blanche”?
Sandra Vieira Jürgens – We had carte blanche. We worked in parallel on the concepts, on what we wanted to privilege in the interpretation of the collection, which is quite comprehensive considering the number of works. We also took into consideration the fact that it has been unseen for so long and how it would be to present it again to the public. On the other hand, we wanted to analyse and get to know the FLAD collection in depth. To choose the works, we worked on these two aspects, reflected on the concepts, and faced what we had in front of us. It was a lengthy process. It wasn’t easy, we had concerns about time. That is, to organize these observation sessions of the works, to then think about what would fit in each of the concepts and how we would articulate them among themselves. The ideas and concepts that are in the exhibition title were the paths we found to present our vision and interpretation of the collection – something celebratory, as the collection also celebrated its anniversary. FLAD was also celebrating that milestone. We also wanted to present a broad perspective of all FLAD’s artistic expressions, without preferring certain artists over others. The aim was to display a broad perspective of the collection’s plurality. We also wanted to complexify the discourse, to put in dialogue several generations of artists (the collection covers a vast chronology). We did not limit ourselves to drawing, the strongest mark of the FLAD collection. We wanted to show other disciplines such as painting, photography, tapestry, sculpture, etc. It is a contribution to a new perspective. In my opinion, this has a lot to do with the work of the curators, which is finding the invisible side of the collection. We are not making a new collection, although António has, in this last year, continued to acquire works. We wanted to present a conclusive perspective, through our contemporary look, on this historical and representative collection of Portuguese art of many decades.
RG – It has been an ongoing thing since the 80s, hasn’t it?
SVJ – Yes, but it has works from previous years. The collection began in 1986 but works by artists produced in the 1970s were acquired.
RG – What importance do you give to FLAD and its collection in the artistic and cultural scene in Portugal?
APR – I think Sandra has already mentioned it, but the exhibition has historical heritage, a heritage related to contemporary art almost exclusively Portuguese. If this collection did not exist, it would be a huge loss for the history of art in Portugal. We can conclude that the collection is a substantial part of the artistic production of those years until the first phase of 2002. In some way, it is a historical chronology, a pertinent and unavoidable timeline, from the post-war period, the end of the 1960s to the present day. In Portuguese artistic history, this collection has relevant continuities and discontinuities. From a more sociological point of view or related to artistic studies, it shows us how art has evolved. We get to know the schools where these people studied, the origin of these individuals. Some more international, or that became more international, the impact of these artists and these works on later and current generations. It is a great contribution to Portuguese society and I hope it continues to be. Unfortunately, it stood still for many years, but I hope it will continue to be a testimony of artistic production. I think it should not only be Portuguese, but also international. It’s what the collection lacks.
RG – Can you tell me about the title of the exhibition? I was intrigued by the movement or “performativity” in the combination ‘Feast Fury. Femina’. And by the fact that it is a collection mostly composed of drawings. I’m not saying that there is no movement or performativity in the drawing. How is this movement conveyed?
APR – I just want to mention one important detail. In dance, most people question the repetition of the choreography in time. And one of the answers is that the dancer aged, matured and was able to repeat that choreography in the following years, teaching disciples or apprentices. And they forget that there are 33 ways to register choreographies – there are 33 methods, 33 models to draw the body movements on stage. In other words, drawing, even in its oldest forms, is the starting point of performativity, of movement. Often it only registers the movement that precedes the final work. To see that the drawing, from the outset, regardless of the possible consequences, has a very performative dynamic, is an important detail.
SVJ – The exhibition’s first room shows this performative side of the drawing. It shows how diverse it can be, where it is possible to notice the gesture – we have different gestures and performative acts related to the act of drawing. Thinking about this performativity has a lot to do with actuality. And we are getting increasingly aware. Before, we thought that performance was just an art form contained in that discipline. But today we see that painting or photography can also be performative, they have that procedural side of contemporary art interpretation. We wanted to think about the time when the collection started: the 80s, influenced by Portugal’s entry into the EEC. There was openness and joy, a feeling of belonging to Europe, to another world. It was the shattering of all the years of the Salazar regime. All the arts approached the question of dialogue, it was something deeply disciplinary. Fashion, fashion design, dance, theatre were all very close together. That’s why we didn’t focus only on drawing. We’ve included the other arts in this exhibition, not to isolate this collection from the disciplinary point of view.
RG – Even the letter F, in the exhibition poster, has several forms of performativity – it represents FLAD and also the feast, the fury and the Femina.
SVJ – Yes, it is almost a loop that represents this attempt to look at art and the collection in another way. Things are always changing and that performativity gives us precisely that – other curators have looked at this collection differently; we are looking at it in our way. And, in the future, other curators will select different works, choose new thoughts. We have the Feast and the Fury. And Femina has to do with a current concern of the collection: to show another look at the creation of women artists. They, as in all the other collections, were poorly represented. We want to make an effort to draw attention to this issue, to this legacy which is often forgotten and which is quite visible.
APR – In other words, these three concepts, among those that could exist, are in the works; they do not derive from a personal programme. It was not Sandra and Antonio who decided to impose these aspects, of the fury, the feast and the Femina on the collection. The concepts were already there, we unveiled them. Yes, we gave names to something that emanated from the works themselves. But with some attention, availability and time, we extracted what was latent in this collection and made it visible.
RG – There was also some surprise on the part of the curators regarding the “conceptual rigour of the collection”. In what way were you surprised? Does it have to do with Manuel Castro Caldas’ initial concept for the collection? To have a collection that, being able to follow this or that idea or aesthetics, remains open nonetheless? That can have different themes and perspectives without ever distorting its whole?
APR – To represent Portuguese art or artists, many collections wanted to encompass the largest number of artists. Manuel Castro Caldas dared to say “No! I will not make a representative collection of all artists in Portugal, but of those that I believe fit certain criteria related to the formal and aesthetic nature”. These are still the main criteria: design, conceptual rigour, the educational element, etc. From this point of view, it was surprising to see that he achieved it. It must not have been easy. We know the relations of the curators with the institutions and they are not that “peaceful”. He succeeded, he was persevering. He must not have had many financial resources (as is also quite common in the country) and, from that point of view, I think he deserves all our esteem. He managed to take his curatorial project to its ultimate consequences.
RG – And is this reflected in your way of processing the collection?
APR – To make an exhibition of a collection, it couldn’t have ended in 2002, going through 18 years without any acquisition. There is an element of artistic expression that will not be represented here again. The works are no longer available or have reached unbearable prices. Therefore, the way was to acquire in different circumstances. Considering that prior coherence, at the very least it was necessary to establish a dialogue between the collection as it is and the present, naturally accepting today’s perspective. The country has changed a lot between the years of Manuel Castro Caldas and today. There are other demands, other presences in the collection that were previously impossible: Afro-descendants, a greater female presence and other more spectacular genres. Preserving the collection’s essence, ultimately; the various aspects of the drawing which, as we have just said, is much richer, has much more potential than we initially imagined. All of this is used positively and productively.
RG – How important is it to make an exhibition that shows the works of different generations of artists?
SVJ – That’s the big challenge. We have several artistic practices, sensibilities, artists who for a long time were not part of the same family, nor had affinities with each other. And that is the work of a curator, to put in dialogue different works, which would often be impossible to put side by side in the past. As time and history go by, this becomes feasible and is also a different way of showing them. In terms of depth, it is much better not to set five or six artists of the same generation in a closed room, where they all have affinities. That would be easier than what we have done here, where we have a great diversity. We must know how to use that to benefit the exhibition and the public. In other words, use other approaches to show works that, in principle, would be much more organized and closed in a generational space. Here, there is a continuity explored and proposed. When we cover 30 or 40 years of artistic expression, artists live together.
RG – Is there a specific, functional, conceptual or linguistic organization?
APR – The rooms are not thematic. Even the three concepts that give rise to the exhibition are not immutable. In other words, there is no work on fury or a work on the feast. All the works can contemplate these concepts and others that we have not mentioned. There are many variables when we organize an exhibition. For example, formal issues. To know if, when we enter the first room, we notice a predominance of writing, of tracing, of an experimental character… The first room begins with a 1975 piece about the end of the revolution and ends with works on post-colonial issues. There is a period of our social history in this ensemble, in this room. But it also depends naturally on the empathy that the works create among themselves.
SVJ – As António said, the organisation is quite open. There is no nucleus dedicated to fury, etc. But there are points where we have tried to put in dialogue works with a common theme or which can dialogue more simply and coherently. For example, the first room is marked by writing, in the forms it is present in the plastic arts. There is also the question of identity and the body. Some aspects have a lot to do with the themes of art history, but we didn’t want to fixate ourselves or give so much importance to it, so that the spectator can flow along the exhibition path. In other words, even if we are in a room more dedicated to writing, in the first and last point we find two pieces that tell us about Portuguese history, from a social and political perspective – there are different layers and readings there, which intersect throughout the exhibition.
APR – Or this room for instance, where the landscape is predominant, but it is not a room about the landscape in Portuguese art.
RG – In the press release (and in the letter of intent), I read that ‘Feast. Fury.Femina‘, which is the title of the exhibition, encompasses the collection’s three current axes. It is a Feast for celebrating its 35th anniversary and the return to acquisitions, it is Fury for the performative side of the interdisciplinary Portuguese art scene, and Femina for highlighting the feminine, “demanding a new look at the history of art that has so ignored women artists”. How does the exhibition show this “demand for a renewed look” at the relationship between the history of art and women artists?
SVJ – Art history always has a very unique path, trying to make the invisible visible. This is how historians and researchers work. What no one cared about is seen differently. As in artistic practice itself, all that is disregarded, all the minor genres, were those chosen by the avant-garde artists – trying to give notoriety and legitimacy to what is ignored. And this also happened in cultural studies. From a certain point on, we realised that there are a huge number of female artists who have never been considered, just like other activities of minorities, of communities. And, even from a more global perspective on art, activities of some artistic circuits, which researchers were interested in recovering. This work is being done and has reached Portugal and all universities. Regarding the exhibition and the FLAD, we wanted to make the work of women artists visible. And, on the other hand, to update the acquisitions to give more attention to what the flaws in the collection were, and to follow up on the work of women artists. It is related to numerous social and cultural conditions. It is a sensitive issue, as it is often criticised that exhibitions do not have so many women artists. I’m not radical, I do not want artists to be produced in an assembly line. The works must have quality, I can’t be choosing women if their work is not of such quality, I cannot artificially produce artists. Ultimately, some conditions must be respected. However, this does not mean that we do not currently try to rescue and give more conditions to the emancipation of women, so that they can have a work and an artistic trajectory with the same time, dedication and conditions that are given to male artists. But there is this two-way focus, in the exhibition and in the acquisition programme, which was the investment of António Pinto Ribeiro, in these new purchases.