MACE – 15 anos

42 degrees Celsius, but the sun and heat did not ruin the 15th anniversary festivities of Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas (MACE). It was also a celebration of private collecting, partnerships and collaborative projects.

Collaboration is this event’s keyword, which brought together artists, collections and art institutions from all over Portugal in a peripheral territory, but no less important for Portuguese contemporary art, the outcome of the initiative that the Municipality of Elvas and the collector António Cachola began in 2007.

At that time, the António Cachola Collection was considered one of the most coherent in Portugal. It included works from the 1980s onwards and several of the artists who ended up putting Portugal on the national and international art map. As Delfim Sardo stressed several times, this is a collection of Portuguese democracy and its value is not only artistic but also historical and symbolic.

To celebrate the 15 years of the museum that holds this collection is to gauge and understand the evolution achieved. And also, the development of the Portuguese art scene in recent years, the trends, the most impacting names, the young people most likely to have a stable career, the more or less explicit and implicit tendencies.

The curator Ana Cristina Cachola, the event’s organiser and António Cachola’s daughter, synthesises the event’s guiding and narrative thread in a single question: “Who can save us?”. Who can save us in this endless quest for a dignified place in the world? Who can save us when the old dialogical practices of consensus crumble? Who can save us in the face of growing hatred, lack of empathy, terror? From this perspective, it is a different challenge from the one that was launched five years ago, on MACE’s 10th anniversary. There was no pandemic, no war in Europe – events that encompass the curator’s motto, but also the slogan “Here we are network”.

Using some of António Cachola’s most recent acquisitions, Quem nos salva? is a critical exhibition. It is urgent in the themes it addresses and inquisitive in a conscious and analytical way. After all, it is a contemporary collection, with young artists who investigate, criticise, conjure up and update the politics and major issues of the moment. Mané Pacheco takes us through a blue environment, marked by pugnacity and humour; Diana Policarpo narrates the crossing between species and the symbiosis between the vegetable kingdom and the female human body; Joana Vasconcelos’ OB tampon candelabra is again displayed, as if time had not passed through it; Susanne Themlitz summons up strangeness and irony with her anthropomorphic figures; Alice Geirinhas provokes emotion, sorrow, mourning and historical conflict every time the dictatorship is recalled; Gabriel Abrantes traces a transforming and identity parable; Alice dos Reis works out the cosmic or extractive limits of the female reproduction industry; João Pedro Vale + Nuno Alexandre Ferreira bring together icons of gay activism; Isabel Cordovil takes a radiant leap of freedom; etc.

Quem nos salva? asks for a long meditation and enters a dimension that suspends Time to see it head on. Alternatively, it looks at all Times, when everything around us seems to fail and collapse into bewilderment and despair. But this is not an apocalyptic scenario. There is hope, for in art lies salvation, as the curator says.

Simultaneously, 24 other institutions, collections, organisations and collectives are asked to look at this Time, tumultuous and fraught with challenges, eternal and timeless.

From an institutional viewpoint, the exhibitions with the collections PLMJ, AA, Fundação Carmona e Costa, Norlinda and José Lima, MACAM, Figueiredo Ribeiro, João Luís Traça, Marin.Gaspar, Peter Meeker/Casa São Roque, Fundação Leal Rios, Maria e Armando Cabral (Rialto 6), José Carlos Santana Pinto, MEIAC and Quetzal Art Center proposed to debate discourses on fiction, global geographies, the body and spirituality. Sometimes the places where the installations are located openly dialogue with the works. This happens with the exhibitions from the PLMJ, AA, Peter Meeker/Casa São Roque or Fundação Leal Rios collections.

The independent projects or platforms presented the most daring proposals, making room for de-formatting, performance and experimentation. For example, the Appleton project (with Susana Mendes Silva and Joana Patrão, at Cisterna), Supermala (with Bruno Bogarim and Lara Dâmaso, at Sociedade de Instrução e Recreio, Escola da Alcáçova) and Estrela Decadente (with Alice Geirinhas, Ana Cristina Cachola/Xavier Almeida and Ana Matilde Sousa). But also Spirit Shop, Quéréla, O Armário, ZDB, Uma Certa Falta de Coerência, Uppercut and DuplaCena/VEM.

This is a brief report about a festival whose programme went beyond the medium in which it took place and was unable to do more due to format limitations. Many artists have not been mentioned here. Curators and programmers as well. But this is a festival of collections and collectors, so the emphasis on them is natural.

Even so, we summarise here a proposal with more national than regional ambition (in everything similar to a biennale). It is clearly one of 2022’s most outstanding exhibition moments.

The city of Elvas benefits in projection and life. The cultural heritage, the associations and local venues involved in art are reborn from the doldrums of oblivion. They gain a new breath and potential, between the sacred and the profane, the popular and the erudite, the individual and the collective, the mechanical daily life and art.

This is yet another opportunity to form audiences, to educate through art and to stimulate a fringe of the population that, for decades, has lived far from art and, even more so, from contemporary art. 15 anos de MACE is a political investment, based on the cohesion and development of the cultural, critical and conceptual capacities of the people of the interior of Alentejo.

15 Anos de MACE – Aqui somos rede  is on display until August 15, in 25 venues in the city of Elvas, featuring around 200 Portuguese and foreign artists.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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