Álbum de Família – like a landscape, listening to the beat of your own home

Maria da Graça Carmona e Costa’s role in Portuguese contemporary art is so crucial that to consider her absence and question “what would have been?” could render the national artistic panorama a scenario beyond obscure. The Álbum de Família exhibition, curated by Manuel Costa Cabral and João Pinharanda and arranged in two venues – MAAT and Fundação Carmona e Costa – is the first time the private collection of one of Portugal’s most important private benefactors has been shown to the public.

Curated in a way that prioritises the collection’s diversity, either by having different works on a single wall or by making the pieces breathe, without throwing some artists into one or other section, but rather blending them together in the venue, both moments make the show more than just a sort of representative catalogue, revealing the ceaseless drive of someone passionate about art and who raised a house, aware, of course, that a family is not a taken-for-granted asset, but rather a permanently under-construction home. There is seemingly no specific curatorial method, since there is no collecting process – and the priority has been to give life to the collection as an urge, intimacy and connection to art’s reality – beyond the delight of seeing and interacting with the works. As such, this exhibition takes the viewer’s place, restoring to us our lost and wandering image in a world that, no matter how hostile it may seem, abounds with forms. There are still places where we can enter and indulge in a labyrinth littered with dialogues, echoes, weaving more or less explicit inferences between works, playing an allegorical game of time and, above all, of life.

Part I starts with a large black cloud, by Pedro Calapez, on a yellow wall, containing a constellation of art books and catalogues, precisely those sponsored by the FCC, highlighting the historical importance of the exhibition itself, helping us to acknowledge that this exhibition is the will-o’-the-wisp of a bloodline that will inevitably extend beyond the main branch. Ilda David’s tapestry cuts through the first room; instead of dividing or segregating, it generates a continuity effect between the pieces by means of the fluttering movement caused by visitors passing by. Various techniques and styles are on display – from painting on wood or canvas, with graphite or acrylic, to marble sculpture, to the use of mirrors; from the monochrome to the exploding colour. We cannot point to any bias in this collection, except, of course, the personal taste of the co-collector.

The pieces are spread out without any fundamental or methodological symmetry. The co-existence of painting, drawing and sculpture also means that the room is unequally organised – and hence habitable and inviting. The beautiful room, made up of drawings by Rui Chafes, Pedro Calapez and Jorge Martins, stands out. Its centrepiece – temporary, as it all seems movable – is a sculptural piece by Manuel Rosa, featuring an igloo and an upside-down marble canoe: objects infused with aura energy, opposed to any utilitarian or functional appeal. There are 21 watercolours by João Queiroz in another room, together with a set of small drawings by Pedro Cabrita Reis and a sculpture of his in which transparency calls for weight and body, advocating the essential penetrability of physics, on the scale and size of a jug of water standing on a glass shelf. But the refinement that certain sober pieces reveal, such as Manuel Rosa’s, is complemented by other forms as counterweights, namely in Theatron, Pedro Valdez Cardoso’s sculpture, showing an indiscriminate assortment of waste – from skulls to soft drink cans -, evenly covered with cardboard and adhesive tape, blurring the line between the residual and the vital, or turning one and the other into matter that we long to keep, harvest and make the most of, against all odds of preservation or survival. António Sena, Vieira da Silva, Rui Sanches, Pedro Saraiva, Julião Sarmento, Fernanda Fragateiro, among others, turn this exhibition opening into a place that often seems to pose the question: what are the possibilities of living on the edge between two bodies? In the incalculable gap between one step and the next? And if we are not living on the edge – consider Rui Sanches’ sculpture, where the reflection in a mirror turns a pair of heads into a quartet of questions -, what surface is available to us for walking, for founding and building, in short, for stopping and halting movement?

Part II kicks off with Mapa by Maria José Oliveira, coffee sacks forming four worlds, four planets, incorporating into the archetypal function, as an external perspective upon the territory we are meant to inhabit and sign, the stain, the debris of everyday life which is the sparse – but non-reproducible, unique – matter we can use to think about what is greater. Standing next to this piece is a layered drawing by Thierry Simões: on the one hand, against its backdrop, in the foreground of the paper, we see the synoptic marks of columns, roofs and stone staircases; on the other, a large cloud of smoke rises above the drawing, introducing a new time and attributing the thick constructive logic of a dream and the shrouded, obsessive certainty of fiction. The exhibition at FCC acquires a more intimate character, perhaps because the exhibition venue is smaller, but also because the rooms are less wide. Drawing and photography are the two prevailing styles, and the presence of sculpture is now emphasised by smaller pieces, all of which are hand-held and/or potential household items, with works by João Cutileiro, Luís Paul Costa, Pedro Calapez and Miguel Branco, among others. Photography has a small room with works by Daniel Blaufuks, Paulo Nozolino and António Júlio Duarte. By Blaufuks, The Hostage Negotiators leads off the hall as if expressing a dilemma which, in our opinion, lies between photography’s intention to bring us closer (through technical prowess and the urge to get somewhere, to unveil some secret) – Rosa Mutabilis by André Gomes is a good example – and the estranging effect it ultimately endorses – see Do Natural #1 by António Júlio Duarte. This dramatic tension, initiated by the eagerness to look at the truth of things by photographing them, and the distorting and unsettling direction that the photographic record potentiates by distancing, stops the impulse to archive, collect and imagine. Drawings by José de Guimarães along one wall, by Pedro A.H. Paixão across another, works by Jorge Molder made from photo negatives, pieces by Helena Almeida, Mariana Gomes, Ana Hatherly, Manuel Baptista are just some of the cardinal points on this map of nowhere. In other words, this constellation of affections, with no other purpose than the enjoyment of friendship, as Montagne wrote about it in his Essays: “Friendship, unlike [love], is experienced as it is sought, and only emerges, develops and grows in its enjoyment, since it is spiritual, and the soul is perfected by practice”. This is a good way of putting the spirit into practice, or the spirit that never stops dragging its feet, opening cracks in the world’s broad surface.

This collection is all about making a start. This exhibition is something new – like childbirth with different moments and tonalities, changeable territories and extras – which holds out the promise of a new home (part III) in 2024.

It would be wonderful to believe in the truth as an enormous parade of masks when we open our family album. We would be one step closer to our own time by inventing our own truth.

Álbum de Família I is on show at Maat until April 1, 2024; Álbum de Família II, at Fundação Carmona e Costa, until January 2024.

Master in Portuguese Studies, with the thesis “Modos de Cindir para Continuar: uma leitura de A Noite e o Riso e Estação, de Nuno Bragança”, from Nova University of Lisbon, where is currently pursuing her PhD and working on a thesis on Agustina Bessa-Luís and Manoel de Oliveira, from the concept of melancholia. FCT scholarship holder, having published poetry and essay in national and international magazines, she has published two poetry books: Hidrogénio (2020) and Rasura (2021). She is also co-editor of Lote magazine and writes literary criticism for Observador.

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