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A COLLECTION IS A WEB OF EMOTIONS AND MEMORIES (2009)
by Delfim Sardo
When I was asked to select the works for a book about the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos I recalled the moment when Fernando Calhau (1948-2002), a plastic artist with a unique career in the Portuguese context, started the consultancy relationship that would set up an acquisitions plan that later allowed the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos to step up to a level of demand that established a museological parameter. The memory of that moment has arisen because, through the strategy defined by Caixa Geral de Depósitos, the holdings that were brought together since 1983 became a part of a concerted strategy with aims defined towards forming a reference in Portuguese art and culture, besides being an investment guided by clear and measurable principles.+ Keep Reading
The ambition of a collection such as that of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos – that is, the collection belonging to a major public bank – should always be that of forming a holding of works that possess the quality to be publicly exhibited in a museum context, safeguarding the artistic production from the abyss of oblivion. This qualitative parameter does not only contemplate one type of works, but refers to its highlighting towards the knowledge of transformations and developments in art, independently of the size or scale of the works, yet without losing sight of their meaning as cultural heritage.
This is a difficult task in the sense that artistic production is immense and multiple, and develops in different directions, even if we focus on the individual careers of the artists, which are often somewhat complex. If there is one characteristic that cannot be claimed for artists it is that of coherence, in the sense that volubility of choices is a prerogative that art has at any given moment.
A collection is defined through axes of development, acquisition goals that may be temporal, stylistic, by – generational or historic – tendency, but which are al- ways through one fundamental option: that of knowing whether the history of art is better documented through accompanying the artists’ careers, or whether, contrarily, the artists are taken by a work that represents them exemplarily. In other words, it is a matter of deciding whether the artists should be represented with a paradigmatic work, a masterpiece that sums up their course, or whether the artist’s creative path is taken as a development of choices and aesthetic options, with it thus becoming necessary to acquire works from different moments, a task that requires greater knowledge of the art scene and the market.
Each of these options contains a decision that pre- supposes a particular view of art and artists: if the artists’ course is accompanied at each significant moment with acquisition of works that at different moments demonstrate the developments of their career, one is valorising creative individuality and the idiosyncratic nature of each author; if the authors are represented by a single work, there is a valorising of the history of art itself, taking each artist as a point in the constellation that draws up a national, periodic or other kind of scenario.
Probably each of these models exists in combination within the mobile and dynamic strategy of each collection’s strategy, shaping the cultural stance of the institutions that are collecting.
In the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos the transformations in perspective that the Collection has undergone since its progressive constitution represent different ways of understanding institutional collectionism itself, bringing together these different kinds of collection in a developing manner. The same thing is the case in countless collections that are perpetuated over time and which are also the historical product of determined cultures of collectionism.
A collection is not only what is in it, but also what it doesn’t contain, forming a network of references and internal remissions that builds a point of view on artistic reality (or a version of artistic reality), highlighting artists and careers and bringing tendencies and currents to life.
Furthermore, a collection is also the way that it is publicly presented, the time range that it defines for its future and the way it is linked to the fabric of artistic creation of its own time. On the other hand, a collection is never a pure, wilful exercise on the part of the person who decides to establish it, or by the person who technically and curatorially develops it: it is the result of what is available on the market at a given moment, the budget granted to it, the aims defined for it and the relationship it establishes with creators and the art market, who begin to see it as a priority destination for the works by the artists whom they defend, accompanied by others that are mutually legitimised. A collection sets up a standard of demanding for itself, one which transforms it into a destination sought out by artists and gallery owners, due to the fact that it provides a cultural or investment guarantee in the sense that the solidity of the listed prestige of the works of art is also measurable by the institutions that possess works by the same artist, from the same period or which are of a similar tendency.
In order to understand the relationship that an institutional collection defines with the market and the cultural fabric we may turn to a comparison with the catalogue of a book publishing company. Sometimes, on the shelves in a bookshop, our attention is drawn to certain works simply because they are published within a collection that includes other books that have merited our reading attention. The collection operates as a legitimising process if it defines for itself a status of reference, which is formed by the intrinsic quality of what it includes, but also by the generic typology of the range of what is included and, perforce, is not included.
This range of possibilities and expectations that forms a collection affects our perspective when we are confronted by it, because a collection is not a repository of everything, but a set of works that establish relation- ships and that propose a set of configurations – among other possible ones. In this sense the centre of a collection is the web of links that defines the rules that we sense (or which are completely explicit).
That was the major innovation that has been introduced by the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos in the recent history of artistic culture in Portugal: it was the first collection by a financial institution to valorise the rigour of the strategic perspective that was defined culturally and historically due to values of the accessibility of cultural items, knowing that the task of collecting and preserving heritage is fundamental when guided by principles of economic opportunity.
In a famous text by Michel Foucault (The Order of Things, 1966), the cataloguing and organizing of human knowledge is understood as coming from a determined cultural and historical system. An art collection, as a sys- tem of the organization of works of art (but also of aes- thetic criteria and options), starts from cultural systems and the organization of artistic abilities that cannot be confused with mere systems of taste. Thus the organi- zation of a collection is a deposit of a set of relationships among artistic perspectives that may allow many differ- ent approaches – preferably awareness-raising and clarifying ones – towards the artistic creation of a determined period from the observation point made up by a given framing, defined in a place.
The place of the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos corresponds to the contemporary Portuguese situation, and its institutional setting comes from the way that the largest state bank in Portugal sees its social and cultural responsibility.
It is from this context that the Colecção da Caixa may be approached, and within it one may seek the funda- mental axes of its development, as well as the aims that have presided over its acquisitions.
In setting out the history of the Collection, one might say that it went through two founding and structuring moments in its course: the first moment, corresponding to the acquisition of a considerable and diverse holding that had been developed since 1983, and the second – which continues to this day – that began with the acquisitions proposed by Fernando Calhau, following a strict plan approved by the Board, and which would be the starting point, in 1992, for the Colecção da Caixa itself.
The profile established at that time for the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos was the result of a contextual assessment – carried out in 1990 – of the Portuguese institutional collections, namely of the Colecção da (then) Secretaria de Estado da Cultura – most of which would then be incorporated, also in 1992, within the Fundação de Serralves. This assessment of the possibilities for development had a clear intention to pro- mote growth in keeping with an accompanying of artistic creation, a practice which was somewhat un- common in the institutional collections up to that time. In this manner, pride of place was given to commissions of works from artists, the refining of the Collection through a criterion of excellence, and a very close accompanying of the exhibition activity. Indeed, the parameters that the consultant Fernando Calhau used at the time for the Collection plan, which proposed to centre upon the search for quality works that had marked the Portuguese reality from the nineteen sixties onwards, that is, those which were structuring in relation to the contemporary Portuguese cultural condition, in the case of the greatest historical backtrackings; the remaining acquisitions were proposals coming from the liveliness of the artistic creation presented on the gallery circuit, thus drawing attention to the auction market, which is only used for seeking out specific works or detecting particularly relevant lots on the market.
In order to understand that plan it is necessary to recall the following facts: since 1911 Lisbon had possessed a Museu de Arte Contemporânea, one of the first in the world if we consider the date of its founding. However its programming and the Portuguese collections it brought together came, from its outset, totally from Portuguese late naturalism, with the collection being barred to modernist artists excepting those who had collaborated with the dictatorship. A striking example of this is the difficulty involved in including Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, the most important painter in Portuguese modernism, in our museum scene. Also in relation to this, it is worth mentioning that the most important nucleus of works by Souza-Cardoso was acquired by the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in 1957 – 39 years after the painter’s death – as the first action to valorise the modern in a Portugal that was closed and incapable of establishing itself. Being completely removed from contemporary practices, the Museu de Arte Contemporânea never fulfilled its function (made clear in its name) before it was closed down after a fire destroyed the Chiado area of Lisbon in 1988. After the fire, through collaboration with the French state, the architect Jean Villmotte drew up a project for remodelling the Museum, which corresponds to the building as it exists to this day. Thus it is easy to understand the importance granted in 1983 to the opening of the Centro de Arte Moderna – Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (CAM-FCG). This had been planned in 1979 as a nineteen seventies museum, based on the ideas of artistic experiment and clearly informed by the figure of Ernesto de Sousa. At the time the latter was the most important Portuguese critic – particularly as he had held an exhibition that marked the post-revolutionary period in Portugal, Alternativa zero (in 1977), which brought together a broad group of artists who defended the idea of artistic exper- imentation, something very relevant in the art culture of the seventies. Although from the start of the project – just as can be read in the minutes of the proceedings that the Board which approved it in 1979 – and its completion there is a significant ideological and pro- grammatic hiatus, with the reduction of the collection to the strictly Portuguese field, added to which there was a collection of British pop art, acquired at the right moment with the consultancy aid of, among others, Herbert Read, the CAM-FCG was the first museum of Portuguese modernity. In this sense it greatly con- tributed towards the fixing of the generations of artists who had begun their careers in the fifties and sixties. Immediately upon its opening, the CAM-FCG programme chose to cover a broader area, leaving behind its initial project to become the main premises of experimentalism, conceptual approaches and the aggiornamento of Portuguese art. However, due to its wide spectrum it was the only centre for the divulging of consequent artistic culture until the creation of the Fundação de Serralves in Oporto, which opened the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves in 1999.
In 1992, therefore, the only active institutions in the field of contemporary art were the CAM-FCG and the Fundação de Serralves (albeit yet without a museum), both with a collection, though only the first of them had room for its permanent exhibition. The Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB), as well as Culturgest, would open only in the following year, in 1993. In the first case the housing of a public collection was never decided upon – al- though the embryo of the collection was formed in 1996 by the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, yet without any continuity, and was eventually loaned to the CCB. Besides the above-mentioned institutional collections, there was another collection that had started being developed since 1986, that of the Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento, which, however, would specifically centre on drawing – thus fulfilling an impor- tant role in this area – particularly because it found a specific focus that was well-adapted to the dimension of the investment concerned, which did not provide enough room for permanent or regular public presentation.
So the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos project was particularly important in the sense that the ambition to form a nucleus of works by the most relevant Portuguese artists, complementing and granting a clear direction to the acquisitions that had been made since 1983, and at the same time establishing a narrative of what had been the transformation in Portuguese art over the last forty years, was fertile ground for its devel- opment and a veritable cultural opportunity.
On his nomination as director of the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, in 1995, Fernando Calhau stopped working as acquisitions consultant for the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos, but not without having held two important exhibitions of the Collection in the Culturgest premises entitled Arte moderna em Portugal 1 and 2, which took place in 1993 and 1995 respectively, and presented a nucleus of works resulting from the recent acquisitions.
Both of the catalogues are symptomatic of a collection that was structured along very solid working lines – many of the works reproduced in this book were in those exhibitions – testing (and proving) the museological quality of the Collection, which not only accompanied the recent careers of these artists but also backtracked historically including recent acquisitions of seminal works by Helena Almeida, Lourdes Castro, and António Dacosta, among others, besides a prospective effort aimed at discovering the new artists who were starting to solidify their careers, like João Queiroz or Pedro Sousa Vieira, and also a consolidating nuclei of very noteworthy artists like Pedro Cabrita Reis and Julião Sarmento.
After this phase the Collection went through an interregnum in the acquisitions process, with it having been decided by the Board of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos to restart buying in 2000. Culturgest, the company within the Group that was dedicated to (and still is dedicated to, although now in a new format as a Foundation) cultural promoting and divulging, was given charge of out- lining a policy of purchases and of putting it into practice.
In the meantime, some consultations with outside specialists were held, and the attitude towards acquisitions changed, going from a position of acquiring works exclu- sively by Portuguese artists to an attempt to include Brazilian art production and that of the Portuguese- speaking countries, following the project drawn up by António Pinto Ribeiro, then in charge of programming, and Fátima Ramos, administrator of Culturgest at the time. Taking this approach some acquisitions were made based on contemporary production, including works by Lygia Pape, Valeska Soares and Tunga, among others. Thus, works by very significant artists such as António Ole and Fernando Alvim, from Angola, and Efrain Almeida and Adriana Varejão from Brazil joined the holding, which now stood as a contemporary art collection centred on the Portuguese-speaking world. During this period an exhibition and a catalogue were produced, Arte contemporânea/Colecção Caixa Geral de Depósitos novas aquisições (2002), in which for the first time there was a complete listing of the works existing in the Caixa Geral de Depósitos holding.
In more recent years the acquisitions have been the result of proposals by Culturgest, namely by its consultant, Miguel Wandschneider, and there has been an option to continue intensive acquisitions by artists, ac- companying their careers in the museological approach that started in 1992. In this field the Collection encountered a second, no less important task – that of carrying out a living memory of the exhibition activity that Culturgest carries out, fixing the most significant moments through the incorporating of works of reference presented in the monographic and anthological exhibitions that Culturgest has been holding.
This is an extremely important task, because what it depends on is the fixing of a holding that defines a memory of the art that is produced and presented in Portugal, establishing the role of Culturgest and the Caixa Geral de Depósitos on the Portuguese context with strategic clarity and a clear consciousness.
Thus the last few years has witnessed a set of acquisitions by some artists who are less represented in the Portuguese collections but who had an important in the nineties and the beginning of this new century, such as Ana Jotta, Francisco Tropa, Ricardo Jacinto and Bruno Pacheco, artists whose works were acquired in accordance with the divulging of their works presented in the Culturgest exhibition spaces in Lisbon and in Oporto.
The Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos has come to occupy an outstanding position as a landmark on two levels: firstly, as the fixing of the memory of recent Por- tuguese art, that is, of the art coming from the rupture with the second 20th century avant-gardes; secondly as a mechanism for preserving the artistic proposals that the artists themselves carry out and develop throughout their courses.
At the same time there is an invisible side to any collection that deals with the treatment, inventory, conservation and public presentation of the holding that has been developed, giving way to the increasing work of taking the collection on travels outside the main urban centres, through a policy that acts as a permanent test of the possibilities for presenting such a useful holding.
In terms of its development, the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos has been defined over these last two decades and a half, as we have already stated, as an im- portant repository within the context of the heritage preservation of the memory of recent Portuguese art. The excellence of its choice exists alongside a strategy guided by close attention to the practice of the artists, and also by the museological showing of the works themselves. This means that one of the acquisition cri- teria has involved the fact that the works possess a unique and individual exhibition quality, granting them a universality that makes them go beyond the context of their authors’ production in order to take up a position in the history of art.
Yet such a view of understanding an institutional collection as an integrated set of works that allow an overview of the specific nature of individual creation and the view of imagination as to the future History of Art seems to stand as the noblest destiny of any institutional collection.
One might yet pose a second issue of some standing: the geographical breadth of the Collection. In relation to this matter it is necessary to take into consideration that almost all the Portuguese public institutional collections are national collections. This is the case of the Colecção do Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea – Museu do Chiado, of the Colecção do Centro de Arte Moderna – Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, as well as the Colecção da Fundação Luso-Americana. The exceptions to this rule, which are natural in a country which put up with a long dictatorship, came along way after the 1974 Revolution with private collections such as the Colecção Berardo, the Colecção Ellipse Foundation or, in institutional terms, the Colecção da Fundação de Serralves. Now with a significant institutional and policy option having been established, it is natural for attention to turn to the Colecção da Caixa Geral de Depósitos, which possesses, as we have seen, a brief incursion into Africa and Brazil, in the sense that this may hold an important role as an international bridge with a well-aimed, specific focus.
The option to form a collection reflecting the relationship among Europe, Africa and Brazil may also establish a possibility for important future development.
In this context, the possible options are determining for the contextualisation of the nucleus of works collected up to that time, in the sense that in any collection (as we have stated above) the acquisitions define differ- ent contexts that allow a re-setting of the importance of each work within a wider circumstance. Thus, a collection is not only a mere repository of more or less important works, but rather a view on the events that make up the stuff of art at each moment, in each historical, social, geopolitical and, obviously, emotional context.
A collection like that of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos lives through choices, but also through the gap between the works, which one hopes it may include, thus forming a strategic future statement within its emotional map. And that is what a collection is for: to enable us to be able to look to the future of art through what its past has been. A past which is imagined, based on choices that one considers to be incisive and committed to their time. In a certain sense a collection is a retro-prospective view.
For this book about the choices and the multiplicity of the Colecção da Caixa works have been selected that possess some importance in recent Portuguese art, works that have marked turning points in their authors’ careers, or which possess a poetic universe that make them unique.
In terms of organization we have followed the criterion that is most straightforward and easiest to consult: alphabetical order by authors. Many of the works are accompanied by texts. Their aim is not to be essay-standard works on the Theory or History of Art, but rather conversations with the works, in some cases short narratives on their origins or connections that seem to be fitting. I hope that the pleasure I had in writing them is in some way transmitted to the reader.
Finally, the book includes a short biography and two bibliographical entries about each artist (for those who desire a little more information).
Throughout its lifetime, the Collection has seen several different exhibitions and publications that have come for- ward with different ways of understanding it and making it known. Its vitality lies above all in this diversity.- Resume