António Bolota, Paulo Arraiano and João Paulo Serafim (CAD Resident Artists)
At Luciano Benetton Collection


Portuguese art signifies an art from Portugal that has nothing Portuguese about it, so as not to imitate what is foreign. Being Portuguese, in the proper sense of the word, means being European without the bad form of nationality. - Fernando Pessoa

To understand the desire of the Portuguese to set sail in search of new worlds, we just have to go to Lisbon, to the mouth of the Tagus. Passing through the Arco da Rua Augusta in Praia do Comercio, gateway onto the Atlantic, the attraction for the unknown that made Portugal a land of explorers becomes almost palpable. Some of the greatest navigators of all time set sail from this corner of Europe that borders the sea, from a capital that even now shows an unconditioned passion for travel. It is, therefore, the ideal place to reflect on the Portugal of today, whose energies are directed mainly towards the economic recovery of the country. Since 2011, in fact, in exchange for a plan of international aid, the government has introduced reforms that are as severe as they are unpopular in order to revive the economy, causing widespread discontent that has mixed with that deeply rooted expression of Portuguese culture, the saudade, a kind of poetic melancholy for the past. But Portugal is still the country of Vasco da Gama, and the ability to look to the world and to the future has not abandoned the Portuguese. So, to compensate for the steady decline in domestic consumption, companies have invested in new technology to attract customers and compete abroad. Today exports are worth more than 40 per cent of Portuguese GDP, in 2009 they only accounted for 27 per cent. On a cultural level, now the emergency (which had led to

hypothesis, subsequently averted, of auctioning 85 state-owned works by Mir6 to swell the public coffers) is receding, the country is animated by a strong resolve - especially by the new generations - to build a better future through education. And in this context, art, once again, plays a key role. Portugal, moreover, can count on a tradition whose origins are lost in the mists of time. Graffiti discovered in 1994 in Foz Coa (in the Douro region) confirms that artistic expression in Portugal dates back twenty thousand years. This rock art is accompanied by dolmens and ritual sculptures, scattered across different locations. From the Moorish architectural influence, with its patio and azulejos (from the Arabic az-zuleycha: polished stone, terracotta), to the sad and passionate strains of Fado, combining Arabic, Lusitanian and African notes, Portuguese tradition has often become a springboard towards the future. An opportunity to see the country's past through modern eyes. If twentieth century modernism is substantially linked to the European movements, particularly those in France, in the seventies, Portugal developed a more autonomous artistic language in the wake of the "Carnation Revolution" of 1974, in the euphoria determined by the end of the Salazar dictatorship and the intellectual isolation of the nation. A now historic exhibition of 1977 - Alternativa Zero, Tendencias Polemicas na Arte Portuguesa Contemporer nea, organized at the Galeria de Arte Nacional de Belem in Lisbon - can be considered the symbol of a reclaimed political and cultural freedom. A new aesthetic horizon, a fresh beginning, using the languages of modern art, such as happenings, performances, video art, body art. Since then, Portuguese visual art has once again begun to reclaim its place, opening a dialogue with the rest of the world to affirm both the specificity of Portuguese culture and its internationality. 

Today, the two main cities, Lisbon and Oporto, are competing for the contemporary art scene with the energies of many young artists, designers, cultural collectives and gallery owners, all in search of a future to be created. A number of avant-garde institutions in the international art circuit are based in Lisbon, in many cases products of the foresight of private collectors, like the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Museu Colecao Berardo and Kunsthalle Lissabon. In Oporto, the Serralves Museum is a leading player, a minimalist concrete and steel building set in the park of the Serralves Foundation, designed by Alvaro Siza, Pritzker prize winner (a sort of Nobel Prize of architecture) in 1992. It is also a reminder to us that Oporto is, and has always been, a city of great architects and great projects, such as the Burgo building, a geometric complex with an 18-storey skyscraper, and the Trindade Metro Station, both designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura. Among other things, Siza and Souto de Moura jointly designed the Municipio subway stop in Naples, one of the city's captivating art stations. Appreciation of Portuguese art also involves less central areas of the country. In Alentejo, one of the least prosperous regions, the Eugenio de Almeida Foundation has opened a museum dedicated to contemporary artistic languages in the ancient city of Evora, housed in a historic building that was once the headquarters of the Inquisition. Further east, in Elvas, near the border with Spain, the city's Museum of Contemporary Art, established in 2007, is located in a historic building beautifully decorated with azulejos, in a poetic mix of tradition and contemporary appeal. The magnificent tradition of the azulejos, and that of textiles and of cork, are repeated in many artistic pursuits aimed at the rejuvenation of historic crafts. A good example is the work of artist Joana Vasconcelos, who presented a real Lisbon ferry at the Venice Biennale

in 2013, decorated on the outside with thousands of blue and white ceramic tiles, as a symbol of the shared similarities between the two cities: the sea and navigation. In general, as evidenced by this collection of 213 10x12 centimetre works, the focus of the Portuguese artists is at once the future, feeding on the past and its magic, and the contradictions of a great history. If, as Portuguese contemporary art expert Filipa Casulo writes in her introduction, today "Portuguese artists have difficulties in expanding their work internationally", Imago Mundi aims to support and promote their search for new horizons. The artists of Portugal bear witness to our presently difficult, on occasion tormented, times. But they are also able to intercept and re-elaborate the demands for change. Inventors of new opportunities, they consider their work a necessary and vital requirement. As the famous Portuguese director Manuel De Oliveira said, "if they ask me why I make films, I immediately think: why not ask me why I breathe". 

Luciano Benetton