Any museum would be pleased to have a single work by some of the artists represented in Lisbon’s Berardo Collection Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, but for a single museum to open owning so many was almost unthinkable. From the start it was intended to be a living textbook of the many movements and directions in modern art, and it succeeds admirably.
Such a collection at the opening of a museum could only happen through the gift of a major collection, and Portuguese entrepreneur José Berardo had just such a collection. Although he had already opened Monte Palace Tropical Garden on the island of Madeira as a home for his extensive collection of azulejos and artifacts showing the long commercial and cultural ties between Portugal and Japan, Berardo had long dreamed of a public home for his personal modern art collection. He wanted a museum with public sector commitment that would continue to share the works of modern masters with Portugal and the world.
But where? Lisbon had recently converted an abandoned ammunition factory in its museum neighborhood of Belem into a cultural center, but this state-of-the-art exhibition space had no permanent collections to display. The timing was perfect for Berardo; the stunning building was a perfect home to his collection, one of the world’s finest assemblages of modern art.
About 250 of the more than 800 works Berardo gave the museum will be on display at any time, always including a mix of media to illustrate the main themes of the collection. Berardo chose his purchases not randomly, but to create a textbook of the various movements and directions in modern art. Paintings, sculpture, photography and installations are displayed chronologically to show the principal movements – minimalism, kinetic art, pop art, arte povera – spotlighting the artists who worked in dozens of modern movements. The works cover the entire 20th century and continue to include the latesttrends and schools.
Major works by Warhol, Mondrian, Picasso, Dali, Modigliani, Magritte, Miró, Pollock, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Man Ray join those of less familiar artists that were movers and shakers in the avante garde movement. Although specific works may change with exhibits, visitors can always expect to see Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Judy Garland and Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil. The museum is free and open every day.
The shop is well worth browsing, filled with well-chosen handcrafts, art books, stationery and gifts chosen for their contemporary design. Quadrante, the café in the Cultural Centre’s Jardim das Oliveiras, serves light meals and has live jazz performances on Thursday evenings.
Take tram 15 from central Lisbon’s Praca Commercio, or the Cascais train line from Cais de Sodre to Praça do Império in Belem. This historic quarter along the banks of the Taugus River is filled with outstanding museums covering archaeology and maritime history, as well as the magnificent Jeronimos monastery.