The Serralves Foundation in Porto, with its wonderful contemporary art museum, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Alvaro Siza Vieira (known in the UK for his design of the 2005 Serpentine Pavilion), is the most visited art gallery in the country. Set in a glorious 18-hectare park, the stunning white structure in concrete and steel, has 14 exhibition spaces over three floors. Also on the grounds is a lovely 1930s art deco villa used today as the foundation’s offices and as an annex for the gallery. It is not difficult to see why Serralves is held in such high regard in Portugal. However, it undoubtedly deserves a higher profile worldwide and the appointment last year of British curator Suzanne Cotter as director of the museum seems like a wise move in that direction. Ms. Cotter (previously with Modern Art, Oxford, the Whitechapel and Hayward galleries) curates several temporary shows each year and presides over an impressive permanent collection. Dating from the late 1960s to present, the collection includes more than 4,000 works from Portuguese and international artists including Paula Rego, Helena Almeida, Claes Oldenburg, Luc Tuymans, Cildo Meireles and Tacita Dean.
The foundation recently celebrated its 25th anniversary at a lavish black-tie event attended by the museum’s patrons, Portuguese entrepreneurs and artists, international journalists and the Prime Minister, Antonio Passos Coelho. Luís Braga da Cruz, President of the Serralves board, reminded guests that the aim of the organisation was to create ‘a distinct dialogue between Portuguese artists and their foreign counterparts’ and the gallery certainly appears to be successful in that regard. On our visit, we saw Histories, an exhibition showcasing works from the permanent collection, including Richard Long and Luisa Cunha in the park, Hans Haacke, Richard Serra and Helena Almeida in the villa and Liam Gillick, Tino Sehgal and Franz West in the gallery. And on the night of the anniversary event we were treated to a powerful musical performance from Chicago artist Theaster Gates’ ensemble The Black Monks of Mississippi, who moved in a slow procession through the villa performing a musical mixture of blues, gospel and Buddhist chanting. The performance was reminiscent of Gates’ solo exhibition ‘My Labor is My Protest’ at London’s White Cube in 2012.
Opening this week, on 10 October, is Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings 1974-2014, a rare exhibition of Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s sculptural works and drawings, many of which have not been exhibited since the 1970s. In January 2015, the show will travel to the Guggenheim in New York. Another Iranian artist, Nairy Baghramian, has produced Cold Shoulder (until 14 December), a specially commissioned four-piece sculptural work made of iron, fibreglass, fabric and resin, dotted around the grounds of the museum and villa.
Definitely worth seeing next year (September – December 2015) will be an exciting collaboration between the Serralves and the Sao Paulo Biennial that will mark the first time the Biennial has travelled outside of Brazil. Curators from Serralves and the Biennial will produce an exhibition from this year’s Biennial which will showcase art, architecture and the surrounding nature of the Serralves park.
Words/ Joanne Shurvell Photo: Paul Allen