Does Lisbon Have a Future in the Contemporary Art Market?
Three galleries are opening in the city this week, coinciding with the second edition of the fair ARCOlisboa.
Yesterday, the second edition of ARCOlisboa held its preview at the Cordoaria Nacional, gathering 58 galleries from 13 countries. It’s only been one year since the Portuguese spin-off of Spain’s premier contemporary art fair, ARCOmadrid, staged its debut edition, which raised eyebrows when it was first announced, questioning the viability (or necessity) of a fair in a country not known for its art market prowess. But a mere 12 months have yielded a hugely significant transformation in the local art scene.
The week began with the grand opening of Galeria Francisco Fino on Monday night, with a massive party where 300 guests celebrated the ambitious project of the young dealer, who opened a vast gallery space in a warehouse in the area of Marvila, near local staples like Galeria Baginski, Filomena Soares, and Múrias Centeno.
The ambitious inaugural show—which gathers works by established artists like Irma Blank, Tris Vonna-Michell, and Maria Loboda, alongside emerging names like Karlos Gil, Debora Delmar Corp. and Diana Policarpo—has been put together by the young Portuguese curator João Laia. Somewhat of rising star, Laia has curated a host of exhibitions across the city this week, as well the new Opening section at the fair, which showcases young galleries.
On Tuesday, following the trajectory of ARCO, Madrid’s MaisterraValbuena launched its new Lisbon gallery, with a beautiful group show curated by João Mourão and Luís Silva, the duo behind the reputed nonprofit Kunsthalle Lissabon and featuring works by Leonor Antunes, André Romao, Joana Escoval, and Haris Epaminonda among others.
“Opening a gallery in Lisbon sounds certainly more surprising than doing so in London or Paris, but we really wanted to open a space somewhere we could feel at home,” Belén Valbuena, who left Madrid to helm the Lisbon space, told artnet News. “The art scene in Lisbon and Portugal is small but very rich, with a very solid artistic tradition, and we thought we could make a mark here.”
“ARCOlisboa has been very well received in the city and has generated a lot of attention for the local scene, offering one more reason to visit. Our focus are collectors both national and international, and we want to foster cultural relations between Portugal and Spain.”
She might have a point there, as despite being neighbors, the cultural rapport between the two countries has not always been fluid, with both developing solid art scenes that seemed quite insulated from each other.
Things are definitely a-changing here, and after a deep economic recession, Portugal is not only opening up towards Spain, but towards the rest of the world—particularly the rest of Europe, and Brazil.
Many insiders, including dealers, collectors, and artists, have told arnet News about the slew of wealthy French, Belgian, and Swiss collectors that have been buying second homes in Portugal in the last few years, taking advantage of the low real estate prices and lenient tax regime, while triggering the economic recovery—generating the classic process of gentrification that is usually welcomed by investors and dreaded by (some) locals.
A third gallery is opening here this week, Monitor from Rome, which is also participating at the fair with a group presentation of gallery artists, including Nathaniel Mellors, fresh from his acclaimed participation at the Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
“We had a satellite space in New York for two years, which was a great experience for us. Here, we wanted to do something different, permanent. We are interested in Portuguese artists and the art scene here is very rich but not saturated, so it feels like there’s still space to be part of something,” Paola Capata, the gallery’s director, told artnet News at the fair.
“We don’t have many Portuguese and Spanish collectors, so setting up a space here opens a lot new possibilities for us, and there’s a lot of European collectors buying homes here. Last week, in Venice, I met one of my Asian collectors from the Philippines, who told me he was looking at properties here, so there’s definitely a vibe.”
Meanwhile, the second edition of ARCOlisboa has seen the fair grow by an additional 15 galleries, going from the 43 of the debut edition to 58 this year.
“The idea of launching the fair came from having conversations with the local galleries, which felt there was a need for it. For us, Lisbon has all the ingredients to become a very solid contemporary art hub, but not on a massive, de-personalized scale, as the art scene here feels very much like a community,” Maribel López, deputy director of both ARCO fairs, told artnet News.
“Collectors here are very loyal to, and very engaged with, local artists. So I think our role is to foster that local engagement, while opening up a more international perspective,” she added.
But is this wave of galleries opening spaces in the city directly related with the launch of the fair?
“I think ARCOlisboa is both effect and consequence,” Francisco Fino, who’s also participating in the Opening section of the fair, told artnet News. “There are international galleries planning to open spaces in Lisbon, artists moving here, and collectors buying here and living here, so I think ARCO is relevant, no doubt, but part of a richer context that was already building up the city.”
“ARCO is definitely an element of interest when thinking about opening a gallery in Lisbon, but I don’t think about it as the main reason,” chimed in Matteo Consonni, who launched his gallery Madragoa last year to great acclaim, shortly before the first edition of the fair.
“The city has ideal conditions for new galleries with experimental programs to start and operate, but I don’t think the local art market is the key here,” Consonni, who was director of Turin’s Franco Noero gallery for five years, added.
“Lisbon has always had a fantastic artist scene, but there were very few opportunities to internationalize the city. Now, we have these opportunities and interest from abroad. ARCO is a huge agent, as it is the first time that Portugal has an international event of this caliber, but the younger galleries that have opened spaces in the last year have also been key,” the curator João Laia told artnet News.
“In more general terms, when the government changed two years ago, ending the austerity measures, the national economy also started to improve, creating a framework of optimism in the country that you can really feel in the streets. The combination of all these elements is making for a really extraordinary moment for the country,” Laia added.
Whether this buzz consolidates into a solid scene, able to support both ARCO and the host of new galleries that are opening in the city down the line, remains to be seen. For now, with two further international galleries rumoured to be setting up shop in Lisbon in September, it seems people think the fledging Portuguese art market is definitely worth investing in.
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