Meet 5 Under-the-Radar Portuguese Art Collectors, From a Nuclear Physician to an Interior-Designer Couple
Portuguese's art scene was hit hard by the pandemic, but these dedicated collectors are helping support its recovery.
Portugal’s art scene has been gathering steam in recent years thanks to new art spaces, a growing number of expats, and a booming technology industry.
In 2016, the stunning Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology opened on the banks of the Tagus River in Lisbon. That same year, Ifema, the owner of Arco Madrid, launched a Portuguese spinoff, Arco Lisboa, in the city, with backing from the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce. The fair’s fifth edition took place earlier this month at the Cordoaria Nacional, a former naval rope-making factory.
Portugal was one of the European countries hardest hit by the pandemic. The E.U. is disbursing €13.9 billion in grants and €2.7 billion in loans to the nation, largely for investment in local infrastructure and business recovery, over the next four years. Many galleries in Lisbon and Porto were closed for much of 2020 and 2021.
Now, as the art scene reopens, home-grown collectors are amping up their commitment. On the heels of Arco Lisboa, we touched base with five top Portuguese collectors and collecting couples about what they’re looking at and where they shop both abroad and at home.
Maria and Armando Cabral
Day Jobs: Armando Cabral is a business strategy consultant; Maria Joao Santos works in technology and innovation. Both are in their early 50s.
What’s in the Collection: About 280 works, including photography, video, installation, and conceptual art by international and Portuguese artists from the 1970s onward. The couple started collecting around 16 years ago while living in London. After buying a few “decorative” pieces, Armando says, they started collecting seriously. Early acquisitions included film and video works by Alicja Kwade, Vasco Araújo, and duo João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. (They donated one work by the latter to Tate.) Also in the collection are works by post-conceptual artists such as Lawrence Weiner, John Baldessari, Julião Sarmento, Isa Genzken, and Cory Arcangel; historical Portuguese artists like Helena Almeida; Pictures Generation figures like Louise Lawler; and photography by Wolfgang Tillmans, André Cepeda, and António Júlio Duarte. “We collect very little painting,” Armando says, “but we currently have a marvelous painting by Jorge Queiroz in our living room.”
Distinguishing Feature: The couple have outfitted their home to display video and they do a thorough rehang each year. They also run a non-profit art space, Rialto 6, on the lower floors of their home. “We’re very lucky that we have similar interests in art—we usually show artists at Rialto 6 and acquire works that we both agree on,” Armando says. “For us, supporting the art community is much more important than collecting itself.” The couple are patrons of several non-profit spaces in Portugal: Appleton, Kunsthalle Lisbon, and the Serralves Museum in Porto.
Where They Shop: “I’m sorry but the idea of ‘shopping’ being applied to art just does not seem correct,” Armando says. Firm advocates of the role of galleries, the couple frequent more than 20 in Portugal, elsewhere in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. “While we complement our collection with works from the secondary market, we do it thoughtfully,” Armando says. He notes that while they acquired a painting by Julião Sarmento at auction, they also bought a major work from his gallery, Cristina Guerra in Lisbon.
Fun Fact: The couple once installed a large-scale installation by Portuguese artist João Penalva—which involved projectors, sound, and wall text—in a walk-in closet in their bedroom. “When João Penalva’s Berlin gallerist [Thomas Schulte] visited us, we had a good laugh about this awkward but very passionate setup,” Armando says with a chuckle.
Where to Follow Them: @rialto6_art
Ângelo Silva and Paulo Damião
Day Jobs: Ângelo Silva, 38, is a nuclear medicine physician; Paulo Damião, 47, is an artist represented by Arte Periférica in Lisbon.
What’s in the Collection: The couple’s collection began in 2010 as a selection of gifts from Damião’s artist friends. Over the next 12 years, they have acquired more than 100 works—mostly paintings and drawings, but also photography, sculpture, and ceramics—by over 80 artists. Their holdings include work by established Portuguese artists Pedro Cabrita Reis and Ana Jotta; mid-career figures like Rui Chafes, Noé Sendas, Bruno Pacheco, and Miguel Ângelo Rocha; and emerging names such as Rui Pedro Jorge, Ricardo Marcelino, Teresa Murta, and Duarte Burnay.
Distinguishing Feature: “Being a physician makes me more attracted to artworks that represent the human body and talk about human experiences and issues in life,” Silva says. The couple won’t make a purchase without consensus. “Our tastes are quite similar; however, in some cases we disagree and discuss why a particular piece might enrich the collection,” Silva adds.
Where They Shop: Lisbon’s galleries, including Filomena Soares, Balcony, Carlos Carvalho, Cristina Guerra, Miguel Nabinho, Módulo, 111, 3+1, Arte Periférica, NO.NO, Salgadeiras, Sete, and Trema. Sometimes they also buy directly from the studios of artists—particularly those who lack gallery representation. After spending much of their early collecting activity focused on the art of Portugal, the couple now plans to branch out to artists from other countries.
Fun Fact: Since they started posting images of their collection on social media, they have received inquiries from followers asking to visit. “In some cases, they’ve even asked how much visiting it would cost,” Silva remarks, laughing. “However, it’s a private collection at home.”
Artur Miranda and Jacques Bec
Day Jobs: Miranda, 61, and Bec, 60, are founders of the Porto-based interior design studio, Oitoemponto.
What’s in the Collection: Contemporary art with a side of French 18th century furniture and tapestries. “We’ve been compulsive collectors since we were young and it just gets worse with age,” Miranda says. Photography by the likes of Cindy Sherman, Thomas Ruff, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Hedi Slimane constitute half the collection, while most of the rest is paintings, mixed media, and collage. American artists such as Robert Longo, Tom Wesselmann, Vanessa Beecroft, and Walead Beshty figure strongly, as do French artists Arman and Alain Jacquet. The couple also owns work by Portuguese artists including Pedro Cabrita Reis and Helena Almeida.
Distinguishing Feature: “The collection is quite monochromatic, with a lot of black, white, and amber—not sharp reds or heavy blues,” Miranda says. “We like art that’s neutral [in tone]. Both of us are attracted to either abstract art or photography with faces and bodies.” The duo has a particular penchant for photographers who snap well-known people in a subversive way—like Jessica Craig-Martin’s pictures of socialites or Lorenzo Agius’s tongue-in-cheek images of Jude Law and Ewan McGregor having breakfast in bed together.
Where They Shop: Mostly auction houses. Besides the Big Three, the pair favors Piasa and Artcurial in Paris, Casa delle Aste Meeting Art in Vercelli, Italy, and Aste Boetto in Geneva, among others.
Fun Fact: “I’m an auction freak,” Miranda says. “I love the adrenaline of being on the phone, bidding and buying on the phone.”
Where to Follow Them: @oitoemponto
Rita Almeida Freitas
Day Job: Almeida Freitas, 38, is an art advisor and business consultant.
What’s in the Collection: More than 50 postwar and contemporary works in a variety of media and a sprinkling of antiques from the 16th to 18th centuries. Almeida Freitas became passionate about Brazil’s art scene while living in São Paulo, which prompted her to delve into the work of Brazilian artists such as Erika Verzutti, Anna Maria Maiolino, Lydia Okumura, Tadáskía, and Marcelo Cidade. Also in the collection is the work of Portuguese artists Ana Vidigal and Joaquim Rodrigo and international names including Marine Hugonnier, William Kentridge, Ed Ruscha, Robert Barry, Kim Lim, Giorgio Griffa, Gabriel Rico, and Elena Damiani.
Distinguishing Feature: Almeida Freitas is drawn to puzzling and thought-provoking art that makes her question her own place in the world. “I love the never-ending learning curve that art provides me, far beyond the art-historical context,” she says. “While as an advisor I need to be more rational about each choice, as a collector I’m free to make mistakes and buy with the heart.” Still, she resists buying on impulse. If she is still thinking about a work a few days after seeing it, she says, “I take the plunge.”
Where She Shops: Galeria Nuno Centeno (Porto), Galeria Jaqueline Martins (São Paulo), Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel (São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro), and auction houses.
Fun fact: “I was starstruck when I met James Turrell seven years ago,” Almeida Freitas recalls. “I was with some friends, including a curator whose museum had made some recent acquisitions of his. I had so many questions racing through my mind but lost my tongue; luckily, that only lasted a few minutes!”
Where to Follow Them: @ritalmeidaf_
Occupation: Torres, 30, is an interior designer.
What’s in the Collection: Around 150 to 200 works, including contemporary art, Old Master paintings, and Roman artifacts. Torres’s holdings encompass 18th-century paintings by Jean-Marc Nattier and François Boucher; blue-chip 20th-century art by Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Louise Bourgeois, Alice Neel, and Zao Wou-Ki; and contemporary works by the likes of Miriam Cahn, Markus Lüpertz, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Rosa Barba, and Alexandre Lenoir. Torres has also filled his home—a restored convent in the center of Lisbon—with contemporary design by the likes of Wendell Castle, Ron Arad, Marc Newson, Hervé van der Straeten, and Hubert Le Gall. His first acquisition was a 1975 photograph by Portuguese artist Helena Almeida.
Distinguishing Feature: Torres says his eclectic collection reflects his wide-reaching passions and innate curiosity. “I don’t consider myself an art collector—I buy artworks to be able to surround myself with pieces that I truly love, that seduce me through their beauty, and carry a special essence or meaning. Many of the artworks are figurative but, curiously, my taste may change almost every day!”
Where He Shops: Francisco Fino in Lisbon; international galleries Hauser & Wirth, Chantal Crousel, Almine Rech, Galleria Continua Cheim & Read, Helga de Alvear, Thomas Dane, Xavier Hufkens, and Suzanne Tarasieve; and international auction houses and fairs.
Fun fact: “I was once bidding in an auction against a stranger who kept outbidding me and I had to renounce. A few months later, the owner of the piece that I had so desperately tried to buy called to say that he thought that it should belong to me and offered to sell it. I have it at home and it’s one of my most cherished artworks.”
Where to Follow Him: @francisco.torres.pt
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