Portuguese artists have been doing it for a long time!
About the exhibition "All I want, Portuguese artists from 1900 to 2020" held in Tours until 4 September 2022.
Did you know that the only female artist to date to have exhibited at the Château de Versailles, on a par with Jeff Koons or Anish Kappor, is a Portuguese artist? In 2012, the monumental post-pop Baroque pieces by Joana Vasconcelos, born in 1971, brought contemporary art into dialogue with the great artists of the Baroque period, such as Jules Hardouin Mansart, André Le Nôtre, Charles Lebrun and Jacques Anges Gabriel.
"Interpreting the mythological dance of Versailles, transporting it into the contemporary world, evoking the presence of important female figures who inhabited it, based on my identity and experience as a Portuguese woman, born in France, will certainly be the most fascinating challenge of my career," confided Joana Vasconcelos.
It must be said that she made a sensational entry into the world of contemporary art at the 2005 Venice Biennale, with her six-metre-high antique chandelier, all the tassels of which she had replaced with sanitary tampons! It was already a challenge to highlight the female shadow zones.
Just like her giant "Walkyrie", now on display in Lille, an inflatable structure covered with a patchwork of fabric suspended in the station concourse, or her "Tree of Life", which stands 13 metres high in the fort of the Château de Vincennes and recounts Daphne's radical gesture of independence, preferring, in Greek mythology, to be transformed into a laurel tree rather than obey the injunction to marry Apollo. It must be said that the star artist is well surrounded. In her immense workshop in the heart of a warehouse in the port of Lisbon, some fifty engineers, craftsmen, architects, seamstresses and embroiderers are working to make her dreams come true. And they all worked at home during the lockdown to complete the forty thousand richly embroidered leaves that make up the tree of life, determined to affirm the life that continues beyond Covid-19.
Joana Vasconcelos is of course today one of the forty Portuguese artists gathered in Tours, at the Centre de création contemporaine Olivier Debré (CCCCOD), in the exhibition "Tout ce que je veux, artistes portugaises de 1900 à 2020" (Everything I want, Portuguese artists from 1900 to 2020), which runs until 4 September 2022, as part of the France-Portugal season organised by the French Institute. No less than 400 works of art retrace more than a century of Portuguese women's creativity.
Some of them have only recently gained international recognition, like Paula Rego, whose "Cruel Tales" shown at the Musée de l'Orangerie stunned Paris three years ago. "How could this renowned octogenarian artist remain virtually unknown in France? Her narrative paintings and engravings, which feature characters with goyesque figures in ambiguous situations between dream and nightmare, offer a grating version of the human comedy against the backdrop of the war of the sexes," wrote the art critic Elisabeth Couturier in the contemporary art magazine Art Press in May. She does not hesitate to consider that Paula Rego's tortured universe raises her work to the same level of tension as that of Louise Bourgeois or Francis Bacon.
The journalist does not fail to mention the compositions populated with shadows and cut-out silhouettes by Lourdes Castro, born in 1930 and who died this year, the photographs that Helena Almeida (1934-2018) made of her own body by subjecting them to various plastic experiments, the theatrical, ghostly and poetic installations by Ana Viera (1940-2016)... nor to evoke the work of the great figure of the Paris School, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992). These great names are to be found in the Tours exhibition alongside those of Sarah Affonso (1899-1983), whose modernist-primitivist-style self-portraits are fascinating, Salette Tavares (1922_1994), who gracefully explores the plastic relationship between words and images in her Lettrist compositions, or Ana Hatherly (1929-2015) with the pop fibre of her deconstructed posters
In order to meet the generation born later, between 1960 and 1975, Elisabeth Couturier went to visit several workshops in Lisbon before the CCCOD exhibition. She can thus tell us about the world of the conceptual artist Fernanda Fragateiro, whose highly architectural environment combines rigorous aesthetics and a critical message just as much as her work. She tells us about the welcome that artist-researcher Angela Ferreira gave her in her studio, on the ground floor of a building built for artists at the time of the "Carnation Revolution", which led to the fall of the Salazarist dictatorship in 1974. Angela Ferreira's works of art, which bring together colonialism and modernism, African liberations and political utopias, need to be contextualised. This is in contrast to Ana Vidigal's exuberant collage-paintings, which call for immediate emotion in her inner-city home-studio filled with fetish objects. Angela Ferreira herself was born in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, before living under apartheid in South Africa and then in communist Russia. The mechanisms of oppression are no stranger to Ana Vidigal either, whose family also lived in Mozambique for many generations. And her complex compositions superimpose a free pictorial gesture on the collage of documents from her grandmother's archives.
In an alternative gallery called "After Joseph Beuys", the artist Maria Capello met with the art critic Elisabeth Couturier. She is exhibiting her latest series of large canvases, expressionist paintings of mountains ripped apart by the cross-hatched strokes of her brush, inspired by the visual deflagration caused by a 1943 film by Jean Grémillon, showing explosions in a hilly mining landscape in northern France. Maria Capello's paintings are a shock because of their radical energy. Just like Patricia Garrido's sculptures, giant assemblages of salvaged elements assembled to the line, which Elisabeth Couturier was able to discover in the large hangar that serves as the artist's showroom, not far from the studio that she reserves for painting. And in Tours, we can see the "seat" she made from a mould of her crotch, which, like Joana Vasconcelos' famous chandelier, bears witness to the formidable artistic self-determination that Portuguese women have granted themselves in a society so long marked by patriarchy.