Beyond Expectations: The Museu Coleção Berardo

Henry Moore's Reclining Figure
At the entrance to Centro Cultural de Belém, Henry Moore's Reclining Figure: Arched Leg, 4/6, 1969-1970

“Lisbon Has Become One of Europe’s Hottest Art Capitals. How Did That Happen?”

Last year shortly after this headline appeared on ArtNet, Lisbon bookended our visit to other destinations in Portugal and Spain’s Picos de Europa. At the beginning of our trip In the cab on our way into Lisbon, we stopped at Zest Books to pick up the company’s two volumes and accompanying maps of Street Art Lisbon. But during our first two-day visit, we didn’t see much art, unless you count exploring Pessoa’s literary art. So we were looking forward to our return.

Many of Lisbon’s attractions are in the southwesternmost part in the district of Belém, a two-hour walk from the Alfama district where we’d rented an apartment. “Let’s make a day of it and go early,” Magellan said, “and let’s take a taxi.”

Near the top of our Belém list was the collection of international contemporary and modern art at Museu Coleção Berardo. Although it’s Lisbon’s most-visited museum, you wouldn’t know it on the Tuesday we were there. Up to photograph the sunrise, we jubilados were at the door before the museum’s treasures were unlocked to the public.

Three things about Berardo struck us as unique: the creative way the art is organized, the informative text accompanying the artworks, and the international depth of the collection.

Exhibited on two levels, permanent works from 1900-2010 are organized chronologically around 70 movements in modern art, familiar ones like Cubism (Pablo Picasso, Marcel DuChamp) and more obscure branches like CoBrA (Asger Jorn, Karel Appel), along with Minimalism (Donald Judd, Don Flavin), Traumatic Realism (Louise Bourgeois, Rebecca Horn), Group Zero (Lucio Fontana, Otto Piene) and Presentness is Grace (Morris Louis, Anthony Caro).

We’ve all been to museums with incomprehensible, inadequate or ingratiating text accompanying the artworks. Not here. “This writing is so concise. What a joy—even an engineer can read and understand it,” commented Magellan not long after we’d started working our way around the first floor. André Cariou, AnaMary Bilboa, Jean-François Chougnet, Ana Dinger, Pedro Lapa, Rita Lougares and translator Ruth Rosengarten deserve to be mentioned for the artistry of their wordsmithing. Like the introductory sentence to The Constructivisms. “Appearing for the first time in Russia with Vladimir Tatlin’s counter-reliefs (1913-1914), Constructivism developed in that country and, in response to the 1917 revolution, acquired a subversive ideology with specific characteristics.”

The art, about 1,000 works from 500 artists and valued at 316 million euros, is considered among the best of private collections in the world—in the company of galleries like the Tate Modern in London. It was amassed by José Berardo, a wealthy Portuguese businessman who made an agreement with the government to house and purchase part of his collection at the Centro Cultural de Belém. The spacious Museu Coleção Berardo opened in 2007.

Photography is permitted, so here, presented chronologically, are a few of the pieces that caught our attention.

Abstraction Between the Wars

Otto Freudlich, Untitled, 1934

César Domela, Relief, 1938


Salvador Dalí, White Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1936

Man Ray, Talking Picture, 1957

New School of Paris

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Composition,1948

Nicolas de Staël, Paysage, 1953

British Pop Art

Anthony Donaldson, Take Away, 1963

Allen Jones, La Sheer, 1968

American Pop Art

Tom Wesselmann, Great American Nude, 1963


Nam June Paik, Wrap Around the World Man, 1990

The 90s Decade

Frank Stella, The Broken Jug, 1999

One of the best surprises of seeing the Berardo Collection happened as we were gazing out a window on the second floor.

“Look at that. It’s one of the street art images I really wanted to find,” I exclaimed.

What a vantage point from which to see Guaxinão (Big Racoon), a three-dimensional painting sculpted from old tires, computer parts, home appliances and other assorted urban garbage.

I wonder—has the museum’s considered adding another movement, Street Art, with this single piece  by Lisbon’s own Boradalo II?

Bordalo II, “Guaxinão” (Big Racoon), 2015


The Museu Coleção Berardo has an excellent website.

Here’s a bit more about Boradalo II (Real Boradalo, his grandfather, was a watercolorist).

Zest Books publishes Street Art Lisbon, although we got their last copy of Volume 1.


2 Responses

  1. Art is one of the subjects best described by “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”
    By no means an expert, what I saw from Picasso, at the Remai Gallery in Saskatoon, was far from pleasing, again my opinion only, but would fall very well within sentence one.

    It is a very good thing we all have different ideas, likes and dislikes, otherwise we may not change, truly a sad situation. ?

    Love the big raccoon.

    1. Yes, it’s fun to think about the personality behind the collection: what different art attracts us as different individuals.

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