Saturday, 31 December 2016

End-of-year readings

Contemplating the lake and mountains of Ioannina, Greece.

Four texts I read in these last weeks and have stayed with me:

Patti Smith, How does it feel

Wishing for a humane 2017.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Unwilling actors in centre stage

The New Americans Museum. Panel vandalised.
(image taken from the museum's Facebook page)

Not surprisingly, after the elections, the Tenement Museum in New York, a museum that tells America’s urban immigrant story has seen an “unprecedented number” of negative comments by visitors about immigrants.  It’s not an isolated incident. Other museums, such as the Idaho Black History Museum or The New Americans Museum, recently suffered racially charged vandalism on their premises.

Beware politicians who bring out the worst in us, one might think. But one might also add, beware museums which fail to see the politics in what they do. This was what I thought when reading the first paragraph in Zach Aaron’s (a Tenement Museum board member) response to the negative comments from visitors:

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Diplomatic silences

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister
As the the Web Summit was coming to a close in Lisbon, a day after the results of the American elections became known, the Municipality of Lisbon placed some outdoors that read: “In the free world you can still find a city to live, invest and build your future, making brigdes [sic], not walls. We call it Lisbon”. The outdoors were classified as “anti-Trump” by the opposition, which preferred to think that this was “an abusive interpretation and that [the mayor’s] intention was not to disrespect the democratic choice of the American people, it was not a demonstration of ideological arrogance, it was not an opportunistic precipitation as a result of becoming dazzled with the international attention." In short, the opposition asked for explanations (read the article).

Sunday, 30 October 2016

MAAT, a generator of expectations

Image taken from the website of MAAT.
I am still amazed at the way the recently inaugurated MAAT - Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, designed by Amanda Levete, is integrated into the landscape. When I approach that area or when I cross the bridge from Lisbon, I always expect to see a huge building overlapping or hiding the Central Tejo power plant. But no... The Central Tejo still emerges majestically and the new building stands at its side as a smooth and fluid note.
My first contact with the new museum was back in June. In fact, it was the reopening of the "old" museum (Museum of Electricity in Central Tejo), after its renovation, and the MAAT brand was launched. Afterwards, I followed the campaign for the inauguration of the new building and I read some interviews of the museum director, Pedro Gadanho, thus forming an initial opinion / expectation. The various criticisms that arose with the opening of the building, as well as some discussions with colleagues, brought me more "food for thought", just like my first visit to the new building.

Saturday, 22 October 2016


"Uma menina perdida no seu século à procura do pai", CRINABEL Theatre (Photo: Paulo Pimenta, courtesy of National Theatre D. Maria II)

Two years ago, I was questioning here the purpose of festivals that present the art of specific groups of people (gay, black, disabled, etc). It was September 2014 and the second edition of Unlimited festival was taking place at Southbank in London. “I keep questioning myself”, I was writing at the time, “who attends these festivals, exhibitions, activities and what happens after? Do they attract the already ‘converted’ or they appeal to a wider audience? Do gay or disabled or black artists become more acknowledged by the sector and the public? Are they seen as the professionals they are? Are we moving towards an inclusive representation, where they are seen first and above all as artists, or rather curators and audiences still go to see something ‘special’, confined in a specific space and time, its ‘own’ space and time? Do these festivals help us move towards caring more and more about the art and less and less about ‘the rest’?”

Monday, 3 October 2016

Justin Bieber and the fight against islamic extremism

The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and the Italian Prime Minister , Matteo Renzi (Photo: Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters, taken from the newspaper The Atlantic)
A recent NPR article, entitled Italy's 'CulturalAllowance' For Teens Aims To Educate, Counter Extremism is a clear demonstration of the confusion existing, at various levels and in various contexts, in relation to access to culture and to culture as a panacea for many ills of this world.

The title is not an exaggeration of the newspaper. It was the Italian Prime-Minister himself who said, when announcing this culture allowance (€500 for every 18-year-old to spend on cultural products), shortly after the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015: "They destroy statues, we protect them. They burn books, we are the country of libraries. They envision terror, we respond with culture."

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Naming the impact: it may be Telmo or Rafael or Gustavo…

Telmo Martins, member of the Orquestra Geração (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

A few years ago, I saw the documentary Waste Land. It is about the work the Brazilian visual artist Vic Moniz created together with garbage pickers at the world’s largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Moniz said that he wished to change the lives of a group of people with the same materials they deal with every day. So, together they used garbage to create large-size portraits of the garbage pickers, which were later sold in auction and the money was distributed among the garbage pickers. The works were presented in exhibitions in a number of contemporary art museums.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, 2016 (image taken from You Tube)

Having followed the heated discussion regarding the appearance of Muslim women athletes in the Olympics with full-body suits, as well as the ban of the burkini on some French beaches, I find that some facts are – deliberately or not – left out of the equation.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Managing museums: a portuguese case

"Panels of St. Vincent" at NMAA (image taken from the National Museum of Ancient Art Facebook page)

The claim of a new legal status, of a special status, by the National Museum of Ancient Art (NMAA) in Lisbon has resulted in a very healthy debate among museum professionals in Portugal, especially (and unfortunately) after the announcement of the Minister of Culture that this status will actually be given to the museum. Independent of our criticism, positive or negative, of this case and this process, there is no doubt that we owe this very necessary debate to the NMAA, its director, António Filipe Pimentel, and to the entire museum staff*.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Guest post: Social role of museums; new migrations, new challenges, by David Fleming

Photo taken from Twitter @IcomOfficiel

Quote from our MOOC (Massive Open Online Course):

“This course has opened my eyes. Never before thought of museums as being harbingers of change in anything.”

The same person wrote later:

“Yes, my opinion has changed and I’m much more convinced that museums have a positive role to play in achieving and enhancing social cohesion. I had been stuck in my ‘sixties experience of the passive museum, storing items for the mere sake of storage. Today they are put to use to make a positive difference in the world.”

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Guest post: The ethical museum, by David Fleming

Image taken from Twitter @IcomOfficiel
I would like to begin by quoting from Janet Marstine’s book entitled The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics (2011, page xxiii):

“The traditional museum ethics discourse…is unable to meet the needs of museums and society in the twenty-first century”.

I will continue by quoting the statement on ethical behaviour that my Trustees at National Museums Liverpool (NML) discussed just last week:

NML statement on ethical considerations

In several areas of our work, as we find ourselves more and more reliant on funding from other than our own democratically-elected Government, NML’s commitment to behaving in an ethical manner at all times is leading us to consider carefully what decisions we should make.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Government reflections on access to culture

"MAP - The chartography game", a performace by the association A PELE (image taken from the website of the National Theatre D. Maria II)

The Culture White Paper (published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports in March 2016) sets out how the British government will support the cultural sector in the coming years. It’s the first document of its kind in 50 years and the second ever published in the UK.

The document opens by quoting British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who states: “If you believe in publicly-funded arts and culture as I passionately do, then you must also believe in equality of access, attracting all, and welcoming all.”

Sunday, 29 May 2016

First in our hearts

Image courtesy of the National Museum Soares dos Reis
How could we define the 'first' museum? Is it the one that best fulfills its mission? Or the one thar comes first to mind when you hear the word 'museum' (every marketeer’s dream)? Is it the one that has the biggest collection or the one that has the best collection? Is it the one that makes more exhibitions? Is the 'first' museum the one that produces a lot of news for the media, but continues to work for the same elite? Or is it the one that rarely makes the news, but works to diversify its 'elites'? Which one deserves to be considered 'first'? And who assigns the 'primacy', the museum to itself or the audiences, actual and potential, that benefit from its action?

Saturday, 7 May 2016

So what?

“So what?”. A frequent question/reaction concerning our field, whether verbally expressed or secretly thought. It’s a legitimate question and one we are rarely available to discuss.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, "Retrato de Marten Soolmans" e "Retrato de Oopjen Coppit" (imagem retirada do jornal Telerama)

When I had first read the news about the joint acquisition by the Louvre and Rijksmuseum of Rembrandt’s Portrait of Marten Soolmans and Portrait of Oopjen Coppit, for €160 million, I didn’t exactly think “So what?”, but rather “Why?”. Why these two paintings? Why all that money? Once I tried to understand a bit better the importance of the paintings (whatever importance that might be, within the context of art history or any other), I was most often confronted with the adjective “rare”. The portraits are “rare”, being exhibited in public was extremely “rare, etc. etc. This brought up even more questions: Rare how? Why should they be seen more often? Why did these two public museums make such a huge (financial and collaborative) effort to acquire them?

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

European Culture Forum 2016

Andrej Isakovic / AFP / Getty Images
A short intervention today in the panel "Can culture help to overcome the fragmentation of society?". Read here

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Recent past

Exhibition "Return - Traces of Memory", Lisbon

A few weeks ago I read Lily Hyde’s text Living Memory II, questioning the construction of narratives out of recent historical events. In this case, the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and specifically in the town of Slavyansk. A bit more than a year before, Hyde had talked to the Slavyansk Museum director, Lilya Zander, who was already collecting Trophies from an incomprehensible war. At that time, the museum director had said that “Our job is to tell the history of our region”, adding that “the museum is not trying to show ‘for’ and ‘against’. We’re trying to show the facts.”

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Peacocks, ostriches and a third way

Anne Pasternak, Brooklyn Museum Director (Photo: Erin Baiano for the New York Times)

A few weeks ago, I read about six curators at the Canadian Museum of History who expressed ethical concerns about the purchase of artifacts recovered from the wreck of the Empress of Ireland. These concerns included the manner in which the artifacts were collected and the fact that the museum paid for artifacts from an archeological site. Not only were their objections dismissed, but the museum hired a lawyer and threatened them with legal action, were they to repeat their concerns to anyone else. According to the museum President and CEO Mark O’Neill, “Internal discussions like this are normal, and frankly, making them public is not” (read more). This statement left me thinking which would be the ‘OK’ subjects to discuss in public and, frankly, how come the conditions of acquiring objects for the museum collections is not one of them.

Sunday, 17 January 2016