One of the first things we had thought of doing when we read about Porto was to visit the Serralves Museum. In recent decades the space where contemporary art is shown had also become a statement about modern architecture. This museum, designed by Alvaro Siza, and completed in 1999, is one such (one view is in the featured image). The accounts that I had read spoke of the integration of the building with the large garden around it. If one is forced to choose only one thing to see in Porto, it has to be this.
Unfortunately, when you are a tourist, things do not always go your way. We arrived at a time when the foundation was busy preparing its garden for an upcoming weekend of interaction with the public. One part of this involved closing the garden for a week. We could peer into the garden from the windows of the museum, and from the gate, but could not stroll around it. C’est la vie, as we said to each other. Our unfortunate vie that day involved missing out on the Casa de Serralves, which is an Art Deco structure, the gardens, and the artwork and installations in the garden.
The Serralves Museum, nevertheless lived up to its reputation. There were four exhibitions on when we visited. For us the most attractive was the one on the work of Silvestre Pestana, a Portuguese artist whose work we had never seen before. The panorama above was a work which took our breath away. Some of the works were poems by Pestana. I’m afraid a barrier of language closes this off from those who do not speak Portuguese. However, the remainder of the works, often integrating music and flickering neons, videos, and performances take one’s breath away. The Serralves is reputed to be very picky, but this certainly told us of the vitality of contemporary Portuguese art.
In another wing of the museum there was a retrospective of the work of Giorgio Griffa. The main body of his work dates from the 1960s and 70s, although there was also a section of his work from later periods up to the 1990s. This isn’t contemporary, but it was interesting to view these works all together. Especially interesing was the early period, when art was being re-examined in terms of the simplest objects that make it up. A beautiful example is in the photo alongside.
Two other exhibitions were going on. One of them was supposed to build an exhibit over time, and would have required repeated visits over a year to appreciate. Our general sense was of a very vital place, well worth visiting during every trip to Porto. We walked into the library, book shop and cafeteria. All of them were very satisfactory, adding to the general sense of having seen something worth our short time in Porto.