The exhibition “Freedom and Europe: A construction of everyone”, organised by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, creates a dialogue between two important art collections: the Portuguese State Collection of Contemporary Art and the European Parliament Collection.
On display at the European Parliament in Brussels, the exhibition contains a collection of works that reflect a diverse range of artists and genres, while also providing an insight into the main features of contemporary Portuguese art.
Many of the exhibits date from the 1980s, the time when Portugal joined the European Union
The title, which governed the selection, recalls two pivotal values in the construction of Europe: the notion of freedom (that is, of expression, movement and the assertion of human dignity) and the notion of a Europe that rests on the primacy of these same values.
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Paula Rego, Lourdes Castro, Nikias Skapinakis, Joaquim Rodrigo, Julião Sarmento and Helena Almeida are some of the names represented at the exhibition. Most of the artists on display have experienced or defended an idea of Europe, whether in the various stages of their artistic development or in the way they have raised awareness of the physical and cultural proximity of the peoples who define the mosaic that is Europe.
A future of greater freedom and common sharing
Dating mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s, the works of art being shown demonstrate this focussed interpretation of the value of freedom in the building of a Europe that structures our future and helps to define it. The choice of artists is also, for this reason, a tribute to those who were deprived of European modernity and its values but, even so, never failed to believe in a future of greater freedom and common sharing.
With this judicious selection, the curator intended to make use of the aesthetical dimension to stimulate social interaction, in the knowledge that exhibitions – especially of contemporary art – encourage “moments of public debate and discussion, in interaction with artistic propositions”.
On the basis of a group of twenty objects drawn equally from the European Parliament Collection and the Portuguese State Collection of Contemporary Art, the curatorship has defined an exercise combining the aesthetic, the reflexive and the emotional, the display of which is itself the result of the freedom that defines its action in the European space we occupy.
So it can be seen how the freedom of the individual is always involved with the freedom of all, demanding that we defend it every day, in addition to using it conscientiously and responsibly. Only in this way, according to David Santos, “can we continue to build a Europe of values, one of freedom and solidarity”.
Of particular note in the display are the two exhibits on paper by Helena Almeida, one of the most international of Portuguese artists; the large-format painting by Eduardo Batarda; the monochromatic minimalism of the renowned Ângelo de Sousa; the enormous canvas by Vítor Pomar; and the work representing the multidisciplinary artist Julião Sarmento.
In the field of sculpture, Rui Chafes, Rui Sanches and José de Guimarães also present pieces from the 1980s and 1990s that bear witness to their unique and personal styles.
Besides the contributions from the European Parliament Collection of Contemporary Art, a group of works were chosen from the Portuguese State Collection of Contemporary Art, in particular by the artists Fernando Calhau, Lourdes Castro, Jorge Martins, Pedro Calapez, Paula Rego and Joaquim Rodrigo.
As planned, the theme of the exhibition is organised around the notion of freedom, which is perceived as a duty and a responsibility shared by all the countries making up the EU. A clear example of this are the letters of the word ‘freedom’ that hang from the branches of a tree in the eponymous painting by Vieira da Silva; in the case of Nikias Skapinakis’ “Enlevo de Miss Europa” (Enchantment of Miss Europe), pop humour is used to recall the myth of the abduction of the Phoenician princess.