Inside Lisbon’s New MAAT Musem with Pedro Gadanho

A chat with the museum's director   |   June 2017

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MAAT Museum is set to revolutionise Lisbon’s contemporary arts scene

MAAT Museum | MAAT Museum Exterior © Hufton+Crow

In a movement not dissimilar to Berlin’s artistic revolution, Lisbon’s burgeoning contemporary art scene is beginning to garner international attention. The recent opening of the highly anticipated MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon is a prime example of its impact so far. On one side a historic factory, on the other an impressive modern space, the museum brings together contemporary creativity in an utterly unique fashion. We speak to the museum’s director, Pedro Gadanho, about its aims, attractions and how it’s set to redefine Lisbon’s cultural landscape.

MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology is the most exciting museum opening in Lisbon in recent years. What makes the space so unique?
Firstly, it’s an amazing location. It is 38,000 feet of campus, including the new building by Amanda Levete and a power station from the early 20th century. Unlike in other power stations, which were emptied out of their machinery, this one has large parts kept intact so it has aspects of a technological or science museum, which is articulated with contemporary art programmes. This combination of industrial heritage and contemporary art is what I think makes the museum unique.

MAAT Museum | MATT Museum Pedro Gadanho © Pedro Guimarães

The museum focuses on three contemporary pillars – art, architecture and technology. How do you plan to bring these fields together?
When we decided to focus on the relationships between art, architecture and technology, this was intended as a way of narrowing down our focus within the broad field of contemporary art. It is a museum of contemporary art, but within a very particular context. It connects to the way in which artists see, understand and examine the impacts of modern technology, from digital technologies to social media and so on; their relationship to the city and the built environment; and how they react to, and portray, architecture. The Variable Dimensions exhibition is a good example of this as it shows how artists have been relating historically to architecture and how they have been investigating, portraying, discussing and debating aspects of architecture in a very different way from architects.

Is there any one exhibition that you’re particularly proud of putting together so far?
One of the shows coming up that will be very important for us is Utopia/Dystopia (22nd March – 21st August 2017). I’ve been calling it a ‘manifesto’ exhibition, in the sense that it brings out some political ideas about the transition of utopia, from 500 years of living with ideas of utopia to a moment in which dystopia starts to creep in. It will present the idea of artists and architects side-by-side at the same intellectual level. For us, that is our way of putting those two disciplines in dialogue and to have them confronting each other with ideas and concepts that will illuminate one another.

The museum has spaces devoted to Portuguese and international artists. Please tell us about some of the talents you’d recommend looking out for.
Very soon we’ll start what I call ‘The Project Room’ in the new building, where we’ll be working with Portuguese artists who have already acquired an international reputation, such as Grada Kilomba, Miguel Palma, João Louro, and Angela Ferreira, both of whom did the Portuguese pavilion at the Venice biennial. We’ll also start hosting younger artists. The space will be a counterpoint to the Oval Gallery, which is a very large space in which we invite international artists to present a commission. This has already included Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and will soon feature Mexican artist Héctor Zamora, or Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa. The Oval Gallery will have more of an international profile – something you could compare to the Turbine Hall (at London’s Tate Modern), with large scale projects that involve the audience in an interactive way.

MAAT Museum | MAAT Museum Oval Gallery © Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster/Bruno Lopes
MAAT Museum | MAAT Museum night © Hufton+Crow

Please tell us about the various ways people can get involved beyond touring the exhibitions.
We have a very intensive education programme that relates to the exhibitions and comprises workshops and other activities. We publish a guide that has all the activities listed every three months. I would advise visitors to check what is on during their stay and plan to come for a guided tour, a conversation with curators, or a debate between art critics and curators.

Why is Lisbon the perfect place for this new museum?
In terms of modern art, Lisbon is quite well served. But as Portugal’s main contemporary art museum, Serralves, is in Porto, Lisbon lacked an institution that was exclusively dedicated to contemporary art. Also, the fact that the ARCO art fair will come to Lisbon for the second time in May, makes this an excellent moment for the museum to open. I think it’s part of a movement in which the profile of the city is changing for an international audience – we are attracting people that could have simply passed by or even skipped a visit in the past, but now feel like they have a specific reason to come.

Why do you think Lisbon’s art scene is so exciting at this moment in time?
There is a feeling that there’s a new culture and a new openness in the city, which I would say could be deemed similar to what happened in Berlin. Rent and food is cheaper than in other places, so artists are moving in and collectors come in their trail, so there is a condition for contemporary art and other contemporary creative practices to develop. I think that’s what makes Lisbon so interesting at this moment.


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