From Miro to Warhol: The Berardo Collection in Paris at Musée du Luxembourg

Jean (Hans) Arp, Sans titre, vers 1926. Huile sur bois, 75 x 106 cm. Musée Collection Berardo, Lisbonne. Crédit photographique : DR - © ADAGP, Paris, 2008.

PARIS.- José Berardo, born in 1944 on the island of Madeira, is one of the biggest Portuguese entrepreneurs. Barely aged 19, he emigrated to South Africa where he made a fortune working in various fields (goldmining, wine, banking, telecommunications). He came back to Portugal in 1986 and started gathering one of the most interesting collections of modern and contemporary art in Europe, which he continues augmenting.
An eclectic and ambitious collector, José Berardo was eager to share his collection with a wide audience. Two years ago, he signed a partnership with the Portuguese state, just like the one that was established in Madrid for the Thyssen collection: 862 works are on deposit for ten years in a museum bearing his name, in the Belém Cultural Centre, in Lisbon. After those ten years, the state will benefit from an exclusive purchasing option.
Since it opened some twelve months ago, the Berardo Collection Museum has attracted more than 400,000 visitors. It boasts a very dynamic policy of acquisitions and temporary exhibitions.
Examples of such private generosity toward the public are few and far between. Gathering more than 500 artists who all contributed to the evolution of modern art from 1900 to the present day, this collection allows visitors to “experience the twentieth century”, in the collector’s own words. Those works came to fill in the gaps in the collections of Portuguese museums (their acquisition policy had been restricted by the dictatorship which lasted until 1974).
When the new museum opened to the public in June 2007, Prime Minister José Sócrates hailed the international dimension of this exceptional initiative: “The European path of modern art used to go no further than Madrid. From now on, it starts from here”.
The seventy-four works on display in the Musée du Luxembourg correspond to five major artistic movements in the twentieth century: Surrealism (Miró, Dali, Ernst, Breton…), one of the strong points of the pre-1945 collection; abstraction from 1910 to the immediate post-war period (Mondrian, Tanguy, Arp…); Europe vs. America in the 1960s, with Nouveau Réalisme and Pop Art (Warhol, Klein, Soulages, Mitchell…) ; post-1945 plastic explorations (Riopelle, Schnabel, Stella…).
The first section brings together eclectic works, to capture the spirit of the collection and José Berardo’s passion for art: Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Woman (circa 1909) is shown next to Jackson Pollock’s Head (1938-41) and Karel Appel’s Jump Into Space (1953). Francis Gruber’s Sitting Nude with Green Chair (1944) meets Eugène Leroy’s Standing Nude (1958) and Germaine Richier’s Big Manta (1946-51). A 1914 landscape by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, the greatest Portuguese painter of the early twentieth century, confronts a 1953 landscape by Nicolas de Staël. Portrait painting is represented with Balthus’ Portrait of a Woman in a Blue Dress (1935).
The second sequence is devoted to Surrealism, one of the collection’s fortes, with an evocation of the Dada movement and the origins of Surrealism. The selected works survey the trend’s main representatives and their sources of inspiration: Man with Candle (1925) by Joan Miró, Black Landscape (1923) and Shell-Flowers (1929) by Max Ernst, Le Gouffre argenté by René Magritte (1926), The Invincible Cohort (1928) by Giorgio de Chirico, Woman Attacked by Birds (1943) by André Masson , The Ice Knight (1938) by Victor Brauner, The Spinning Top (1956) by Hans Bellmer, The Encounter (1936) by Jacques Hérold, The Couple (1937) by Óscar Dominguez, Man Ray Café (1948) by Man Ray, Lunguanda Yembe (1950) by Wifredo Lam, and The Café de la Marine (circa 1930) by Pierre Roy.
Next, visitors will find a “curiosity cabinet” gathering a Salvador Dali artefact (Aphrodisiac White Telephone, 1936), a folding screen painted by Yves Tanguy (The Firmament, 1932), a “box” by Joseph Cornell (Hôtel de l’Etoile, 1956), drawings by Victor Brauner, Joan Miró, Julio González and Roberto Matta, and a 1933 Cadavre Exquis associating André Breton, Valentine Hugo, Tristan Tzara and Greta Knutson. This ensemble is indicative of the manifold Surrealism’s plastic manifestations. A transition toward the next section is managed with two paintings by Jean [Hans] Arp (Untitled, circa 1926, and Feuilles placées selon les lois du hasard, 1937) and a drawing by Arshile Gorky (a study for Bull in the Sun, 1942).
The third section shows the various trends in European geometric abstraction between the wars. Drawings by Georges Vantongerloo (Studies II, 1918) and by Liubov Sergeievna Popova (Composition, 1917) illustrate the birth of the movement, De Stijl for the Dutch artist and Suprematism for the Russian painter. A second work by the Portuguese Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, Pelas Janelas (Desdobramento - Intersacção), 1914, is indicative of his radical evolution toward abstraction. The display is centred on Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red and Grey (1923), hanging next to Composition #28 (1930), a painting by Jean Gorin, whom Mondrian considered “France’s only neo-plastician”. Around those two works, paintings and drawings illustrate various trends, from Giacomo Balla’s Futurism (Untitled, 1929) to Max Bill’s experiment with “concrete art” (Progression in Six Steps, 1942-43). Several movements are shown in sequence: the “Circle and Square” association, the “Concrete Art” group or the “Abstraction-Creation” association are represented by Victor Servranckx (Composition, 1923), Marcelle Cahn (Abstract Composition, 1925), Amédée Ozenfant (Composition with Decanter, 1926-30), Ben Nicholson (Painting, Cadmium Red, Lemon and Cerulean, 1936), Robert Delaunay (Reliefs; Rhythms, 1932), Carl Buchheister (Diagonalkomposition 332r Fahne, 1932), Jean Hélion (Equilibrium, 1934) and Làszlo Moholy-Nagy (CH XIV, 1939). An ebony sculpture by Georges Vantongerloo (S X R, 1936) proves that most of these painters were also interested in applied arts and architecture.
American Pop Art and French “Nouveau Réalisme” are on view in the next section. The 1960s Europe vs. America confrontation has particularly interested the collector. Nouveau Réalisme is represented with works by Yves Klein (IKB 103, 1956) and Lucio Fontana (Concetto spaziale, 1960); torn posters by Jacques Villeglé (Libération, 1964) are displayed next to Mimmo Rotella’s Lava Bene (1963). Pop Art is present through works by Robert Indiana (Black Diamond American Dream #2, 1962), Andy Warhol (Campbell’s Soup Can, 1965 and Ten-Foot Flowers, 1967), Tom Wesselmann (Great American Nude #52, 1963), Allan D’Arcangelo (Self-Portrait, Smoke Dream, 1963) and Roy Lichstentein (Mirror #1, 1971), beside a Jean Tinguely sculpture (Indian Chief, 1961) and one of Louise Nevelson’s golden “furniture- sculptures” (Royal Tide – Dawn, 1960).
The last section surveys though partially significant post-war experiments. Geometric abstraction is embodied by Portuguese painter Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (Composition, 1948), then by Victor Vasarely (Bellatrix II, 1957), until the more and more “minimal” forms by Ad Reinhardt (Abstract Painting, 1962) and Joseph Albers (study for Homage to the Square: Blond Autumn, 1964). Lyrical abstraction and gestural painting are shown in parallel, with Jean-Paul Riopelle’s Orange Abstraction (1952), Pierre Soulages’ Painting, 10 November 1963 (1963) and Joan Mitchell’s Lucky Seven (1962).
The exhibition ends with a big geometric Frank Stella, Hagamatana II (1967), which is more than 4,50 m. long. On the last wall of the room, the human figure reappears: to an uncanny portrait by Portuguese painter Lourdes Castro (Sombra projectada, 1964) answers Julian Schnabel’s vehement Portrait of Jacqueline (1984), the only work deliberately chosen to go the 1960s limit retained for this project. This latter work shows that painters never stop experimenting, while, at the same time, bearing witness to the richness of José Berardo’s collection, which also includes a large section of contemporary art.
Finally, a monumental bronze sculpture by César, Homage to Léon (1964), stands on the museum’s patio.
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