A Subtle Social Thermometer

The António Cachola Collection in context

Delfim Sardo


All collections result from the coming together of a number of contingent factors that have different weights within the group that they are part of: the art available on the market at the time the collection is formed; the budget available for acquisitions; and the artistic production that is visible. The collector’s choice is brought to bear on these variables, this web of factors and preferences that turn the need for ownership into the need for the completeness of a whole. The choice of the collector is therefore an act of individual responsibility first of all, but also a commitment to the need to form a whole that has meaning, and that multiplies meanings.

To express this in a more theoretical fashion, it could be said that a collection is a series, in the sense that each work, as part of the collection as a whole, is clarified by another that – to use Aby Warburg’s expression – is a ‘good neighbour’ to it. Thus, as with any series, the order of the works can be altered – and collections are subject to exhibitions that shape them according to internal arrangements and concerns – but the capacity of a collection to construct panoramas and scenarios affects the works that form it, in that the interpretative horizon of the works is delineated on the basis of the collection as a whole. Furthermore, a collection is a series of series, made up of groups within the wider group of its corpus. Some of these series are the result of the existence of series within the work of the artists themselves; others are informal – that is, they result from various works by the same artist that establish the artist’s representativeness within the collection, while still others are thematic, elucidated in exhibitions and catalogues. The representativeness of a given collection is therefore not only the sum of the works that form it, but the webs of criteria that inscribe it within the available repository of the art that, in a given place and time, it is possible to see and know.

This means that the existence of a collection affects the world of art and its understanding, in the sense that the fact that those works – rather than others – are assembled as a whole that establishes meanings, opens up a realm of our potential knowledge of art, even while recognising that the criterion that has brought them together is frequently impossible to pin down to a simple, or sole formulation.

On the contrary, part of the ideological and aesthetic make-up of a collection is a criterion that is very hard to define, one that is fragile yet decisive: the taste of the collector, which encompasses his or her interests and passions, closeness to particular artistic contexts, and the impact that certain works have had on his or her sensibility.

This is why a collection has the potential to be so interesting, because it is where subjective reasons intersect with objective criteria and circumstances to propose a world of works that, in a particular way, create a map of a way of seeing and experiencing art, and of our relationship with it.


The António Cachola Collection, exhibited at the Museu de Elvas, has all the factors that have been described, yet alongside the desire for the collection to be exhibited, to be known publicly within a museum institution, there is another public responsibility. In fact, the possibility of transforming a passion for art collecting into a public function, a service to the community, brings with it a publicly accepted responsibility to transform the group of works that make up the collection into a potential representation of the art of a time.

There is a backdrop to the representation that António Cachola conceived (at one point aided by the critic and curator Jõao Pinharanda): the art created in Portugal by artists who began their careers in the 1980s, or who established their presence during that period. The first acquisitions, made during the early years of the following decade, speak of the observation from close quarters that characterises the collection. This timeframe is clearly receptive to the future – the collection is open-ended and continues to grow – yet it is not shaped according to a theme or technique. The collection consists of works in a variety of mediums and techniques, reflecting the multiplicity of contemporary art practices. The starting point chosen (the 1980s) has a paradigmatic value within the transformation of art in Portugal, in that this was the moment in which a change took place in the barren landscape of Portuguese museums, with the opening of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Modern Art Centre (Centro de Arte Moderna – CAM), under the directorship of José Sommer Ribeiro, in 1983, and, at the end of the decade, the emergence of the Serralves Foundation in Porto, which held its first exhibition in 1989 while still housed in the Casa de Serralves, and was directed at the time by Fernando Pernes. With respect to the opening of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Modern Art Centre, it should be pointed out that this had been planned at the end of the previous decade and construction approved at a board meeting in 1979, with a programme designed to create a centre dedicated to the art of the 1970s. Showing the influence of Ernesto de Sousa, and the impact of the 1977 Alternativa Zero exhibition, which offered a kind of overview of experimental and conceptual art in Portugal during the 1970s, CAM would become – albeit with quite different characteristics to those initially envisaged – the first museum dedicated to contemporary Portuguese art, since the Museu do Chiado had never fulfilled this role. CAM’s collection, built up from acquisitions, spanned Portuguese art over the century and included a significant number of works from the first avant-gardes. It also contained a collection of British art that was the result of the Foundation’s dispute between Portugal and Great Britain during the 1950s. The CAM collection absorbed a significant part of the Jorge de Brita collection, the most important collection of modern Portuguese art at the time. A key year for contemporary art in Lisbon was 1985: the Dialogue exhibition assembled a group of works from major European museums and filled all the exhibition spaces of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It was an important moment of comparison and understanding that would only be paralleled later, in 1989, by the Encontros Luso-Americanos exhibition, produced in collaboration with the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD), which, since 1986, had become an art collection whose importance would become clear over the next decade.

The start of the Serralves Foundation’s activity at the Casa de Serralves marked the path that would lead to the creation of the Museum of Contemporary Art ten years later, in 1999, under the directorship of Vicente Todoli.

During these decisive years of the 1980s, an innovative gallery scene began to emerge, with the work of Dulce D’Agro’s Galeria Quadrum (which had been developing since the previous decade), Galeria Módulo – Centro Difusor de Arte, and the appearance of Galeria Cómicos, reflecting the postmodernism that was beginning to make its mark on the Portuguese cultural landscape. It might be said that the 1980s saw an aggiornamento of Portuguese art with respect to the European and North American scene and it is even useful to mention the unsuccessful experience of the Lisbon Drawing Biennial, Lis’79, which led to a second edition, Lis’81, curated by Rudi Fuchs (who was preparing for Documenta 82 at the time and thus had a very high profile within the art world). In the end, Lis’82 did not open, the exhibition having been destroyed by a fire during the final phase of installation. The fire also put an end to the programme planned for the Galeria Nacional de Arte Moderna, in Belém, where the exhibition was taking place. Public Portuguese collecting was in a phase of gentle growth: the FLAD collection was taking shape (first in consultation with Manuel Costa Cabral, then with Rui Sanches and finally with Manuel Castro Caldas); the Serralves Collection was taking its first steps, and the collection of the Secretary of State for Culture, with acquisitions proposed through a commission that included Fernando Calhau, Fernando Azevedo and Fernando Pernes, was growing at a slow pace, although with an international profile. The Chiado museum’s collection had come to a halt, spanning a timeframe that ended in 1950, and the museum itself closed its doors in 1988 following the fire that took place in the Chiado neighbourhood. Redesigned by Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s architecture studio, it opened again the following decade, under the directorship of Pedro Lapa, and expanded its activities to encompass contemporary art.

Within this changing environment, artistic careers developed, now with a degree of institutional support. On the one hand, there was an emerging culture of collecting by institutions; on the other hand, there was the possibility of building a career in Portugal, with exhibitions supported by catalogues that provided a reasonable insight into the work presented. Finally, there was contact with international art, producing groups of artists who established themselves within a context that encompassed the rebirth of painting, the influence of the Neue Wilde movement, the emergence of the Italian Transvanguarda and the development of photography and video as artistic tools that became widespread from the end of the decade. This scenario, addressed by the exhibition Depois do Modernismo at the Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes in 1982, and Continentes, in 1986, was the breeding ground for a new artistic culture that looked towards New York, taking the magazines Artforum and Art in America as their points of reference.

The Portuguese landscape took its second great leap during the following decade, with the opening of a number of art galleries in Lisbon (Graça Fonseca, Alda Cortez, Palmira Suso, Nasoni) and Porto (Roma e Paiva, which became Pedro Oliveira, and Quadrado Azul). These began to create a gallery scene with programmes that were more intense than those evident within the limited number of museum institutions.

The period in which the António Cachola collection began to take shape saw the emergence of two cultural institutions that would become prominent, both in 1993: the Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB) and Culturgest. Although the CCB did not have a collection (it housed part of the collection of the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, formed under the leadership of Isabel Carlos, while the Berardo collection was held there from 1998 until the creation of the Museu Berardo, in the same space), the opening of the exhibition centre that would become a centre of contemporary art under Margarida Veiga became an important focal point for the dissemination of contemporary art. Culturgest was formed at the same time with the redefining of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos collection: from 1993 to 1995, under the directorship of Fernando Calhau, it was restructured as a seminal collection of contemporary Portuguese art, focusing on names that had established their position between the 1970s and 1980s.

It was against this backdrop that the Cachola collection began to find its space, by concentrating precisely on the artists who were as yet not being collected by the institutions.


The Cachola Collection was first presented in 1999, in Spain rather than Portugal, at the Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo (MEIAC), whose director was Antonio Franco. The plan was always that MEIAC, sited in the Spanish/Portuguese border region, would build bridges between the art worlds of the two Iberian countries and the Cachola collection, based in Elvas, was almost symbolic of the possibility of constructing such a dialogue outside the major centres, or working towards a reorientation of the channels of artistic circulation. It was during the preparation for the MEIAC exhibition that João Pinharanda began to work with the collection, as an adviser and curator. The selection of works for this exhibition is particularly interesting and illustrative of some of the tendencies of the collection: on one hand there was a focus on artists who had emerged in the 1980s, with the presence of the Homeostético group (Pedro Portugal, Xana and Pedro Proença) and a significant number of works from José Pedro Croft, Pedro Casqueiro, Pedro Calapez, Rui Chafes, Rui Sanches and Ilda David. Interestingly, this selection omitted the most influential artist to emerge during this period (although he is now represented in the collection), Pedro Cabrita Reis, while it included other more low profile artists, such as Manuel Rosa. What was notable, however, was a focus on very young artists whose work had come to the attention of the public very recently, with the acquisition of works that can now be seen to be formative in their careers. This was the case of Joana Vasconcelos, Pedro Gomes and Noé Sendas, all of whom (alongside other artists whose public career was less consistent, such as Hugo Guerreiro and Gil Amorous) had attended the advanced visual arts course at Ar.Co, a highly influential art school for a generation of artists who emerged in the 1990s in Lisbon, as well as for a number of teachers, such as João Queiroz, Pedro Calapez, Miguel Branco and Rui Sanches. The exhibition also revealed an interest in a generation that had recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon: João Onofre, Rui Toscano, Marta Soares and Ana Pinto. The other artists represented were figures who had gained late, but significant, public recognition, such as Fernanda Fragateiro, João Queiroz and Ângela Ferreira, with the acquisition of particularly important works that are now indispensable in any retrospective of these artists. This first exhibition of the Cachola collection was decisive in the development of a path that would have an important corollary in 2007 when the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas opened, the result of an initiative by the local council to incorporate the collection within a museum. The museum’s programming was entrusted to João Pinharanda, who led the project until 2010. The second important moment in the exhibition history of the Cachola collection was the opening exhibition itself, which revealed that there had already been a considerable development of the collection, and a very precise notion of the appropriateness of choices. Between 1999 and 2007 the collection developed and acquired greater depth, with a particular focus on the works of certain artists, as well as a broadening out. The opening exhibition at the Museu de Elvas clearly revealed a deepening interest in and a stronger presence of the work of José Pedro Croft. Fernanda Fragateiro, Rui Chafes, Rui Sanches and Pedro Calapez were still present, and works appeared from Jorge Molder and Noé Sendas. What was particularly striking though was the growing importance in the exhibition of artists who had emerged during the 1990s, particularly Joana Vasconcelos, with two iconic works by the artist, among the most important of her career, and the astute inclusion of Vasco Araújo and João Pedro Vale, artists at the beginning of their career. There is more to be said about this opening up and growing complexity, since they represent the two approaches to collecting that are evident here. Normally collections fall into two categories: intensive and extensive collections – in other words, collections that are dedicated to a limited number of artists and which follow the development of their careers, and collections that take a synchronic slice through a broad range of artists. The Cachola collection developed a mixed strategy, both expanding the spectrum of artists that were acquired, and following the development of the art practised by Portuguese artists, with particular attention to emerging situations, while simultaneously making acquisitions and following the careers of certain artists in a concentrated way. In the 2007 exhibition, as mentioned, there was already evident interest in José Pedro Croft’s work in two specific areas: print and sculpture. In the case of sculpture, the acquisition of groups of works that offer possibilities of joint installation gives the collection a significant representativeness. Meanwhile, with respect to print, a technique that Croft turned to regularly over the years, the decision to acquire some particularly extended series produced by exploring one plate, which is gradually reused and altered, gives the collection’s set of prints a paradigmatic quality, in that they establish the mould for much of Croft’s later working process, and are invariably included in any extensive examination of his career. Jorge Molder is another interesting case. The collector decided to acquire a particularly long series by him, Anatomia e Boxe, which is probably the serial project that changed the course of the artist’s career and which proved formative for other later series such as Nox, with which he represented Portugal at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Recently, the collector made a similar choice with respect to Julião Sarmento – an artist who was not represented – by acquiring the group of photographic portraits of women that he presented in the exhibition curated by Sérgio Mah (which took place at the Fundação Arpad Szenes/Vieira da Silva in 2010). This group of images constitutes a type of photographic mnemonic matrix for Julião Sarmento’s work across the various mediums he has used and, in this choice, one can also discern the desire to include works that have a foundational character.


The concern with including emerging artists, while notable from the outset (or at least from the collection’s first public exhibition, in 1999) became stronger and showed signs of a refining of the selection criteria. Overall, it might even be said that collection was being created as a major repository of works produced by artists from the generation born after the 1974 revolution – artists therefore who had experienced a climate of openness during their formative development, something unknown to artists of previous generations, who needed to find ways to establish links with the development of international art of their time. Interestingly, the collection now creates a coexistence between artists who were born while others were establishing their careers, an intergenerational aspect that is embraced. This fact is particularly relevant in countries that had prolonged totalitarian regimes (such as Portugal and Spain) in which gulfs were clearly created between generations of artists, who were frequently driven apart by the migratory processes that politically (and economically, culturally and socially) oppressive situations forced them into.

In an interesting way, the exhibition held at the Museu Berardo in 2010 – the most extensive to date – had this political aspect of starting out from a situation now free of the tensions and contradictions of the relationship between modernity and locality that affected the generations that emerged in the 1970s, to produce a portrait of contemporary art created in Portugal. The statement made by the collector that the exhibition was not about creating a representation of Portuguese art, but of art created by Portuguese artists (António Cachola, 2010), should not be disregarded, in that many of the works by artists who began their careers in the 1990s, or in this century, were produced while the artists were living, or in residencies, outside Portugal, operating in a diaspora that has established circuits of communication and permeability in a globalised landscape.

Perhaps one of the consequences of this generational opening up is the coexistence in the collection of very different art forms, with painting alongside performance, sculpture (in many different senses), installation, video, photography, drawing, film, print and hybrid categories. What is more interesting than verifying this diversity – typical of the period covered by the collection – is the discovery that many of the artists are represented by work in a variety of mediums, such as José Pedro Croft with sculpture and prints, Fernanda Fragateiro and Pedro Barateiro with sculpture and photography, Rui Chafes with drawing and sculpture and Bruno Pacheco with painting and video. Even some easily classifiable categories such as video include works from very different realms of the medium’s use, from so-called ‘task videos’ (such as the videographic works of Bruno Pacheco, or João Onofre’s first works), to what Rosalind Krauss (Krauss, 1979) referred to as ‘the narcissistic nature of video’, to the use of video that addresses the technical nature of the medium (as with Alexandre Estrela), following in the footsteps of the experimental video of the 1970s, by way of narrative video and cinema (Gabriel Abrantes, Pedro Pavia and João Maria Gusmão, and Filipa Cesar), sometimes using archaic technical equipment, such as 8mm or 16mm film, or using archive material and recreating narratives from Portugal’s colonial past.

In painting, too, the collection’s interests range from a linguistic and instrumental approach (as practised by João Louro), to pictorial practices that engage in dialogue with the broad question of the image (Bruno Pacheco) to painting as something that operates on the perceptive and cognitive conditions made possible by the medium itself, as practiced by João Queiroz or, in very different ways, José Loureiro and Pedro Casqueiro. Finally, the same type of rationale could be applied to sculpture, in that José Pedro Croft’s sculptural work, in the kinship it establishes with Robert Smithson’s enantiomorphic chambers and with post-minimal sculpture, belongs to a conception of sculpture that differs from the paradigm of the poetics of construction and the vernacular than runs through the work of Pedro Cabrita Reis, or Joana Vasconcelos’s Pop-derived strategy of the image, or even the concern with the political and community that is inscribed in the careers of Ângela Ferreira and Fernanda Fragateiro, to mention artists significantly represented in the collection.

Lastly, the collector’s approach to following artists allows changes and alterations to be detected in the course of an artist’s work itself, showing clearly that the paths followed by artists do not develop in a linear way but are the result of shifts in the way that they do and think things. João Pinharanda, the director of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas between 2007 and 2010, draws attention to the programmatic side of the collection in terms of following the careers of artists (Pinharanda, 2007). He goes so far as to claim that this is a characteristic of the collection, in itself a quality that has an element of historiographical rigour, offering visions that cut across individual careers.

It might even be said that this is the key ethical dimension of the Cachola Collection: its commitment to public access is intimately linked to the commitment it has shown to following the career of the artists within the collection, in contrast to a somewhat encyclopaedic tendency present in other publicly accessible collections.


Public access has always been an inherent part of the collection, particularly from the founding moment of the 1999 MEIAC exhibition.

This book, the first comprehensive, though not complete, publication of the António Cachola Collection, brings together a significant group of works, the result of a reading of the collection and its key moments, the fluctuating temperature of the acquisitions process, and the varying nature and availability of documentation on the works. It is intended to reveal the breadth of the collector’s choices and to be a reference document for a moment in the collection, and will undoubtedly be followed by others.

In Portugal, the work of Portuguese artists, whether shown in national or international contexts, is particularly scarce among the museum choices that have been made. None of the collections of the Serralves Museum, the Modern Art Centre (Gulbenkian’s CAM), the Museu do Chiado or the Caixa Geral de Depósitos (to cite just the most important collections) are on permanent display, and neither are significant sections of them – thus generating a strange vacuum. It is interesting to note that this vacuum follows a general situation of protectionism, with institutions opting for exclusively Portuguese collections: CAM’s collection (except the British collection, frozen in time) is a collection of Portuguese art, as is the collection of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos (which also has a very small collection of Brazilian and African artists) and the public collection of the Museu do Chiado. Interestingly, in the specificity of these collections, not even their plan seems to have been fulfilled, since acquisitions policies, particularly in recent years, have been particularly sluggish, when not quite simply at a standstill.

This gives rise to a paradox: none of Portugal’s historically most important collections show a consistency between their intent and their institutional capacity to fulfil their self-elected mission: there is no public scrutiny of their (past or present) acquisitions policy and no more or less global vision of contemporary Portuguese artistic production is evident.

In this sense the Cachola collection, in its scale and strategy, fulfils a key role: it is an essential repository for anyone who wishes to gain some insight into the artistic transformations of Portugal as part of the European Community (which corresponds, generically, to the timespan that the collection has adopted as its own).

In fact, no other publicly accessible collection reveals in such a comprehensive fashion the transformations that have taken place in Portugal over the last 25 years, from the emphasis on questions of identity, to economic expansion, the traumatic experience of the end of empire, the fascination with globalisation, the idiosyncrasies of scale, the new migrations, and irony or delight in relation to the future.

This assessment not only holds within the artistic field: the António Cachola Collection helps provide a subtle gauge of the social temperature. This is, undoubtedly, not the least of its virtues.

Delfim Sardo