The exhibition with current Portuguese art that is now being shown in Södertälje konsthall, I saw for the first time in Lisbon in September last year. It was arranged by the Portuguese art association Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes and was opened in connection to a congress that gathered art critics and art historians from all over the world in Lisbon. Because of this, the aim was more to give a broad presentation of the current artistry in the country rather than giving the exhibition any kind of decisive profile. At the same time, the jury highlighted in their protocol that is had worked under strict quality requirements. The result of the judging was that out of 158 artists around 70 were chosen to participate with two works each. The quality criteria cannot, however, have been everything to it, one ought to have also aimed to give the international guests an insight into the diverse artistic expressions in this country that is on its way to breaking its national isolation.
In a very engaged foreword to the Portuguese catalogue, collectively signed, it was claimed that the 1976 Lisbon exhibition could be seen as a summary of a series of thematic exhibitions that had been held over the last years, partly with a focus on form under titles such as “figuration – today”, and “abstraction – today”, and partly with a political focus such as in the exhibition manifesto “Against the death penalty.”
The leading Portuguese critic and this exhibition’s representative Rui Mario Goncalves, has in another context pointed to the importance of a high intellectual and artistic standard, which stops the falsely folksy, mediocre art from spreading in the name of the revolution and the people. He means that the avant-garde is close to the revolutionary and the popular; the concept avant-garde has also been taken from a military context. The posters and the murals in Lisbon around April 1974 support this view. They are said to be anonymous, but behind them there are probably both professionals and amateurs, which give them their both powerful and spontaneous character. What the posters’ concise message and the murals’ storytelling have in common is that they blast the traditional concepts of how and why art is made and how it shall work.
One of the members of Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes takes part in both exhibition sections, in “the galleries’ art” with experimental collages, and in “the streets’ art” with a diapositive documentation of the murals from the revolution April 25 1974. After 1974, some of the artists have also tried to bring with them the collective spirit from the barricades into the post-revolution studios and galleries and work together under the name “Grupo Puzzle”. Together they make large collage-like paintings. Behind the manifestation with the exhibition “Exposicao de arte moderna portuguesa” in front of an international audience the autumn of 1976, which is now shown in Södertälje konsthall in a somewhat smaller version under the title “Portugal – Images from the Galleries and the Streets”, there was a strong need to win an international response that in turn could contribute to a stimulation of domestic cultural policy in order to create necessary conditions for the arts, not least a bitterly missed museum for 20th century art in Lisbon.
On behalf of Södertälje municipality Culture Committee and Södertälje konsthall I give a thank you to all participating artists in Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes and to the exhibition representative Rui Mario Gonclaves, as well as to Eduardo Nery and the “anonymous revolution painters”, but also to our co-organiser in Sweden, Lunds konsthall, for the initial contacts with Portugal and the preparatory work with the exhibition catalogue and poster.