The MAAT opens to the public

Lisbon’s sinuous new gallery designed by Amanda Levete’s AL_A

A remarkable 60,000 people – more than 11 percent of the city’s population – flocked to MAAT, Lisbon’s new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, when it opened its barely finished doors to the public on a sunny October holiday. From midday to midnight, many braved hour-long queues to visit MAAT Central Tejo – the spruced-up power station of the former Museu de Electricidade – or to enter the rebranded museum’s glistening star: a sinuous new gallery designed by Amanda Levete’s AL_A. Structural concerns at heavy footfall forced the closure of the bridge leading to the museum; trains ceased delivering passengers to the nearest station: the museum literally stopped traffic. On the banks of the river Tagus, neighbouring Jerónimos Monastery and Pasteis de Belem’s custard tart paradise, MAAT glistens as new cultural confectionary for Lisbon. It’s also a jewel in the crown of the museum’s private funders and founders, EDP Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Portugal’s largest energy company.

_dsc1187.jpg

The Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia, Lisbon, Portugal on the official opening to the public day, 5 October, 2016. Courtesy: AL_A Architects

The Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia, Lisbon, Portugal on the official opening to the public day, 5 October, 2016. Courtesy: AL_A Architects

An undulating promenade enters, wraps and surmounts the new building’s roof. Inside, in MAAT director Pedro Gadanho’s words, ‘a totally fluid space, counter-intuitive to the idea of the white cube’ unfurls with a sequence of museological greatest hits woven into both the building’s physical form and the ambitions of its artistic programme. MAAT’s central Oval Gallery is designed to host large-scale, site-specific artist commissions. Nodding simultaneously to New York’s Guggenheim and London’s Tate Turbine Hall, an elliptical ramp circles and descends into a cavernous central space. A project room for Portuguese artists sits behind the oval, a main gallery abuts it for group exhibitions and a video room snuggles in the corner. It’s as if Tate’s Tanks have been re-envisioned as a glossy white spaceship.

dominique-gonzalez-foerster_pynchon-park_oval-gallery_10-credits-c-dominique-gonzalez-foerster-photography-bruno-lopes.jpg

Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Pynchon Park, 2016, installation view, the Oval Gallery, MAAT, Lisbon. Courtesy: © the artist; photograph: Bruno Lopes

Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Pynchon Park, 2016, installation view, the Oval Gallery, MAAT, Lisbon. Courtesy: © the artist; photograph: Bruno Lopes

MAAT’s first artist commission for the new building is by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Pynchon Park perfectly inaugurates the Oval, envisioning a zoo operated by extra-terrestrials for the observation of human behaviour. Caged by a green net roof and automated gates that allow and prohibit access at random, visitor-specimens are provided with inflatable balls and giant book-carpets for their recreational amusement, whilst lighting in the gallery cycles through dawn and dusk to collapse 24 hours into 24 minutes. To a soundtrack of waves, the audience performs first as an empirically inclined alien, as it peers into the space, before becoming an actor in a human-zoo within the installation’s theatrical arena, in which drifting spotlights evoke both a spectacular celebration and authoritarian surveillance.

the-world-of-charles-and-ray-eames-2_maat-central-tejo_-credits-photography-bruno-lopes-courtesy-edp-foundation.jpg

‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’, 2016, installation view, Central Tejo, MAAT, Lisbon. Courtesy: EDP Foundation; photograph: Bruno Lopes 

‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’, 2016, installation view, Central Tejo, MAAT, Lisbon. Courtesy: EDP Foundation; photograph: Bruno Lopes 

MAAT will reach full completion in March 2017, with a new bridge, restaurant and a group show, ‘Utopia/Dystopia’, which will extend Gonzalez-Foerster’s themes through works by artists ranging from DIS to Aldo Rossi, Hito Steyerl and Superstudio. Exhibitions from Portugal’s playful elder-statesman painter Eduardo Batarda and filmmakers Apichatpong Weeresethakul and Joaquim Sapinho, opened in the power station in November, to complement ‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’s which travelled from London’s Barbican.

That the Eameses’ work helps inaugurate a museum freshly dedicated to a multidisciplinary mode of thinking about the contemporary makes perfect sense. But both MAAT and Lisbon would do well to remember one of Charles Eames’s statements: ‘The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests.’ Tourism to Lisbon has increased by 50 percent in the last five years, yet many young Portuguese are forced to leave the country in search of work. With so many recent journalists, realtors and holiday makers keen to trademark Lisbon as ‘Europe’s coolest capital’, MAAT’s bold cultural ambitions come with heavy responsibilities: the institution could be simultaneously a salve and a symptom of a city renegotiating its role as a host to residents and visitors alike – a crucial design project indeed.

Issue 184

First published in Issue 184

Jan - Feb 2017

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018