The Portuguese don’t really do museums and galleries, certainly compared to the British, which is a shame because there are are some wonderful places to visit. Joana Vasconcelos’ show in the Palácio da Ajuda in Lisbon has been the exception. By the time we turned up at the beginning of this month an astonishing 100,000 people had already been to see it. And with a couple of days to go until it closes, that number has nearly hit 200,000. Tonight’s opening hours have been extended until midnight.
So what’s all the excitement about? Joana Vasconcelos creates eye-catching objects using everyday things most of us wouldn’t look at twice. The finished object is often a mixture of the traditional and the modern, the grand and the ordinary. At its best her art challenges our assumptions about the way we see things.
The Palácio da Ajuda, a large nineteenth century palace, rather than a modern art space, is the setting for this exhibition. Her creations are placed throughout the furnished rooms which were once home to the royal family until the portuguese decided they’d had enough of the monarchy and got rid of it.
There was a lot to see on our walk around the palace and my favourite objects were probably towards the end. They included an enormous pair of glittering, shoes made of steel pans and lids which towered and sparkled over us and made me feel like a lilliputian from Gulliver’s Travels and an enchanting rotating red heart made of translucent red plastic cutlery (the kind children love to play with on picnics and adults throw away). Also lots of fun was an enormous chandelier, beautifully constructed, which on closer inspection you realise is made entirely of tampons.
I’d already seen examples of some of Vasconcelos’ work on the web. Some of these were also on display. Most easily recognisable, and there were a lot of them, were the ceramic glazed animals made by Bordallo Pinheiro covered in crocheted lace from the Açores, carefully selected to reflect the room they were in.
The exhibition could have been a little shorter (although I did have a couple of impatient teenagers with me) but I really liked her stuff – fun, subversive and beautiful.