Humble art


Art is made of constraints. When architect Frank Gehry received a commission to build whatever he wanted, he turned it down. Sometimes, artists create their own constraints. The French writer George Perec wrote a 300-page novel, “La Disparition,” without using the letter “e.”

Other times, circumstances dictate the constraints. When artist Joana Vasconcelos was invited to represent Portugal in the Venice Biennale, the problem was that Portugal does not have a permanent pavilion at the fair. The artist’s solution was to use a ferry boat that was about to be dismantled both as a floating pavilion and exhibition piece. So, after spending a lifetime between the margins of the Tagus river, this humble boat has become a work of art!

The ferry boats that cross the river Tagus are called “cacilheiros.” They’re a great, inexpensive way to travel on the Tagus. Click here to see their schedule.

The queen’s in the palace


Her grandfather, who worked in an antique shop, believed that it takes several generations to create a great artist. Maybe this belief was the point of departure for Joana Vasconcelos, who often draws inspiration from age-old artisan techniques. Some of her pieces have a colossal scale, shoes built with pots and pans, giant wrought-iron teapots, towers fashioned out of champagne bottles. But she also makes small, whimsical objects.

In 2012, the Palace of Versailles invited Vasconcelos to showcase her work. The artist filled the palace with glamorous objects made of humble materials: feathered helicopters, ceramic lobsters, giant fabric sculptures, outsize hearts built with plastic cutlery. She dedicated the exhibition to the Portuguese women who work in Paris as concierges.

From March 23 to August 25, Vasconcelos shows her work in a perfect setting: the Ajuda royal palace in Lisbon. Portugal abolished the monarchy in 1910. But, in the arts, Joana Vasconcelos is our reigning queen.

Click here to visit Joana Vasconcelos’ web site. You can see her exhibition at Ajuda from 10 am to 7 pm every day except on Wednesdays. On Saturday the exhibition stays open until 9 pm. Click here for more information.