As one of Europe’s most creative capitals, there is a feast of artistic content across various colourful corners of Lisbon for anyone wanting to explore its aesthetic history. MNAC, or the National Contemporary Art Museum of Chiado, is a good place to start; centrally located and offering an eclectic rotation of modern and contemporary artwork and exhibitions.

Building Background

My visit to MNAC was an opportunity to observe Lisboan history in prolific documents of the previous century. Even before entering the exhibition space, the building itself tells a multitude of stories. The museum is hosted by ex-convent,
São Francisco da Cidade, a complex, like countless others in the city, gravely affected by the earthquake of 1755. Centuries later, in 1994, the space was transformed in a renovation project to the structure seen today. The modern architecture was pointedly designed to respect the past of the historical location with replicas of monastic columns and pillars.

Step Inside

Inside the museum, the displayed art harnesses a clear mission of investigating and disseminating Portuguese history. Whilst the majority of exhibitions are temporary and the content inside the museum routinely transforms, it is certain for any visitor that they will have the opportunity to witness a unique iteration of Portuguese culture through visual art.

At my time of visiting, ascending the first flight of stairs, I was thrown immediately in to the work of Francis Smith in a temporary exhibition which details his life spent in Lisbon and, later, Paris. His paintings of scenes both close and far, bestow an essence of ‘immigrant sentimentality’ and a nostalgic memory of a Portugal left behind. Yet, it is interesting, even for non-natives of Lisbon, to observe images of the city that are not so unfamiliar from todays landscape.

Other exhibitions include artworks from Portuguese painters to sculpture artists. My visit offered me access to a showcase created in commemoration of the highly influential Ernesto de Sousa; and a stirring exhibition, entitled Heritage, which explores the trauma of the Portuguese conflicts of the past. These exhibits are arranged in a maze which drives you through varying themes and eventually leads you to an outdoor terrace with bronze sculptures. Here is a great place to pause in the cafeteria and enjoy a moment of reflection. I was glad to feel like I had lifted a veil on the present day Lisbon for a deeper perception of a city with such a particular identity and spirit.

If you want to pay MNAC a visit, it’s a worthwhile price of €4.50/ adult and can be found close to Baixa-Chiado station at R. Capelo 13, 1200-087 Lisboa, Portugal.

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