José Berardo’s collection goes public

Financier unveils his new museum in Sintra’s former Casino with a collection formed in just four years


A new museum of modern and contemporary art opens on 18 May in Portugal. The Sintra Museum of Modern Art: the Berardo Collection is a partnership between local businessman and financier José Berardo and the municipality of Sintra, a beautiful town some twenty-five kilometres west of Lisbon near the Atlantic coast.

Following the example of Heinz Berggruen’s arrangement with the city of Berlin, they have struck an agreement, for an initial period of ten years, by which Mr Berardo will loan his collection of some 400 paintings and sculptures to the municipality which, for its part, is providing the building where it will be displayed, the Casino, a rather frivolous structure which opened in 1924 and has been converted, at a cost of £2.9 million ($4.6 million) while preserving many original architectural details. Operating costs, calculated to be £625,000 ($1 million) a year, will be shared equally by both parties.

Mr Berardo is a relatively new entrant into the market for modern and contemporary art, having embarked upon his trail of acquisitions only in March 1993. But, through his adviser and agent, Francisco Capelo, he has become one of the most visible and tenacious purchasers both at auction and from dealers in London, Milan, Copenhagen, Stockholm, New York and San Francisco.

No budget for the collection has been published but it is likely that he has spent as much as £50 million in scarcely four years. Dubuffet’s “Paysage aux Arbustes” (1949), for which Mr Capelo is believed to have paid £500,000, is his most expensive acquisition. Other notable purchases include paintings by Riopelle, Lichtenstein, Kelly, Baselitz, Richter, Clemente and Kossoff, all of which will have cost six-figure sums.

Fortunately, it has been a highly profitable period for the financier, whose portfolio of investments embraces hotels, tobacco, wine, mining, merchant banking and the media. Two of his companies are quoted on the Lisbon stock exchange: EMT (Empresa Madeirense de Tabacos) and Investec, which owns a controlling stake in SIC, the country’s leading television station, and has other newspaper and publishing interests. Since its flotation in January 1995, the value of this holding company has quadrupled and is now capitalised at £160 million.

The collection, whose catalogue was published last summer, embraces post-war art in Europe and the United States, Pop Art, Arte Povera, Minimal and Conceptual art, and the art of the Eighties, as well as the work of three Portuguese artists, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Julião Sarmento and Paula Rego. Recent purchases of artists such as Michael Craig-Martin, Ian Davenport and Manuel Ocampo suggest that efforts are being made to represent the new tastes of the Nineties.

Mr Capelo, by training a stockbroker, met Mr Berardo when he was working for the capital markets division of the Banco Internacional Funchal (BANIF) in 1988. He is adamant that the collection that he has been forming with his patron is not an assortment of movements but one of individual works of art selected for their historical significance in the development of modern art.

This principle underlies the arrangement of the catalogue, which ignores the traditional boundaries of school or nationality and juxtaposes Jean Hélion with Jack Smith, William Scott with Nicholas de Stael, and Mark Tobey with Henri Michaux, as does the inaugural exhibition which will display some 140 paintings and sculptures representing about one-third of the collection. Particularly striking will be Boltanski’s “364 Suisses Morts” (1990), an installation of enlarged obituary portraits originally shown at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which will be reconstructed in a special basement room; and James Turrell’s “Fargo” (1967) which will occupy its own room on the museum’s first floor. There are no plans to mount temporary loan exhibitions in the museum, but the collection will be rotated at regular intervals to provide a changing display.