After loans and offers of first refusal Portugal may lose billionaire's collection to Brazil

José Berardo doubts government will buy, and plans new art deco museum



When the billionaire José Berardo finally signed the agreement to found the Berardo Museum of modern and contemporary art with the Portuguese government in April 2006—after ten years of difficult negotiations—Prime Minister José Sócrates said “with this display of art, the country becomes richer and Lisbon a better city. In the past, the European route of modern art ended in Madrid; now it begins here” (The Art Newspaper, May 2006). Since then, political instability and the economic crisis have seriously affected the cultural scene in Portugal. In the past year there have been three different cultural ministers and the question still remains: whether the original goal of establishing a definitive and permanent museum based on the Berardo Collection will ever go ahead.

In the 2006 agreement, Berardo stated that he would loan his 4,000-strong collection of modern, contemporary and art deco works to the state, to display in Lisbon’s Belém Cultural Centre for ten years, with further extensions of the loan agreement possible by mutual consent. He also agreed that the state would be offered first refusal to buy the works in 2016. The collection, which Berardo has built up since the 1980s, includes works by Picasso, Bacon, Warhol, Arman, Balthus, Fontana, De Staël, Da Silva, De Kooning and Frank Stella, among others.

However, Berardo told The Art Newspaper that he is planning a new museum to display his art deco collection in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to open in 2011. “I had meetings with the mayor and the governor and they both asked for my agreement. I have accepted in principle a similar deal to the one in Portugal: a ten-year loan agreement. Now we are trying to find the best building to house it in,” he told us. His art deco collection is one of the largest in private hands; it currently includes around 400 pieces of furniture as well as significant numbers of paintings, statues, ceramics, glass and silverware and other interior decorative objects from some of the most famous Art Deco decorators such as Lalique, Brandt, Perzel, Leleu, Porteneuve and Ruhlmann.

He told us that he now believes that it is unlikely that the Portuguese government will buy his collection, saying: “Because of the economic crisis, the Portuguese government has many other priorities. From a practical point of view, why would they spend so much money when they can renew the loan…for another ten years?”

But Jean-François Chougnet, the director of the Lisbon museum, says that the government is missing a great opportunity as, in 2016, the deal would have allowed it to buy the works covered in the original agreement for their 2006 Christie’s valuation of E316m. This would not include new acquisitions made since 2006. Paradoxically, 50% of the funding for these acquisitions—E100,000 a year—is provided by the state.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Portugal may lose billionaire collection to Brazil'