The Berardo Museum – City Column

City Column

The Berardo Museum

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If it’s raining in Lisbon, or the sun is beating down mercilessly, go to a museum. Take tram 15 to Belém, which lies just outside the city centre and therefore escaped destruction in the great earthquake of 1755. Walk past the tourists waiting to visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Torre de Belém and step into the large, square modern building that houses the Museu Coleção Berardo. The museum is free, which may be why it’s so quiet. So quiet that with a little luck the visitor can pretend it’s his or her own private collection. It’s a modern art museum, or rather a best of modern art collection, because it includes one or two works from all of the big names. It may not be the most exciting collection from an art historical point of view – nobody takes best of CDs seriously either – but I don’t care.

In the corner of the 1930s room, a museum guard – a woman in her late 20s – is perched on a stool. She glances up from her book, and apparently decides that I’m not likely to be carrying a Stanley knife, or planning to deface a work of art. Not today.

‘If you could choose three paintings,’ I ask, ‘which ones would you choose?’

She thinks about it. ‘That Balthus in the corner’. When she hops down from her stool, the top of her head barely reaches my chest. ‘And that Warhol, those blue flowers. I love them, especially since I work with silver a lot myself. She is speaking quite loudly. For her, there’s apparently no need to whisper in a museum. ‘And the third, a work by Lourdes Castro, because it’s beautiful and because she’s Portuguese and a woman.’

623I would choose a Mondriaan and Samaras’s shoe. Her walkie-talkie splutters and she quickly climbs back onto her stool, slips the book under her bottom and straightens her jacket. Shortly thereafter a group of three people – a man and two women deep in discussion – stumps through the room.

‘That was Mr Bernardo.’ Now she is whispering. He is not here very often, and he usually visits after closing hours. It’s his museum, and he could take any painting he likes home with him. Until recently he was the richest man in the country, but he has not emerged from the crisis unscathed. A flamboyant man who has more than once announced that his art will remain in the public domain only as long as the socialists remain in power in Lisbon. Long live the left!