Vila Nova de Cerveira, Portugal

A Máquina do Tempo (“The Time Machine”)

The Contemporary Art Gallery in Cerveira hosts a Biennale once every two years, incorporating exhibits at their site and commisioning sculptural pieces to decorate the town. Walking around it’s obvious to see that public art is important to the local population, there are sculptures in nearly every square and key public space. This year’s Biennale sees the Gallery drawing attention to the event’s longevity, with 34 pieces on display from previous years between 1978 to 1984.

From the outside the Gallery looks like a large reclaimed factory, all corrugated metal and concrete walls. A banner advertises this year’s Biennale exhibition. On entry, the interior space of the Gallery itself is very impressive. A stark and rather industrial entrance hall leads into the main exhibition space. warehouse-like in it’s dimensions. The strip-lit sloped ceiling pushes high above the ground level, providing an excellent open space for viewing. If the works on display could match the impressive setting, this would be an exhibition worth visiting. Unfortunately for the Gallery, they don’t.

The interior space of the main exhibition hall.

A variety of media is included in the exhibition; paintings, drawings, sculpture and photography sit next to each other uncomfortably. Group shows are difficult to curate without a cohesive strand pulling each work together intelligently. In this case, with the only connection seeming to be an inclusion in a previous Biennale around twenty or thirty years ago, the result is rather jumbled and confused. I wandered around the space slightly bemused and disappointed that, for the grand entrance and impressive advertising, this was all they could come up with.

A couple of works stood out for me above the others. Helana Almeida’s Saida Negra (“Black Escape”)  looked primitive and engaging against the sterile interior, whereas Jaime Azinheira’s Taberna (“Tavern”) was raw and unflinchingly comic in it’s depiction of rowdy drinkers at a bar. Placing these two works in the same exhibition, however, seemed ill advised. In addition to the bad curation, alongside the majority of outdated, badly executed works these two seem swamped and almost drowning.

Helana Almeida, Saida Negra (1984)

My only hope would be that in two years time the Biennale springs back into life with a selection of new and exciting works, with artists and pieces that challenge the viewers perceptions, exhilarate the local population and work cohesively to tell some kind of narrative about the current landscape of Portugese art. As it stands this year, the Curarors looks like they’re flogging a dead horse.

Jaime Azinheira, detail from ‘Taberna’ (1984)

On display until 22nd December 2012.

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