By the sparkling shores of the Tagus, with Lisbon’s own Golden Gate Bridge and a sky high statue of Jesus Christ in the background, lies one of Lisbon’s latest sensations, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT). It comprises a decommissioned power plant, that despite its red brick façade and late Victorian look was actually built in the 1940’s, and a recently built addition by architect Amanda Levete.
The so-called “New Building”, dug out right next to the older one, looks a bit like an elongated barely opened eye, as if a suspicious alligator is peeking out of the water. But don’t get me wrong, the combo is unmenacing, fresh and fun, even if it belongs to the leading Portuguese energy supplier EDP and its eponymous philanthropic foundation.
Inside the New Building, an impressively large and rather theatrical elliptical ramp leads us below to the underground exhibition rooms. The contemporary art on display at MAAT focuses on its namesake themes of urbanism and tech, with a penchant for the interactive and the thought provoking, with a friendly, educational approach aimed at larger audiences. There’s a lot of politics, social commentary, double-entendre and neon lights, which constitutes, arguably, the current standard of public oriented contemporary art. Pedro Gadanho the museum’s director, left New York’s MoMa to head this project, and he is happy. “I wouldn’t have left New York if I didn’t belive it would be worth it. And it’s been a success with the public, both national and international.”. The critical reception has also been rather good, and the local contemporary art community has been very supportive.
The museum isn’t solely aimed at displaying art, and intends to be an active voice in the development of this bustling part of town, as Pedro Gadanho told us. Working on the interaction with the local institutions is a key goal.
Indeed, the compound is a stone’s throw away from the late gothic Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belem; the romantic National Coach Museum, and its recent brutalist addition; the Belem Cultural Center, which houses the Berardo Collection of contemporary art; … and the Pasteis de Belem factory, who sells hot custard tarts as if they were, well, hot custard tarts. It’s a fitting neighbourhood for the crème de la crème of Portuguese art history, and a large renewal of the area is in the works, allowing visitors to enjoy a more practical route that brings all these institutions together. The museum has so far succeeded in attracting bucket loads of visitors to this part of town, and the opening of the river facing restaurant scheduled for October won’t certainly hurt.