“Que horas são que horas: uma galeria de histórias, curated by José Maia, Paula Parente Pinto and Paulo Mendes, at Galeria Municipal do Porto, is an exhibition about the history of art galleries in Oporto, between 1940 and the present. It is a reflection that allows us to understand the relationships between artists, cultural spaces and audience, something reflected in a scenography surrounded by an archival environment filled with characters, artistic practices and different documents.
In 2001, when the city of Porto was the European Capital of Culture, the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art organised the exhibition Porto 60/70: Os Artistas e a Cidade. In the catalogue, the curators Fátima Lambert and João Fernandes called for a more developed study of the decades presented, especially the “life and history of institutions, structures and cultural associations”. Now, with some research on this theme already conducted, Que horas são que horas is not only an anthological project, but, as the text of the exhibition indicates, a discourse based on the following statement: “Against the regime or with its support, in an institutional vacuum or while feeding the museums, isolated or globalised, central or peripheral, heir to a conservative social context without critical discourse and resistant to new generations of artists, the historical landscape of art galleries in Oporto is made by citizenship and commerce, of an art that is not only cult-like, but one that carries an exchange value: a gallery made of stories.”
Que horas são que horas is a retrospective portrait, whose scenography is typical of the work of the visual artist and curator Paulo Mendes. We feel like we are standing in front of a sort of archive, full of transport boxes that support several photos, art magazines or videos of inaugurations. The journey takes us in different directions, with several artistic practices displayed in the galleries. But there is also documentation, such as catalogues, promotional material, or contact prints, presented in industrial structures, in addition to a chronology where we understand the spaces, works and artists that are part of the history of Porto, including Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, Ana Hatherly or Mauro Cerqueira. The moving image is also important, displayed in a blackbox, screen or projector. The highlight is Manoel de Oliveira’s O Pintor e a Cidade (1956), his first colour film, where he shows the Oporto from that time, screened all over the gallery’s back wall, in great drama while relating the exhibition to the city’s history. The work of Mafalda Santos also deserves to be highlighted, having been purposely created for this project: a panel, with a map of the institutions and protagonists of the narrative being told.
The title of the exhibition, taken from a series of paintings by Álvaro Lapa, can be read according to one’s imagination. Que horas são que horas (What time is what time). Time of the pandemic, social and economic crisis. Time of isolation, silence, emptiness. A time when cultural venues are closed. A time when support for culture is relegated to the background. A time when we cannot allow the “few” cultural structures to close permanently.
The exhibition at the Municipal Gallery, which in the past has assembled projects about the city’s artistic life, such as Musonautas, Visões & Avarias (2018), or 100 Tesouros da Biblioteca Pública Municipal do Porto (2016), shines a light on a pressing field of study, where we think about Porto’s culture. It’s about reflecting on the history of art galleries, since returning to the past and questioning the present is also building and creating proposals for the future. Finally, a quote from Fernando Pernes, in Memórias Imprecisas, from the catalogue of the aforementioned exhibition at Serralves Museum: “The rest will be silence, which only future judgments will perhaps shatter. While the humiliated and offended contemporaries of a time still near, but already past, grow old and sad”.