It’s that time of the year again, when things get canceled due to Covid restrictions. 

At this very moment, I should be packing for Lisbon, as I was supposed to be there for ARCOLisboa, the contemporary art fair. But it got canceled. Or, rather, moved online. Which by now equals cancellation to me, because no one is really buying that online-art-fair thing anymore. At least, I am not. 

And despite the considerable anticipation and consequent colossal disappointment when the fair got canceled, I still would love to talk about Lisbon. A city so not European that it literally stands on the physical border of Europe, on its far west coast. And I don’t mean it in a bad way. Lisbon is a mix, there you can feel the adverse spirit of its people, and the fact that for many centuries they traveled and lived all around the globe can be sensed in its architecture, cuisine, and overall culture.

I was in Lisbon a few years ago but still hold it dear to my heart. I went there with a friend, after we both graduated in Arts Management. It was our graduation trip, and it is still one of the best trips I have done to date. The company was great, the destination – Portugal – excellent, and the adventures epic. We still laugh like crazy when remembering that trip!

But apart from amazing sceneries and great wines, delicious food, and charming cities, Portugal has many interesting events and initiatives linked to contemporary art. So much so that the local government encourages and finances art-related events and also provides artists and galleries abroad with funds to promote local Portuguese contemporary artists on the international scene. 

In all this, Lisbon plays, unsurprisingly, a huge role, with several high-quality destinations for contemporary art lovers. Between museums and private collections, galleries, and art fairs, Lisbon proves itself as one of the most vibrant cities in Europe. 

So, while I unpack my luggage and try to convince Ryanair to reimburse my tickets, here are the top 3 museums to check in Lisbon for contemporary art. 

Museu Coleção Berardo

I don’t usually mention places in a specific order, but not this time. Museu Coleção Berardo is at the top of my list for a specific reason, because it’s my favorite place in Lisbon.

Located in Belém, near the famous Torre de Belém and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the Monument of the Discoveries, the museum is one of the most important – if not the biggest – museum of modern and contemporary art in Portugal. If you only have time to visit one museum when visiting Lisbon, it has to be this one. 

Opened in 2007, it shows the stunning collection of millionaire José Berardo, comprising over 900 modern and contemporary artworks. It is basically an entire art course showcasing all the major artists and movements from the 20th century to the present day. 

The collection, which Christie’s valued at around 316 million euros, is hosted in a series of minimal white rooms, arranged along a strictly linear chronological path. Visitors can see examples of all the major artistic movements and influences along the path, from surrealism to pop art, hyper-realism, minimalist art to conceptual art in chronological order.

Together with the permanent collection, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, bringing all the biggest international artists to Lisbon. 

The museum can be easily reached from Lisbon city center, and the visit can be paired with nearby attractions or with a delicious pastel at the uber famous and extremely recommended cafe Pastéis de Belém, just steps away from the museum. 

Museu Coleção Berardo
Praça do Império, 1449-003 Lisboa, Portugal

Info, tickets and opening hours:

museums lisbon - Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporâneo do Chiado

Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporâneo do Chiado

More specifically dedicated to Portuguese art and artists, the MNAC, or National Museum of Contemporary Art, is situated in the Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon, in the city’s historic center. 

It was originally opened in 1911, but later it was re-inaugurated in 1994, with new installations and a renovation done by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The museum hosts an impressive collection of Portuguese artists dating from the 1850s to today. Here you can find the best collection of Portuguese painting and sculpture from the Romanticism, Naturalism, and Modern periods, with works by artistis like Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, Almada Negreiros, Silva Porto, Mario Cesariny and Paula Rego. But the museum also presents recent acquisitions and more experimental works by contemporary artists, as well as temporary exhibitions. 

Considering the perfect location, in the very center of Lisbon and close to most of the city’s other major attractions, it is well worth a visit while strolling around.

Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporâneo do Chiado
R. Serpa Pinto 4, 1200-444 Lisboa, Portugal

Info, tickets and opening hours:

Centro de Arte Moderna – Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

The third and last museum I would like to mention is not specifically dedicated to contemporary art, although its collection hosts more than a few great works by contemporary masters. 

The Center of Modern Art is part of the marvelous Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a Portuguese institution dedicated to the promotion of the arts, philanthropy, science, and education. As part of the foundation, the center hosts a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, mostly displaying Portuguese artists alongside international ones. The museum also has a beautiful garden, a true oasis of peace in the city.

The CAM building was inaugurated in 1983 to display the collection of Calouste Gulbenkian. It is currently under renovation, and there is a stunning project by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to renew and add a new pavilion in the garden.

Despite not having a precise date for its reopening yet, the museum will surely regain its position among the best museums in Lisbon once the renovation works are concluded. 

Centro de Arte Moderna
R. Dr. Nicolau Bettencourt, 1050-078 Lisboa, Portugal

Info, tickets, and opening hours:

Did you like this article? Then, why not check other articles from our Europe section? Maybe you would enjoy getting to know more about other European cities, like Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Copenhagen.
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Cover image by Theodor Vasile on Unsplash