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CAM’s British Art Collection/

CAM's British Art Collection

7 October 2021 to 30 January 2022

Curators: Catarina Alfaro and Patrícia Rosas

The British Art Collection of the Modern Art Centre (CAM) of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (FCG) was consolidated between 1959 and 1965 with the acquisition of a series of works proposed by a group of consultants from the British Council, providing a relatively comprehensive panorama of British art from the first half of the 1960s. The bulk of this collection began to be put together after two major exhibitions in London in 1964. The first of these, The New Generation: 1964, was held from March to May at the Whitechapel Gallery, exhibiting artists and paintings that now form the historical core of the CAM Collection, with these works probably having been acquired following the exhibition organised by the British Council and the FCG's UK Branch. The second exhibition, entitled Painting & Sculpture of a Decade and financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was held at the Tate Gallery from 22 April to 28 June, presenting some of this group of works that were subsequently incorporated into the CAM Collection.

In selecting works to be acquired by the Foundation, the consultants from the British Council seem to have given special emphasis to more experimental practices of figuration, which explored the formal inventiveness associated with abstraction and included self-referential or autobiographical elements.

Currently, after its most recent acquisitions (the latest work was incorporated into the collection in 2019), CAM's British Art Collection comprises 472 works by 207 artists.

This collection was formed in parallel with a series of initiatives promoted by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which were of major importance for the development of Paula Rego's artistic career. The first public presentation of her works in Portugal occurred in 1961, at the Second Exhibition of Fine Arts organised by the FCG. Following this, in 1962-1963, the artist achieved one of her expressly stated objectives - to make contact with the London art world and with other artists who had similar tendencies to her own - through the programme of Scholarships for Professional Specialisation and Advancement Abroad, promoted by the FCG's Fine Arts Department. Finally, in 1965, the institution began to acquire an important set of works by Paula Rego. Not only was this synchronicity crucial for the history of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, but it also reveals the importance that both groups of works (those by British artists and those by Paula Rego) have come to acquire in the CAM Collection.

The exhibition at Casa das Histórias Paula Rego of 24 works by 16 British artists from the CAM Collection (including paintings, drawings and prints) coincides with the largest ever retrospective exhibition of her work at the Tate Britain, in London, which will then travel to the European cities of The Hague and Málaga.

The works from the British Art Collection chosen for this exhibition reflect experimental approaches in the field of figuration by artists who, like Paula Rego, were mainly producing their work in London in the 1950s and 1960s and who became associated with the "School of London" - a concept developed by the British Council for the international promotion of exhibitions that included works by some of the British artists presented here, such as Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and David Hockney. However, the representation of Paula Rego in the critical discourse about the School of London is chronologically decontextualised in relation to the pictorial practices and the formal and narrative experimentalism that defined that school in the postwar period and to which the Portuguese artist's painting from those years also belongs. We must therefore question/re-examine the reasons for this apparent omission which, in some ways, the formation of the CAM Collection naturally seems to contradict.

For this exhibition, organised in the form of a partnership between the Fundação Dom Luís I and the Modern Art Centre of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, works were selected from the British Art Collection that were produced in the 1980s by artists such as Maggi Hambling, Steven Campbell and Peter Howson, and which, for chronological reasons, do not belong to the specific context of the School of London, but are closely related to the figurative universe of Paula Rego.