Blue-Chip Artworks Seized From Top Portuguese Collector Will Be Featured in New Art Museum in Lisbon

The star-studded art collection assembled by a top Portuguese collector that was seized by the state will form a key component of a new contemporary art museum set to open in the country’s capital city in October, Artnet News has learned.

The Berardo Collection, assembled by collector and business tycoon José “Joe” Berardo, will be featured in the inaugural presentation of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Museu de Arte Contemporânea/Centro Cultural de Belém) in Lisbon, which will open its doors on October 28, according to Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB).

The Berardo Collection was seized by the state in 2019 after the eponymous businessman, dubbed the “Portuguese Charles Saatchi” in the English-speaking world, failed to pay lenders to whom he owed over $1 billion in debt collateralized by the artworks.

MAC/CCB will open with the presentation of the “collections in deposit—the Berardo Collection, the Ellipse Collection, and the Teixeira de Freitas Collection, as well as a solo exhibition by the Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere,” a CCB spokesperson wrote in an email to Artnet News.

The new museum will serve as a platform for dialogue and understanding of various artistic paths and contemporary art practices, bridging the past and present, according to the CCB. “It is a very important moment of affirmation of the multiple valences of the Centro Cultural de Belém, allowing the dialogue between the visual arts, architecture, and performing arts,” the spokesperson said.

CCB is Lisbon’s main cultural complex, occupying more than 1 million square feet. It features a wide variety of arts and culture programs spanning disciplines and also hosts conferences.

The complex’s exhibition center became home for the Museu Coleção Berardo (Berardo Collection Museum) in June 2007 and served as the main exhibition space for the art trove said to include 900 works by blue-chip names such as Picasso, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Gerhard Richter, and Francis Bacon. The collection was valued at €316 million ($352 million) in 2006 by Christie’s, but the value has likely skyrocketed in the intervening years.

Authorities seized Berardo’s treasures after three Portuguese banks—the Caixa Geral de Depósitos, the Banco Comercial Português, and the Novo Banco (formerly Espírito Santo)—failed to collect on the businessman’s mounting debts. The artworks had been placed as collateral for bank loans of nearly €1 billion ($1.1 billion). In 2021, Berardo was arrested over alleged fraud but was later released on bail. As of May of this year, no charges have been placed, according to local reports.

The plan to open a new contemporary art museum had already been in the works when the Berardo Collection was seized. It has remained open to the public amid the legal challenges and seizures.

Pedro Adão e Silva, Portugal’s minister of culture, announced plans for the MAC/CCB in January, according to the Portugal Resident, and a foundation that looks after the CCB will spearhead its implementation. Berardo’s name was not publicized in the announcement.

Meanwhile, the Ellipse Collection, which consists of 860 works and will be featured in the new MAC/CCB, was assembled by the late former banker João Rendeiro, who went bankrupt and fled Portugal. He arrived in South Africa in September 2022 but was later arrested and found dead in prison in December while awaiting extradition. His collection was subsequently incorporated into the state art collection.

While the Ellipse Collection has been incorporated into the state’s collection, the Berardo Collection remains in a more liminal legal area, according to the representative for CCB. The Berardo Collection has been seized but for the moment the legal owner is still Berardo, pending a court decision, the representative said.

Portugal’s culture ministry did not respond to a request for comment.


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