Lisbon Gets Modern, in A Big Way

Sunday, July 15, 2007

WHAT: The new Berardo Collection Museum at the Exhibition Centre of Centro Cultural de Belem in Lisbon.

WHEN: Opened June 25.

HOW MUCH: $6.80.

WHY GO: When Portuguese businessman Jose Berardo announced nearly 10 years ago that he wanted to display his extensive art collection to the public, several countries, including the United States, offered him a home. After some haggling with Portugal's government, Berardo ultimately showed loyalty to his homeland. As a result, Portugal now boasts one of the world's largest collections of modern and contemporary art.

"With this display of art, the country becomes richer and Lisbon a better city," Portugal's prime minister, Jose Socrates, said last month after touring the museum, according to Reuters. "In the past, the European route of modern art ended in Madrid; now it begins here."

Berardo's collection of more than 4,000 pieces, which also include ceramic tiles, advertising art, Portuguese ceramics and an unusual assortment of Victorian and Edwardian chamber pots, will be permanently housed in various museums throughout Portugal. But for the next decade, a chunk of it will be shown at the Exhibition Centre of Centro Cultural de Belem, which has been renovated to house the new collection along with its other exhibits.

The cultural center's trove, featuring works from the past 100 years, consists of nearly 900 pieces by more than 500 international artists. Pablo Picasso's Cubist painting "Tete de Femme," from 1909, is the earliest painting; other well-known artists include Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning and Alexander Calder.

DON'T MISS . . . Bacon's "Oedipus and the Sphinx After Ingres" (1983), which portrays the mythical king dressing his bloody foot against a shocking pink background. . . . A surreal Picasso from 1929 titled "Femme Dans un Fauteuil ," which shows a misshapen woman in an armchair. . . . Warhol's "Ten Foot Flowers" (1967), a silkscreen of four outsized flowers.

EXTRAS: More of the Berardo collection can be seen in the public spaces of the Portuguese Parliament in Lisbon on Rua de Sao Bento. Pieces scattered throughout the government building include Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure" (1969), Jean Dubuffet's "L'Arbre Biplan" (1968) and Richard Long's "Sandstone Line" (1981).

The annual BaixAnima Street Festival, which takes place every weekend between July and September in the commercial Baixa quarter, features music, dance, theater, circus acts and sporting events, with a dash of the absurd.

Locally, Washingtonians can get a primer on Portuguese art with the exhibit "Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries" at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. SW, 202-633-4880, http://www.asia.si.edu; free), through Sept. 16.

EATS: Visit any Portuguese pastry shop or cafe and you'll probably find pasteis de nata, a small cream tart that the sisters at the Jeronimos Monastery created in the 18th century. Jayme Simoes, a PR consultant for the Portuguese government, says the pastries at the Pastelaria Pasteis de Belem (84-88 Rua de Belem) are the "real deal: warm, creamy, smoky, with a hint of cinnamon."

Belem Terrace (Avenida Brasilia), in front of the new museum, offers outdoor dining with views of the Tejo River. Entrees include feijoada (a bean dish with different types of meat), steak in mushroom sauce, fillet of cod and shrimp with pasta. All dinners are fixed-price and cost $20 to $30.

SLEEPS: The York House (691 Lisboa, 011-351-21-396-2435, http://www.yorkhouselisboa.com) is a boutique hotel in a former convent. Each of the 32 rooms, which cost $200 to $350 per night double, has a different decor, ranging from classical to ultra-contemporary.

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Tejo River, the luxurious Lapa Palace (4 Rua do Pau de Bandeira, 011-351-21-394-9494, http://www.lapapalace.com) is resplendent with gardens, streams and waterfalls. The deluxe guest rooms and suites are individually designed with elegant furnishings. The lowest-price room, with views of the garden, costs nearly $500.

INFO: The Berardo Collection Museum at the Exhibition Centre of Centro Cultural de Belem is at Praca do Imperio in Lisbon, 011-351-21-361-2400, http://www.ccb.pt.

-- John Maynard

© 2007 The Washington Post Company