contemporary art space in a former monastery

Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporãnea do Chiado (MNAC )

Lisbon has a fair number of top end art galleries and museums. The oft cited Berardo in Belem is impressive with its International Modern art. But if you are going for modern- and contemporary art of home-grown Portuguese talent, MNAC is more the thing for you.

The last bit is of course an acromyn for Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporãnea do Chiado. But Whoever you are, long official names seldom roll off the tongue that easily. Even acronyms are difficult to remember, so the dear art venue continues to be known mostly as Museu do Chiado locally.

Located in the former São Francisco da Cidade monastery, the national art collection was established in 1911 and has been a visitor success for more than a century. The museum houses important Portuguese works of art from 1890 and onwards. There are paintings by Júlio Pomar and Sá Nogueira, sculpture by José Pedro Croft and Vasco Araújo’s plus video from Alexandre Estrela.

Much of the available space is wisely surrendered to temporary exhibitions, whereas the compact permanent collection is curated into logical structures of chronology and movement. From a more art historical perspective, some of the Portuguese highlights are:
O Grupo do Leão (The Lion Group) by Columban Bordallo Pinheiro.
Só Deus (only God) Francisco Augusto Metrass
Retrato da Viscondessa de Meneses (Portrait of the Viscountess de Meneses) Luís de Meneses

The marriage between the 13th century Roman-vaulted brick architecture, and the top modern visitor centre is surprisingly happy. The result is equally beautiful, functional and accessible for all. It very much comes down to the management who commissioned a refurbishment led by the French architect Jean-Michel Willmotte in 1994.

So if you were not there for the art, the architectural mix is quite exciting in its own. You have the rustic interior with the odd sculpture here and there, as leading into white cube like exhibition spaces. Then you have this space age steel and glass gangway and mezzanine floors, lift and cinema display. At the top you find the sculpture garden. This is a small grassy and paved area more like a terrace featuring a handful of sculptures. But size is not everything, because it is well worth a visit, and it is doubling up as a welcome sun deck. Besides that, it is a meeting space for live music events, and it conveniently leads to the café.