The Director’s Guide: MAAT, Lisbon

The Director’s Guide: MAAT, Lisbon

The newest addition to Lisbon’s waterfront, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) promises an «exploration of contemporary culture» through a melange of visual arts, new media, architecture, technology, and science. Here, the museum’s director Pedro Gadhano shares his insider’s guide to planning a visit, unmissable exhibitions, and the heritage of the space that this unique institution occupies.

How should first-time visitors structure their visit?
The museum is made up of two buildings — an old power station alongside the new Amanda Levete-designed space — each with four galleries exhibiting a range of projects from contemporary Portuguese artists, EDP Foundation collections and international touring shows, so visitors will need to plan carefully if they want to see everything. Definitely save some time to enjoy the surrounding riverside park.


When are the best times to visit?
Late afternoon, when most museums in Lisbon are already closed. Timing it so you see one of the city’s impressive sunsets from the museum’s bar would be a desirable extra.

What is your favourite work?
I originally trained as an architect but have worked closely with the art world and the intersections between the two fields since the beginning of my career. Utopia/Dystopia, which opened in March and runs until August 21 2017, is the inaugural group show to occupy the new building — it is the most important exhibition in which we are investing as it is totally new, and presents something that you are unlikely to see anywhere else.

One of MAAT’s expansive exhibition areas CREDIT: FRANCISCO NOGUEIRA

Which work has the most interesting history?
This is a contemporary art museum, and our collections are always changing. I would therefore say that the most interesting history is held by the buildings themselves. Each one has its own narrative that makes it special, and the relationship between them is amazing.

One is fully contemporary and very unexpected in its form and architectural language, and the other — formerly Tejo Power Station — is impressive because of its industrial heritage and it being the kind of building that you don’t often see anymore. We run a permanent tour in the power station where people can see the old machinery and learn how energy used to be produced. Here you have contemporary art juxtaposed against industrial heritage in a very real way; you are confronted with the amazing monumental machines as you admire the art.

Tejo Power Station, now part of MAAT CREDIT: EDP FOUNDATION

What is its greatest weakness?
That we could not welcome everybody that wanted to come initially. Immediately after opening, we had 22,000 people visit the building. The bridge walkway had to be closed and thousands of people were left outside circulating the grounds, with huge queues forcing some people to give up.

What is unique about this institution?
Its location, its wide-ranging architecture, its combination of industrial heritage with contemporary art and, last but not least, its ambition to produce a political discourse on the contemporary. In contemporary art today, there are so many artists that work between art and architecture, but [before MAAT] there was no dedicated institution that could represent or explore these kind of relationships. This will be one of the few institutions in the world focusing on this specific area of contemporary art.

A display from the EDP Foundation New Artists’ Award 2017 exhibition CREDIT: PAULO ALEXANDRINO; FOUNDATION EDP

What is interesting about the building that the institution occupies?
In addition to the old/new architectural juxtaposition, the new building by Amanda Levete Architects is an expression of progressive architecture. It is an organic, fluid space made by digital design tools, yet with carefully established connections with the materials that are used in the city and in the region. Limestone which is typical of Lisbon and ceramic tiles lining the building’s exterior echo the city’s heritage. Although the building is very recent we believe it is already a landmark for the future of the city.

What else do you recommend visitors visit in Lisbon?
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is another important 20th-century foundation in the city that has always held very contemporary art exhibitions — and has a magnificent collection.

Visiting MAAT Lisbon

Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday midday to 8pm; closed Tuesdays
Prices/tickets: €9; concessions available
Address: Av. Brasília, 1300-598 Lisboa​