Lisbon’s Growing Gallery Scene Is a Haven for Art Collectors

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Few cities have undergone a development process as rapid and comprehensive as Lisbon in the last decade. In the years following the financial crisis, Portugal and its capital were in tatters, but both have since emerged. Lisbon, a colorful, lively, and dynamic European capital, is today a testament to the country’s revitalization.

As Lisbon’s popularity abroad rose, tourists changed the city’s composition, and massive private investment transformed derelict buildings into brand-new homes, immediately snapped up by an ever-growing number of expats. This new market, composed of a mix of tech professionals, digital nomads, wealthy retirees, and foreign businesspeople, prompted the swift renewal of Lisbon’s gallery scene.

“When I opened the gallery in 2016, Lisbon was completely different from what it is today. The city underwent immense changes, and the art market wasn’t spared,” Matteo Consonni, founder of Madragoa, told Artsy. “Before 2016, Lisbon had a good local scene, but few galleries had an international approach. The audience at the time was much more local. Now galleries also have an expat audience, people with a lot of potential, intellectually and financially.”

Located in the Estrela area, an upscale neighborhood centered around a towering limestone-white basilica, Madragoa enjoys the proximity of Portuguese art dealing heavyweights such as Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art and Pedro Cera. A sense of community among gallerists, all now part of the novel Lisbon ecosystem, might be considered a byproduct of the city’s economic overhaul. “Lisbon is obviously not Paris or New York, but it is recognized as a city where things are happening when it comes to contemporary art,” Consonni added.

The arrival of ARCO in Lisbon, a Portuguese offshoot of the namesake event in Madrid, in 2016 ended years of failed efforts to establish an annual fair in Lisbon. Gallerists and artists greeted ARCO with open arms, and this year’s edition features 84 galleries from 15 countries. “The Lisbon art scene was already vibrant, rich, and complex when ARCOlisboa arrived, and that was one, if not the main reason, to bet on Lisbon,” Maribel López, the fair’s director, told Artsy. “The engagement of Portuguese collectors with its scene was deep, and that was really a very good base from which to start an art fair. International collectors have also, since the beginning of the fair, been very interested in Portuguese art.”

Gallerists also note that the influx of collector engagement appears to be persistent.

“Lisbon earned its place in the global art market, which would now be difficult to lose. We offer a very nice package to expats: safety, good weather, easy access to products,” said Miguel Nabinho, owner of his eponymous gallery. Nabinho’s gallery, which has local artists such as Ana Jotta and Pedro Calapez on its roster, embodies the average internationalization strategies of local galleries, mainly supported by digital sales. The long-reaching arm of the digital space, he says, is vital since “the power players of the art system—critics, museums, galleries—aren’t based in Portugal.”

Despite Portugal’s peripheral stance in art world affairs at large, the country’s strong cultural ties with Portuguese-speaking nations position Lisbon as the perfect gathering point for those operating in the Lusophone sphere. Luanda-born gallery This Is Not a White Cube, also in Lisbon since 2021, notes the importance of this intercontinental triangulation.

“We started from an Angolan base and went on to develop our work in the Portuguese-speaking area, with a curatorial perspective oriented towards dismantling the colonial tenets inherited from Salazar’s dictatorship and focused on artists who reject that kind of discourse,” the gallery’s co-owner Graça Rodrigues told Artsy. Curiosity and demand for challenging works of art are ever-growing, also thanks to the cited economic transformation of the city, she noted. “There was this promise of ‘Lisbon as the new Berlin.’ Many creative and tech hubs have opened, startups mushroomed, the technology crowds and the young came, attracted by the idea of an affordable and bohemian capital.”

At the same time, Portuguese traditions are being revived for an upscale market, and collectors tend to search for local flavor in their gallery forays. Catarina Mantero, owner of the 2022-founded Galeria Belard, told Artsy that “many collectors are interested in Portuguese art and look specifically for works with clear Portuguese cultural references.” Joana Galego (“a disciple of Paula Rego,” says Mantero) and Ana Jacinto Nunes, whose ceramic works are inspired by Portuguese traditional art, are good examples of what expats tend to look for when they venture into a local gallery, said Catarina. And for both its locals and expats, Lisbon—for centuries, a crossroad of the world—is continuing to yield artistic discoveries old and new.

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