Inaugurated on 28 March 1985, the Exhibition-Dialogue on Contemporary Art in Europe surprised the people of Lisbon and showed them some of the most relevant aspects of contemporary artistic creation. It occupied all the exhibition spaces of the Centro de Arte Moderna (CAM) – opened in 1983 – and the galleries of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s headquarters and closed on June 16 of that year. Its initial conception – under the high patronage of the Council of Europe – belonged to the prestigious critic and art historian René Berger, then Honorary President of IAAC (International Association of Art Critics), who wished this Exhibition-Dialogue to be the first of several to be held in other European museums, with other artists. The participating museums were responsible for the production and selection of the artists and works to be exhibited, and for the Lisbon exhibition the Museum Moderner (Vienna), the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (Ghent), the Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin), the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (Rome), the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen (Rotterdam), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Sonja Henie-Niels Onstad Foundations (Oslo) and Centro de Arte Moderna have chosen around 200 works by 86 artists from their collections, including Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys, Francesco Clemente, Lucio Fontana, Gilbert & George, Sol LeWitt, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, Gehard Richter and Alberto Burri. In parallel, ACARTE, by Madalena Perdigão, developed a stimulating programme dedicated to the performing arts, with theatre shows – with the presentation of Teatre de la Claca, the Shadow Theatre by Lourdes Castro and Manuel Zimbro – music and performances presented by, among other artists, Marina Abramovic/Ulay. It was also within the scope of this programme that the Portuguese public was given the opportunity to get to know the new emerging trends in European theatre-dance, with the presentation of the show The Power of Theatrical Madness, by the Belgian Jan Fabre, premiered in 1983, at the Venice Biennale.
If this Exhibition-Dialogue – the first and only one – was, with enthusiasm, considered an important event in the national context of the arts, it was not, however, exempt from negative assessments on the part of both critics and artists. The greatest objection fell on Centro de Arte Moderna choices, which, perhaps due to the limited representation of works by foreign artists in its still recent collection, selected only works by Portuguese artists: Ângelo de Sousa, Costa Pinheiro, Júlio Pomar, Jorge Martins, Lourdes Castro, and Paula Rego. On the other hand, as the critic José Luís Porfírio underlined in an article in the Expresso, with this choice Centro de Arte Moderna “bet almost exclusively on easel painting”. However, it was not so much the option for Portuguese artists, but the strong bet on painting that was considered a reductive and unrepresentative view of the state of Portuguese contemporary artistic creation marked, in the festive years that followed 1974, by the aesthetic experimentation that the exhibition Alternativa Zero, conceived by Ernesto de Sousa, showed in 1977.
And it was Ernesto de Sousa (1921-1988) who organised one of the various group exhibitions that some Lisbon galleries presented under the aegis of the Exhibition-Dialogue. Entitled diferença/diálogo (difference/dialogue), the exhibition was held at the Diferença Comunicação Visual Cooperative, of which Ernesto de Sousa was one of the founders (in 1979), with Helena Almeida, Irene Buarque, José Carvalho, José Conduto, Monteiro Gil, António Palolo, Fernanda Pissarro, Maria Rolão and Marília Viegas. The long title – In-different dialogue on contemporary art or the distractions of power – of Ernesto de Sousa’s short text for the catalogue hinted at his criticisms. In fact, this text is a kind of manifesto of what Ernesto de Sousa thought of the Portuguese representation at the Dialogue-Exhibition: “…we are in a country of short memory, in which each subject is largely dependent on the discourse of Power (and I add: not only the Power of money, political or administrative; but even worse; the Power of those who know or think they know). In these cases, aesthetic activity will have to disavow, subvert the discourse of Power and its rules… And not be afraid to go in search of the unexpected…”. Of the 19 artists represented – Alberto Carneiro, Alberto Picco, Ana Vieira, Artur Rosa, Carlos Nogueira, Eduardo Nery, Ernesto de Sousa, Filipe Jorge, Helena Almeida, Irene Buarque, Joaquim Tavares, Manoel Barbosa Manolo Calvo, Miranda Justo, Monteiro Gil, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Pedro Calapez, Rosa Carvalho, and Wolff Vostell – almost all were members of Diferença, and each was responsible for one/two pages of the catalogue that was generously offered to visitors. This catalogue is doubly important, for as well as perpetuating in time this exhibition – and the one that motivated it – it is also an “artist’s” catalogue, conceived by some of the artists and edited by the gallery itself, with a limited edition, each copy containing original interventions by Helena Almeida, Irene Buarque, Joaquim Tavares, Manoel Barbosa, Pedro Calapez and Pedro Cabrita Reis.