Grand movements at the CAM!

While the building is closed for renovation work, we will uncover some behind-the-scenes secrets of the CAM.
12 oct 2021

As works progress on the CAM building, so begins a parallel movement of sculptures and larger artworks to the storage areas, recently overhauled and consequently improved.

Among the hundreds of sculptures are two paintings by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, each around 5 m in height and 3.5 m in width, awe-inspiring both for their size and for the colour and texture of their multiple planes and perspectives.


Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Study for Basel's tapestry, 1953. Inv. PE309
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Study for Basel's tapestry, 1953. Inv. PE309


These two ‘giants’ were made in the context of a tapestry competition organised by the University of Basel in 1954, of which Vieira da Silva was the winner. After various studies, the artist developed two full-scale ‘cartoons’ for the tapestries, which were later produced. Because of the large size of the pieces, Vieira da Silva was helped by the students as well as teachers and family members.

For several decades, these cartoons were left rolled up in the artist’s studio, until they underwent conservation work more than 20 years ago. The paper support was glued to a canvas, which in turn was fixed to a wooden stretcher with 6 crossbars.


Movimentação das obras de Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. Fotografia: Elizabeth Martins


A preliminary observation of the condition of the works revealed the fragility of the pictorial layer in gouache tempera on Kraft paper. One of the panels had detached from the canvas on one side, which meant heightened risk during the handling of the piece. Both paintings showed surface dust, and various creases and deformations in the support, causing paint lifting and small losses of the chromatic layer. Before moving the works into storage, they were carefully vacuum cleaned and the left-hand section of the panel was fixed down, giving the piece the physical stability required for its handling.

Given the large size of the works, it was essential to have the support of a coordinated and experienced team that was able to calculate risks and overcome obstacles during the journey to the storage area. 


Moving of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's works. Photo: Elizabeth Martins
Moving of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's works. Photo: Elizabeth Martins


Today, the beautiful panels by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva are resting in their new home, a purpose-made storage area, protected by a clear plastic dome, with controlled relative humidity and temperature, drawing praise and admiration from all who pass by.


Elizabeth Martins

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