Helena Almeida (Lisbon, 1934 - Sintra, 2018) is a Portuguese artist, a pioneer and a central character of an important transformation of artistic practices between the 1960s and 1970s, which has been conventionally called “conceptual art”. In 1969, the artist leaves painting to start a work in which photography becomes a fundamental support for questioning the identity and practice of artistic genres such as painting, drawing, performative action, and photography itself. In her use of the photographic image, Helena Almeida is not a photographer; she is an artist who gets photographed in her studio, meticulously planning the scenes in which her body appears situated in a relationship with painting, with drawing, with an action, building images that present her as a character: the woman artist located in her studio and in her work. In a Portugal that then lived under a dictatorship oppressing women's rights, the artist presents her body staged in her own artistic work, in an act of freedom lived in her own studio, building a unique and fascinating practice that she will develop throughout her life.
This exhibition is the first individual presentation of Helena Almeida's work in Brazil. For an institution like IMS, with a vast photographic collection, thinking about the photographic image also offers a context to present works that exemplify an expanded field of photography, where artists use it as a support for concepts and languages that expand the possibilities of image construction, beyond its own technical specificity. Photography proves to be a conceptual support of open ideas, a way of inhabiting art and the world with a singular look, not so much an autonomous genre, artistic or documentary. The reunion of the works presented in this exhibition, as well as the anthological view of Helena Almeida’s work it offers, was only possible thanks to the dedicated, rigorous and knowledgeable work of Isabel Carlos, curator of the exhibition, who accompanied the artist in several of her projects, to whom we manifest our deepest gratitude, and equally extensive to the museums and collectors that helped us with the greatest generosity, as well as the IMS staff, who enabled this achievement. For Helena Almeida, “inhabiting” photography has always been her way of inhabiting and questioning art and the world, a challenge that now expands to all who will have the opportunity to know her work and, through it, expand the possibilities of their own gaze.
Marcelo Araujo, GeneralDirector
João Fernandes, Artistic Director Instituto Moreira Salles
Helena Almeida was born in 1934 in Lisbon, where she lived and worked. She died in 2018 in Sintra, at the house designed by her husband, architect Artur Rosa, partner in life and art.
She has participated regularly in exhibitions since the late 60s of the last century. In the late 1970s, her work becomes international, with individual exhibitions in Bern (Galerie and + the Friedrich), where, in 1978, she conceived her only sound work: Vê-me [See Me]. ” In 1982 and 2005, she was the Portuguese representative to the Venice Biennale, her first time with the curatorship by Ernesto de Sousa. This artist, filmmaker and critic, who marked the Portuguese context of the time, was one of the interlocutors chosen by Helena Almeida in these years of affirmation and development of a career that is now recognized nationally and internationally.
However, because her work was mainly based on self-representation using photography as a medium, the 1980s, marked by the return to painting and sculpture, were years of scarce visibility for the artist.
This cycle is interrupted in 1998, with the anthological exhibition Entrada azul [Blue Entry], at the Casa de América, in Madrid, integrated into the cycle Miradas Atlânticas [Atlantic Views], organized by the extinct Institute of Contemporary Art, which allowed direct contact with her work, a revelation for many critics and international curators. Thus, following this exhibition, Helena Almeida became present in successive international exhibitions, from which one of the most representative was the retrospective organized by the Galician Center for Contemporary Art (Santiago de Compostela, 2000) and the individual in 2003 at the Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck. In 2004, she participated in the Sydney Biennial and exhibited individually Inhabited Drawings at the Drawing Center, New York, and was present at the Belém Cultural Center, Lisbon with the retrospective Pés no chão, cabeça no céu [Feet on the Ground, Head in the Sky].
Between 2015 and 2017, the itinerant anthological exhibition Corpus, first presented at the Foundation of Serralves in Porto, then went to Jeu de Paume, Paris, to Wiels, Brussels, and ended in IVAM, Valencia. Still in 2017, the solo exhibition Work is Never Finished was shown at the Art Institute in Chicago, and, in 2018 in Lisbon, at the Arpad Szenes Museum – Vieira da Silva, O outro casal [The Other Couple], an exhibition centered on the works in which she was represented with Artur Rosa.
Also noteworthy are other individual exhibitions: Tela rosa para vestir [Pink Dress Fabric], Fundación Telefónica, Madrid (2008); Inside Me, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge (2009), and John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton (2010), as well as the exhibitions in the following galleries: Presença, Porto; Filomena Soares, Lisbon; Filles du Calvaire, Paris; Helga de Alvear, Madrid, where her last works were presented, in 2018.
Among the collective exhibitions, it is worth highlighting the presentations at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2005), or A Bigger Splash, at Tate Modern, in London (2013).
She received various awards, namely the prize of the 11th Tokyo Biennial (1979), PHotoEspaña (2003), BES Photo and AICA (2004) and the Extremadura a La Creación Award (2008).
Her work is present in important collections, among which stand out: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; Luso-American Foundation and the Chiado Museum, in Lisbon; Serralves Foundation, in Porto; Fundación Helga de Alvear, Centro de Artes Visuales, in Cáceres; Fundación ARCO e Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; MEIAC – Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, Badajoz; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg; Sammlung Verbund Collection, Vienna; Tate Modern, London; Art Institute, Chicago.