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Nuno Centeno. Photo: Diogo Losa


Galeria Nuno Centeno's new space, in Porto. Photo: Diogo Losa


Installation view at ARCO Madrid 2018. Photo: Renato Ghiazza


Installation view at ARCO Madrid 2018. Photo: Renato Ghiazza


Dan Rees, Artex Painting (2012), oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm.


Installation view of Secundino Hernández. Photo: Blues Photography Studio


Installation view of Philippe Van Snick. Photo: Guilherme Carmelo


Adriano Costa Greve 2012. Photo: Guilherme Carmelo


Installation view of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Galeria Nuno Centeno.


Installation view of Ana Cardoso. Photo: Bruno Lopes


Installation view of Adriano Costa, at ARCO Lisboa 2018. Photo: Bruno Lopes


Silvestre Pestana, ANDROMEDA, NEURÓNIO 11111111, 2017. Photo: Bruno Lopes

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NUNO CENTENO


 

From Porto To the World: Some Kind of a Superhero

An Interview by Sérgio Parreira With the Art Dealer and Gallery Owner Nuno Centeno

 


In conversation with Sérgio Parreira, and a few weeks from the opening of his new space in Porto, gallery owner Nuno Centeno reflects about his personal and professional history, while keeping a look into the future. He also discusses the state of the art at an international level, as well as Portugal's position on this complex map.

 

September 2018

 


>>>

 


Sérgio Parreira (SP): I suggest that we start with some of your background. Something that is quite curious, but most of the times visitants tend to miss and art aficionados as well, is how these individuals that gave name to those renown galleries ended up dedicating their life’s to art. I suggest we start here; How did everything start and why art? Most importantly, why contemporary art?

Nuno Centeno (NC): Everything started in a very natural and intuitive way. I have the privilege to be son of an artist, Sobral Centeno. I grew up around artists, critics, art dealers, and art collectors. Ultimately, as a child, I was constantly attending to cultural events and art exhibition openings. Later, but still very young and as any other free soul in search of adventure and new experiences, I decided to leave Portugal. Traveled around Europe with my backpack, enduring on some random gigs in different cities, to learn and gather experience. In the meantime, I lived about a year in London, and in 2002 I moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It was when I arrived in Brazil that I finally dedicated myself 100% to art. I studied theory and artistic practices for three years, and I finally start having some answers to my quest. During this time, I would not miss a single event happening in museums or art galleries, taking part on talks and seminars with remarkable figures of the Brazilian art world. I was only 22 when I got to Brazil. Beatriz Luz and Lygia Pape, dear friends of my father, welcomed me warmly and helped me adjusting among the arts community. Beatriz would invite me all the time for dinner parties, where I met old school artists such as Ivens Machado or Lygia Pape herself.
I could have become an artist, but I realized that my passion was towards thinking about art instead of creating objects. In the end, that became the way I found to experience all the different approaches to art, how those expressions can be translated, from diverse persons, each one with its own individuality.


SP: In terms of exhibiting space, how did you begin? I perfectly recall that opening at this incredible building just across the gardens of the Crystal Palace in Porto…

NC: When I returned to Porto in 2005 I enrolled on a photography course at The Portuguese Institute of Photography. During that period, I made my come back into to the local art scene, attending openings, discovering new people, and meeting those who were active influencers on the artistic scene at the time. All that energy pulled me back to the city and enhanced my desire to launch my own gallery space. My father helped me a lot during this period, when I found my first space, where I slowly started. It was a really small room inside an historic, very typical Porto building. The location could not be better, close to Miguel Bombarda where all the trendy galleries were… everything started then, with my gallery Reflexus. I had the space, I set a program with a few shows, and things started to happen. Quite intense years, endless hours, where I literally did everything, the true definition of a One Man Show!
I was always quite open in the way I look at art and artistic creation: beauty results from diversity and freedom; ultimately there is a space to be filled by each one of us, for our own ideas and expression. However, and simultaneously, I can be a bit elitist with my choices; I believe that to be an artist you have to have a big cut of attitude and a high level of commitment.


SP: I clearly remember that this opening at Reflexus was completely crowded… Can you describe what was going on with Porto’s art scene at the time?

NC: Portugal was actually in the beginning of a national economic crisis, however the art scene in Porto was for some reason warming up: Serralves Museum with incredible opening parties and simultaneously with a Pop Up space right in the city center, Miguel Bombarda Street and all that area launched a concept of simultaneous openings, a day when all the galleries would debut their shows, and at the same time there were several new artist Run Spaces heating up the more alternative and independent side of the artistic scenario. Although the city was somehow crappy and a bit decadent, this was the time when things started to make a change. Like you mentioned, our openings were a success with impressive crowds, and I ended up getting another space inside the same building, where even the restroom became an exhibition space that I named of Project Room. I was now presenting three shows in a row. I initiated a new flux of young artists that I invited from Lisbon. In 2009, due to the crisis, with my space still open in Porto, I made a strategic decision and moved to London opening the way to relocate my gallery. At some point I was flying weekly to Portugal. In London I opened a space with two other friends of mine that we called The Mews (in the vicinity of the Whitechapel Gallery) hoping to make an impact at the local art scene. At The Mews we were showing two artists each time on a one-day exhibition format. At these shows we would always present a London based artist with a Portuguese emergent artist. We were showing the most buzzed artists, which somehow turned us into the coolest kids on the block receiving some recognition and interest from the community.


SP: In 2010 you moved to a new space in Porto. Which were the reasons for this transition? And, in 2011 you officially became “Galeria Nuno Centeno”. Which were the factors behind this move and specificities of this new approach?

NC: 2010 was another intense year with a great load of work. It was the year when I returned to Porto for a bigger space, with a better location, and the name change was just the right thing to do. On the course of this change, while travelling intensely, I started renewed collaborations with international artists, unknown at the time, that later became extremely desired and influential, getting representation by some of the bigger players on today’s market. This relative success brought me back the joy to work locally, from Porto to the World…


SP: Which were the gallery artists during this period? The Portuguese and International: how did you establish these relationships? Did any of them stayed with you until today? How would you describe this art dealer / artist interaction: particularly your vision of this relationship that is also a commercial partnership?

NC: During 2010 I had several Portuguese artists collaborating with me on many different levels. Mostly from a younger generation at the beginning of their careers, such as Vasco Barata, Nuno Sousa Vieira, Mauro Cerqueira, Bruno Cidra, Yonamine, Ana Cardoso, most of them with the same age as mine. During this time, there were already some Portuguese galleries with international recognition, although the younger ones did not have yet an impression abroad. Regardless of their nationality, all my professional and personal relations with the artists was always very intuitive. On my opinion, a gallery has to have artists able to empower an energetic and fluid program that will ultimately represent the brand and communicate the gallerist vision.


SP: I often have artists approaching me on social media, searching for some mentorship and advice on how to break into the US market and particularly New York. I tend to explain them that nowadays, the artist internationalization happens mostly through art fairs, therefore the representation at one of the worlds art market capitals such as New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong, or Shanghai, is no longer mandatory; and that today what can certainly make a difference is to be present at a few renown art fairs worldwide. What do you make of this consideration? Being represented by a gallery at the major cities, or represented by any gallery, regardless their location, that will take them to a few leading art fairs? Or, in a perfect world, both?

NC: I believe that for an artist internationalization to happen, they need to be represented by galleries that are internationally dynamic. Today, there are several major players that are not located in these cities. If they are able to build a solid path and develop a strategic network, they can experience growth anywhere in the world. For the artist, being present at some relevant art fairs, can certainly bring greater visibility and exposure to a specialized audience. Nonetheless, and this happens quite often, there are artists that do not have a notable career, and when they are picked by a blue-chip gallery, their careers boom exponentially, making into the best private or public collections, accessing the most significant commissions, and art shows. This process has a similar impact when it works on the other way around; meaning, if that same artist for some reason abandons one of those galleries. The art market is quite complex, sometimes unpredictable, and that certainly makes it particularly interesting and exciting.


SP: For the past years you have been present at some of the most important art fairs happening around the globe such as Frieze NY, Frieze London, Art Basel Miami Beach, Liste, Independent Brussels, ARCO… This footpath is quite remarkable and culminated this year with the attribution of the “Focus Prize” at Frieze NY. Which are your thoughts when you look back?

NC: I tried throughout the years to develop a solid and progressive path. I made my presence in several art fairs always with a concise goal. This year prize at Frieze NY, the distinction by ArtNet as part of the tenth more respected European gallerists, and more recently to be included by the art magazine Apollo at the selection 40 Under 40: Europe 2018, is somehow the acknowledgment of all these years of my gallery and our work.


SP: Running a physical space in Porto is certainly much different than putting up a show for an art fair. I am particularly curious to know, how you choose the art works you are taking for each art fair. Tell me a bit about this selection process.

NC: The process depends obviously on the location and it is always extremely complex. First and foremost, there is the application stage when I send my concept for the show and which artists I would like to present. I always try to balance different technics and mediums resulting necessarily on a selection of artists. After this initial process, I try to imagine if those works will transmit the correct image of the gallery in a way that the viewer while looking at my booth can anticipate who I am has a dealer and understand my vision. When the proposal is accepted, we get into the logistics phase, like the transport of the art works to the art fair location. For example, in New York, I often try to show works that are already in the city. Many of the artists I work with, at some point in their lives were in NY at artistic residencies or for other shows and have works at collections or stored at local institutions or organizations. Obviously, this is extremely helpful, and I can avoid the costs of transportation from Europe.


SP: With the presence at so many art fairs I can imagine that you have numerous stories and unexpected happenings either with clients or visitors worth of remark. Are there any fun stories that you would like to share? I can imagine that you have several…

NC: There are always some interesting stories, from having works hanged up side down on the first day, that is actually something that happens quite often to many galleries; or crossing the Central Park after 10 PM with an art work under my arm impossible to squeeze into any regular car service (due to the dimensions), that I had to deliver to one collector on Upper West Side. The most random things happen, and it is fun to remember. Once, at ARCO, I was casually chatting inside my booth with the international soccer player Luis Figo with the idea that he should be some kind of a TV star on the Portuguese cable channels… Only by the end of the conversation, and after having several visitors taking pictures of us, I realized who he was. This happened a few years ago in Madrid.


SP: As you mentioned previously, the art market can be particularly complex, but I would say that can be predictable as well. How do you anticipate the next five years for the Portuguese art market? Are you optimistic? Do you consider ARCO Lisbon as a game changer for the Portuguese art scene?

NC: I am actually extremely optimistic. Different people in the field are choosing Portugal as their new home, either Lisbon or Porto. This reality is placing the spotlight on us, which made that Portugal in the past three years have become a tremendously desired destination. However, this does not mean that these new inhabitants are avid collectors, but they can certainly be or become spontaneous buyers, which is something that has a great impact for the local galleries. So, yes, I am certainly optimistic! ARCO, of which I am part of the selection committee, also gave a push to our market, with new audiences and visitors; there is a renewed curiosity about what we offer culturally.


SP: Do you think that either Lisbon or Porto can hold in the next years an art week like it happens in so many cities worldwide? Could they become a mandatory stop in the yearly art market calendar?

NC: I believe that can happen but just temporarily, mostly because Portugal turned into a very cool and trendy place. It is more than ever a privilege to claim: “I am Portuguese!”. However, trends do not last, the pace of their change is very fast, which makes it harder to predict what is going to happen and until when it is going to last.


SP: Do you think that the Portuguese Government is sufficiently sensitive and informed in what regards the fact that art can actually have an enormous impact on local communities, on their development and growth?

NC: There is a better understanding of the opportunities, but it is not yet a national priority. Art does have a proven power to change and shape cities as well as communities, and for that we have very successful examples in Switzerland and Germany, and a great example it is obviously Basel. People do travel just to go to Museums and Art Fairs in certain cities. Art in those cases overcame any other local attraction. Some cities became known for their cultural events and art is their selling brand.


SP: Before moving forward to your personal endeavors, I would like to have your thoughts on the project CONDO (condocomplex.org) by Vanessa Carlos, that some have entitled has an alternative to the traditional art fair model. CONDO have been growing as a platform since it started, happening now in London, New York, Shanghai, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo. What do you think about this initiative that you also joined for two editions in different cities?

NC: Vanessa had an impressive vision when she debuted CONDO, which was born from a simple idea throughout a quite functional and operational way; bringing together professionals in the field in an inspiring way during our current art fair “economy”. I do not think though, that is presented as an alternative to the art fair model as we know it. It is primarily a healthy co-operation between piers, bringing gallerists from different parts of the world to explore the space of a fellow pier in another city, and experience a different market accessing to new potential art buyers. CONDO brings dealers that are spread all over the world to specific city, on a low budget. Commercially speaking, it can be positive or just neutral, it depends, but it is certainly worth it for the exchange of contacts and networking as well. Ultimately is certainly an amazing opportunity to run into those friends you have not seen for a while…


SP: Do you believe that there is a need to search for alternatives to the current and most common art fair model; should the major events such as Art Basel try to be more inclusive, facilitating the participation of younger galleries by applying extra taxes to the top players?

NC: Art fairs are crucial for galleries, what may be an issue is the fast-growing number of events and the competition among them. For us, art dealers, we end up with the sensation that we are missing something every time a new event debuts. Ideally, there should be three or four main events where all the galleries would be able to show their artists to a broader specialized audience. Then we have all the satellite fairs and events that must have a place either, and I do believe that they should happen through the most diverse ways. The current art fair model is not broken, and I am certain that will last for upcoming years, although may suffer some changes and adaptations on its format. In what respects additional taxes, I do not know if that is the right decision, or if it is even going to solve any possible disadvantage that smaller galleries may be currently feeling. What makes a top gallery to be on top, is precisely their volume of sales and the power that they gain with the success from the artists they represent. These blue-chip galleries already have the wealth to afford bigger booths and spaces at the art fairs, and just these factors have by default an associated cost.


SP: Lets focus now on your projects and what is the future looking like for you. It is publicly known that you are opening a new gallery space in Porto just in a few weeks. What does this new chapter represent for you and for Nuno Centeno Gallery?

NC: The new space is the next logical step on my path, fulfilling my dream of having a wider exhibition area, more accommodating, that I can call home out of my own personal house. The fact that is inside an historical building that remounts back to 1937 of a mason’s cooperative (Cooperativa dos Pedreiros), in the city center and extremely emblematic to Porto, assigns the gallery with a sort of a special charisma ultimately reclaiming to the space and to my gallery its own identity.


SP: You run simultaneously to the gallery, two other projects, the Artist Book Gallery, and the SPOT. Tell me about these two ventures.

NC: Both projects are result of a need to materialize other ideas and concepts that I believe are also part of my job as a cultural agent. The Artist Book Gallery it is a gallery inside a gallery; a kind of a sub-brand to Nuno Centeno Gallery that focuses exclusively on the production and presentation of artist books as objects or works of art. The fact that this project enables me to access even more ideas and artists, ending up on an artist book project, really excites me! It is another way to be constantly learning, feeding my curiosity, and nurturing my awareness. The book, as we know it, can be a magical experience, however, is facing the threat of extinction; and then we have the artist book that typically ends in the hands of an art collector. My main goal is for these books to reach a wider audience, and as a work of art, which they certainly are. I have been considering the possibility of opening this production to more technological mediums, such as digital, however the tactile version is definitely more exciting and the one that drives me.
The SPOT (Sculpture Park and Outdoor Tendencies) it is an idea that I had for a few years back to make an outdoor gallery space. Everything became possible with the partnership with Rita Almeida, consultant and art collector. What we do is to offer our clients / collectors, projects with outdoor art objects for their properties, either personal residencies or office buildings. Regardless the purpose of the property, we try to sell the importance of being surrounded by art, and that shall include the outdoor spaces surrounding all of us. 
The gallery is the center of all my work, but these other projects result as a sort of ramifications that will always be connected and breathe from one another.


SP: Finally, tell me how you manage all these professional duties with your family life. To which extend is your family involved with your daily professional tasks? Do you believe that may exist a genealogical bond like you had with your father that will pass to your children, placing art also on their path?

NC: Currently, my wife is a 100% dedicated to the gallery and all the procedures, as well as steps that are made. Her contribution is crucial, considering that she comes from a different background that is not art, and can have a more pragmatic approach to some tasks than I. For now, I try to keep my kids out of my professional daily madness; although my older one already understands that his dad has a different job than the other parents. My schedule is quite hectic and sometimes they feel that, it involves many late hours and too much traveling abroad. These two children, my one-year old girl and four years old boy, definitely add some extra effort to the task, but makes my life way more gratifying. I honestly have the feeling that I work while I sleep making my job a 24/7 overlap duty. 
This may sound like cliché, but my family is the most valuable asset I have; they are and will always be my priority. A family that has a fifth element, Tobias! Our awesome dog that we rescued from slaughter… Some kind of a Super Hero!

 

 

Sérgio Parreira 
IG: @artloverdiscourse

www.nunocenteno.com
IG: @galerianunocenteno