António Filipe Pimentel is the face of the National Museum of Ancient Art (MNAA), from which he has taken over management since 2010 and whose leadership and visibility has made this institution become one of the most visited public museums at the national level, surpassing the mark of 170 thousand visitors in 2016.
As director of MNAA your dministration changed the vision that the Portuguese had of the public museums, last year this space was the most visited not only by foreigners, but also by the Portuguese. So by doing a retrospective, what do you think your direction did to change this look that the general public had about their own museums?
António Filipe Pimentel: I think that changed it was a brand positioning if you want to call it, in order to make the museum a continuous reference in an increasingly strong way and a central presence in people's lives. This was done through an intense and quality programming, the MNAA even has an international aspect and this has made it a familiar reference. To the point that seven years later we can say that if there are many people who have never been to the museum, at least once in their life, but are aware that it is a place where they have to go. And those who have been had the notion that it is a place to visit repeatedly, one cannot only go once, one should always visit, not only because it is very large, but also, the collections can be enjoyed in a gourmet way, for example, now I want to see European painting and tomorrow, I see Portuguese sculpture. There is a continuous programming and if people want to be updated with what is important in Portugal, namely in Lisbon in this field, you have to go at least twice a year for MNAA and if you want to attend it every day you can always see different things.
When you says that there is a bet on a very varied program, it also focuses on "the nights in museums" that contribute a lot to the people to have access to this space and others.
AFP: "The nights in the museums" are less, because we have many difficulties, from the point of view of human and administrative resources at night time. Except on the international day of museums because it is a big celebration, or if it is a very special circumstance. But it is not necessary to open at night, because people have enough hours, what they should do is let these institutions by part of their own lives, their daily life and consumption, that is a close reference.
You again referred the issue of human resources, which has been one of your major criticisms. A piece of sculpture was recently broken, last November, because there are not enough staff for the whole space, but this is also a budget issue for the rest public museums.
AFP: Yes, the problem of human resources in the museum is a problem that worsens not only in MNAA, but in all. The scale is bigger in ours and the number of people too, but that's it, we are slowly trying to improve this aspect. But this issue come from your previous question, because we were just talking about the night openings, what I meant was that more important than these special days it is necessary to accustom people to attend a museum as a living space, that pulsates and that can offer experiences, is a place of individual experience par excellence. If you think about that, for example, when there is a group that enters the museum, unless it is framed by a guided visit, people scatter by themselves, because each one establishes its relation to one work over another and this degree of individual experience is that it is so important. A museum is a place of investigation in which everything related to the enjoyment of the work of art is communicated, what it can bring and enrich, where there exists a decoding that is made through the guided visit, or the exhibition and it is all that it is important to get into the experience and the daily rhythm of the people and that brings life to the museum.
And it is the whole revolution that MNAA has done for its importance as the first national museum, its collections and the size of this institution that has the obligation of leadership that mobilizes the other museums, on a smaller scale, to follow the same path. And this also helps convince the public authorities themselves to give more resources to enable these institutions to have better working conditions. Today, it is a very happy day because we are celebrating the extraordinary acquisition of the painting of Karl Briullov for the Museum of Quinta das Cruzes, destined to the Museum of Romanticism that is being created. A museum is not just a patrimonial site, a place where we travel in time, we will find something that has arrived to our days, as genuine as possible and where we are looking for an experience of authenticity. On the contrary, it is necessary to be a renewed space, that is why it is so important for the renovation of the collections, which brings life to museums, affirms them as a brand and as a national, regional and local heritage and circulates it through the great circuit of international exhibitions. When the pieces are requested gives visibility and light, which is then a factor of pride for the communities, because museums have this mission to make people feel good from the point of view of identity.
As they are also spaces of pedagogy of peace, which is very important, the museological institutions present the best that the past has taken, of all the cultures, or civilizations and in the background show that there were no people that did not construct something for humanity in a global sense. That is why you have to be more present with the people and in this society of communication where we live in we must hear about them and the exhibits that happen. If the museum does not communicate it is as if it did not happen, it is hostage to a small group of scholars who know those things exist, how these institutions are inserted in democracies and are paid by all of us, therefore, it is our duty to approach the people.
When you talk about getting close to people, does this also relate to the crowdfundig campaign for Domingos Sequeira?
AFP: Also, for example, this operation was only subsidized to collect the 600 thousand euros needed to acquire the painting. It was a mobilization in terms of communicating by the museum itself, approaching the community and enriching the national collections as I just said. There is also an identity strand, because people felt that they contributed to enrich themselves, to increase the treasures that were theirs and the worlds. Attention, it was not only the Portuguese who contributed, there were significant international amounts in the first hours, the first contribution was American and the campaign had not yet started. At the same time it helped to spread the life and work of a great Portuguese painter, António Domingos Sequeira, this painting, "The Adoration of the wise men", which was only known by a small group of people, is now one of the most important icons of Portuguese art, this was a museum fulfilling its mission of research, there was a whole scientific survey behind, then communication, the pedagogical work of the artist's work and this especially shows how in fact the public, in the democratic sense, Portuguese from the north, the south and the islands contributed to this work being in the right place, that was the teaser of the campaign. Show also that it is fulfilling his purpose, which is in the heart and in the life of the people. The prize for us is that although there are many people who have not yet managed to have time to go there, they are all aware that they will go at the first opportunity and that did not exist before.
And will you continue to use this funding scheme in the future for other works?
AFP: We will, but not yet. We have another campaign, but a more peaceful one. It is a very interesting work, a miniature painted on ivory, made in Rome in the 1730s, and is as important work of art, for its historical value too, because it portrays Friar José Maria da Fonseca Évora, a name now known, suffice it to say that the library he founded, from the Convent of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, was considered next to the Vatican, the second best and still today it is called Eborense library and this shows what character we are speaking about. The proposal has a very nice value, it is 10,000 euros and therefore, it was not justified to do as Sequeira's, but we are using the same process, ends on May 30th, but we are calm about the achievement of the objective. It is a form of involvement in terms of citizenship and I believe that everybody has a euro to give to a campaign like this, when people feel that a small part belongs to them, they feel that they have created a link with that institution and its collection. The campaign of Domingos Sequeira meant a lot of work in terms of backoffice, it was very heavy, we will make a new campaign like this, but now we will rest because at the time we had many fronts of war simultaneously and for what from the exterior, seemed easy and the purpose was this, behind it was very heavy and the friars are too few for the work of the order.
Is this the future of public museums making their name global, so that the public continues to enjoy it as you underline?
AFP: Of course, the future of museums is to be institutions of strong vitality has to be an important objective. While in a library, or a archive, on the contrary, there has to be peace of mind, imagine the Lisbon National Library to have groups of visitors coming in and disturbing the readers, because there must be silence for investigation. A collection of public art belongs to the people, must be seen by all, because it is paid by the taxpayers and must be continuously enriched for our own pride, that is what we have leave to future generations. Everything is precarious, thus the heritage that we inherit with all the past that it evokes.
And the question of patronage, it is said that it does not work in Portugal, not in the way it is seen in the great European museums.
AFP: As in everything is the virtuous and vicious circle, if the institutions have light the patrons approaches if it does not have it, there it is, the institutions have to make such self-justification by nature so that people feel close to them and there has to be a pedagogical education in Portugal in this sense, are the museums that do not have the necessary visibility in terms of communication so that the patrons have the return they would like? Or are the museums that do not have patrons at their level? It is necessary to correct these defects little by little and the pieces fit together like a puzzle, if they do not work, if they are inert, you cannot create energy, because it does not break free.
What is next step for this year's schedule?
AFP: We have a great exhibition at this moment, which is the "Global City of Lisbon in the Renaissance" that is a huge success with the public and ends on April 9th. Last week, we inaugurated a new guest work from Canaletto, from the Luxembourg City Art Museum. Now, we are focused on the new exhibition that will be inaugurated next May 18th the "Madonna, treasures of the Vatican museums", framed with the 100 years of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. It will be a remarkable exhibition on the iconography of the virgin, with works ceded mostly by the Vatican Museums, but also by the Borghese gallery, or Corsini, and still two hands-on works nationality never seen with the same common denominator, italians, of great names and all portraying the virgin.