Opening - May 5th at 9pm - MULTIPURPOSE ROOM
Grace and the golden apple
Jewellery, a hybrid art that combines drawing, sculpture, painting, architecture and design, will make its début at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, after over a century of the museum’s existence, with an artist who has cultivated it for exactly six decades – Kukas. This absolute first in the presentation of an art as restless as it is attentive to its time is all the more significant because Kukas is not merely a cultivator of jewellery. She was the first artist, in Portugal, to revive the formal language of this art. At the beginning of the 1960s, inspired primarily by her Parisian training, she was also strongly influenced by her discovery of Nordic jewellery. The latter, accompanying novel ways of living in the post-war period, the new demands of more frugal and aesthetically refined everyday experiences, revolutionised domestic life.
Jewellery had to reconsider its relationship with the body and with the identity of those who chose it. More than a status symbol, jewellery transformed into a reflection of the intimate nature of those who wear it. And, while this art, in Portugal, is also the result of a mixture of languages and territories; while the concept of jewellery itself has transformed, we owe much to Kukas. Her jewellery, her objects, seek encounters. They seek the mediation the artist speaks of, the invisible link between the creator and those who will enjoy their creations. Rather than status, what Kukas thus proposes is enjoyment, the pleasure of finding an adornment or object that evokes something, in which a demiurgic or narrative place resonates.
Herself the subject of a painting (As Três Graças [The Three Graces], by Nikias Skapinakis, whose personal collection – ‘The Nikia∑ of Nikias’ – will also, coincidentally, be on display at the MNAC for some of the duration of this exhibition), Kukas has made us look at the body in a different way, by questioning the forms that engage with it and give it new meaning. It’s true, she uses classical materials. Precious metals and stones, ambers, pearls. But one can take the world as it is and transform it entirely. And that is what the artist has done. She has taken many of the traditions with which jewellery has always been (con)fused and reshaped them, bringing them into contemporaneity with various demands, concrete ruptures and a preoccupation for profound technical knowledge, the pleasure of geometry, textures, modelling, scale, the interpenetration of light, transparencies and organicity. In her large retrospective at the MUDE, over a decade ago, the texts of Bárbara Coutinho and Cristina Filipe described all of these relevant details of Kukas’s work. Pictorial, sculptural and also architectural temptation. The movement given to solid matter and the undeniable importance of light. The value given to the relationship between jewellery and the body with which it dances. The impulse of monumentality.
Without a doubt, her work encompasses ornament and home, exterior and interior worlds, landscape and detail. Classical, very classical in form and in sculptural, sometimes architectural temptation, of adornments and objects, Kukas’s work thunders in space. It is never silent, nor fearful – rather, it is bold. Thus, Paris having the arduous task of choosing the Grace to whom he should give the golden apple, the latter would, without a doubt, be claimed by Kukas and no discord would come of this, as no one would doubt her worthiness of this precious metal and the symbolic apple that would also be linked to knowledge.
I am grateful to Raquel Henriques da Silva for introducing me to Kukas, who I only knew through her work. It was then that I found out about her cherished dream of exhibiting at the MNAC. This sowed the seeds of the idea now being realised, with the generous and indispensable involvement of Filipa Fortunato and Raquel Henriques da Silva, to whom I am very grateful. This exhibition is, for two reasons, a particularly joyous moment for the museum. Not only is it the first at the MNAC to integrate jewellery, but its inauguration coincides with Kukas’s 95th birthday. Presenting new work, just as she dreamed and asserted publicly when, in 2021, she participated in the MNAC’s Artists’ Statements, as usual, the artist evokes her taste for perennial materials, for forms that become immersed in time. And, as usual, she makes becoming – the respiration of almost a century of life and over half a century of work – her territory.
Lisbon, April 2023
....About the artist
Kukas (1928) held his first exhibition in 1963, at the Diário de Notícias gallery, in Chiado, Lisbon. Sixty years later, Kukas returns to Chiado, exhibiting at the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
After training in Interior Decoration at the École Supérieure des Arts Modernes, in Paris, in the 1960s, Kukas discovers Nordic jewellery, which would profoundly influence his work. Over the six decades of activity, the artist has shown her work in several collective and individual exhibitions, national and international, notably her participation in the São Paulo Art Biennial and an exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro , in 1977; in Europalia, in 1991; the large solo show at MUDE – Museum of Design and Fashion, Lisbon (2012); and, more recently, participation in the Contemporary Jewelery in Portugal collective, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in 2019.
A forerunner of author jewelery design in Portugal, after 60 years of career, she continues to be "inhabited" by the materials she shapes. This exhibition has the support of Casa Fortunato, a representative of the Kukas brand. https://kukas.pt/kukas-by-casa-fortunato/