It is among the 100 most visited art museums in the world – yet earlier this year word ‘on the street’ was that its works were about to be ‘seized’ by some of the country’s leading banks.
The reason: its founder Madeiran businessman José “Joe” Berardo and his various companies owe them massive amounts of money.
But on Monday the threat seemed a long way away. The man with a reputation for doing everything big met with members of his board at the Foundation Berardo to discuss how to spend the latest €2.1 million tranche of government funding for the ‘jewel-in-the-crown’ Berardo Museum which houses over 860 artworks valued by Christie’s at €316 million.
The ‘Museu Berardo’ is on permanent exhibition at Belém cultural centre in Lisbon and has already had more than one million visitors this year, reports Público.
The financial woes of its founder and his foundation are unlikely to cause many wrinkles in the status quo – though an entrance fee has been introduced: €5 per head, with free entrance only on Saturdays.
As Berardo explained: “When I created the museum, my initial idea was that the public should have free access to the collection, but the situation had to change with the renewal of the agreement with the State”.
Money raised from ticket sales will be used to “bring to Lisbon temporary exhibitions from other museums”, he added.
Earlier this month, things looked complicated once again as Madeira’s dnoticias.pt carried a dramatic picture of Berardo covering his face with his hands, under the headline: “Caixa says it is time for Berardo to pay the bill”.
State bank “Caixa” (CGD) was lodging a case to try and recover the largest debt the island has ever seen, said the paper.
But it won’t be easy. As the paper explains: “It is estimated that Berardo and his companies have accumulated debts of around 1 billion euros from CGD, BCP and BES/ Novo Banco. The problem is that the guarantees given cover only a small portion of the defaults”.
And as the man himself told Sábado last summer, there is no chance of the State/ government seizing his collection as there is a clause precluding this in the agreement that sees the Museum benefitting from public funding.
In other words, whatever happens to the debts, Museu Berardo will remain open to receive the world’s art lovers and connoisseurs, and there are even plans by its founder to open sister enterprises in the capital, one for Art Nouveau, the other for African art.
Meantime, the wily businessman remains described in online sources like Wikipedia as “one of the wealthiest people in Portugal”.