State loses track of 170 works of art “of great historical importance”

“Location unknown”. These are the stark words now tagged alongside 170 ‘public’ works of art of ‘great historical importance’.

Expresso broke this story late on Friday but to be fair it has been a bitter reality for years.

Ever since the prestigious SEC Collection started being amassed (since the years following the revolution), key works of art have gone ‘mysteriously missing’.

Back in 2017, the then Culture Minister Luís Filipe Castro Mendes told RTP that an inventory of the collection was going forwards. It was to be the first carried out on the collection, 80% of which is housed in museums and institutions. The ‘missing works’ appear to be the ones that were ‘spread among offices of the various ministries” and embassies.

Curator Isabel Carlos, talking to RTP two years ago, explained that whenever there was a change in minister or secretary of state, “the notion was that anything that had been done before was wrong.

“It is urgent that this lack of awareness of public property, that public property is something permanent independent of whoever is taking charge of it, has to stop…” she said.

But, according to Expresso, the inventory started in 2017 is now ‘complete’, and the ‘missing works’ are still missing.

The paper concludes that working out where they went “will be very difficult” given that the general directorate of Cultural Heritage “has not clarified whether these pieces could be recovered”.

The works are largely by Portuguese ‘contemporaries’ like Júlio Pomar, Vieira da Silva, Helena Almeida, António Dacosta, João Cutileiro and Graça Morais. But there are also pieces by Sonia Delauney and other non-Portuguese ‘greats’ of the 20th century.

Said RTP today, over 1300 works have never actually been seen by the Portuguese public – despite the fact that they were purchased with public money.

Hopes now are that an ‘update’ on the inventory may have some clues on where the missing art work ended up.

Diário de Notícias explains that throughout the 43 years of its compilation, works were ‘lent out’ “not always in a controlled way”.

Sometimes they were lent to “decorate international presentations, namely in embassies, which when later contacted for the works’ return, replied that they had no idea where they were”.
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