Vilar pledges prudence alongside innovation at theGulbenkian.jpg

Vilar pledges prudence alongside innovation at theGulbenkian

EMÍLIO RUI Vilar, president of the Gulbenkian Foundation, was the guest speaker at the American Club of Lisbon recently. In his address, Vilar said that the Gulbenkian, as a private institution, has to operate a conservative fiscal policy while being innovative in its artistic output.

The Gulbenkian Foundation was established in 1956, the year after the death of Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian businessman and philanthropist who had amassed a huge fortune and art collection. In his will, Gulbenkian declared his wish to create a foundation in his name, which would house and preserve his entire collection.

The Gulbenkian Foundation is now a private institution of public utility linked to the  arts, charity, education and science, both in Portugal and abroad. The foundation commemorates its 50th anniversary this year and several exhibitions will mark the occasion, including two dedicated to Calouste Gulbenkian himself. One is based on his choice of artwork and the other will focus on books in his collection (see below).

The Gulbenkian’s current president, Rui Vilar, has had a colourful and varied background. He was Transport and Communications Minister in Portugal’s first constitutional government in the late 70s. Between 1986 and 1989, Vilar served as Director General of the European Commission in Brussels. He was Deputy Governor of the Bank of Portugal between 1975 and 1984, becoming CEO of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos in 1989, a post he held until 1996. He also served as CEO of Galp Energia from 2001 to 2002, just before he was elected to the chairmanship of the Gulbenkian.

Balancing the books

Vilar said that when he left banking, he imagined it would be easier to work at the Gulbenkian because of the absence of business pressures. “But I found the world of foundations more controversial than I thought. Foundations have special responsibilities because they are independent institutions,” he said. Vilar said a key question was how to manage the costs and expenses of the Gulbenkian. In this respect, he quoted an old adage: “Do not spend more than you can, but never spend less than you should.”

Vilar revealed that, at the end of last year, the total assets of the Gulbenkian were worth 2,757 million euros, three quarters of which is composed of investments managed by financial institutions. He said that the Gulbenkian also has shares in stock markets as well as oil and gas supplies. He added that the Gulbenkian’s aim was to make a financial return every year. “In order to regulate our finances, we have to be orthodox and conservative. But, in other areas, we have to take risks and be innovative,” he said.


There are two forthcoming exhibitions celebrating the life of Calouste Gulbenkian, both of which will take place in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery of the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon:

1.  From Paris to Tokyo: Art of the Book in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection

2.  The Collector and His Taste: Calouste S. Gulbenkian (1869-1955)

Both exhibitions will be on display from July 19 to October 8. For more information, call the Gulbenkian Museum on 217 823 000. Gabriel Hershman