Ernesto Matos: the 1998 World Exhibition in Lisbon as a playground for new ideas on Calçada Portuguesa (Portuguese Paving)

Portuguese Paving in the Parque das Nações. Photo: Haydn Blackey / Wikimedia CommonsPortuguese Paving in the Parque das Nações. Photo: Haydn Blackey / Wikimedia Commons

Once again there is news to report about the Calçada Portuguesa, i.e., the artistic street paving: once again it is a publication, and once again it comes from Ernesto Matos, who unflinchingly brings the topic on the agenda again and again. We remember: this type of paving was carried around the world by the Portuguese around 1850 It went out of fashion after World War II, as did recently the initiative to elevate it to the rank of cultural heritage of humanity, an endeavor which probably seeped into the joints of the sidewalk somewhere in Portugal’s capital Lisbon.

Now Matos, an artist and art historian, has taken on the 1998 World’s Fair in his hometown and described and classified in detail some of the pavements laid out at that time in the Parque das Nações.

His text has appeared as one of the contributions in an academic paper on sculpture and can be downloaded for free. Unfortunately, it is only available in Portuguese. But just looking at the pictures is worth the while. Photos can be found on the Get Lisbon webpage about the sights there, to which we have linked below.

The theme of the World’s Fair was “Oceans“. Some of the pavement artists took it up. Matos describes seven of the 14 works.

For example, “Monstros Marinhos“ (Sea monsters) by artist Pedro Proença: located on the quay of the Argonauts, this ancient legend was probably the reason to create sea monsters once again. So, you find there a circle of starfish, where one arm has become a beard, with which they hang together, or a Hydra, holding tentacles nicely decorated in the air.

The highlight of the works on display is “Sodáde“, by Rigo, an elongated work on a street (see photo on top). One looks down from above at a seated pavement worker at one end of the ribbon and a lace maker at the other, and between them the works they created merge. This is already quite great art, with an estimated length of 25 meters, even in the literal sense.

Matos sees these works as an “aesthetic impulse“ for the Calçada Portuguesa. The World’s Fair offered enormous opportunities, he says, and the artists took advantage of them. Opportunities also arose in that really large areas could be designed.

An example of such a work is “Mar Largo“ (Wide Sea) by Fernando Conduto. The artist, born in 1937 and thus a generation older than most of the other contributors, has drawn waves across the surface on the banks of the Teijo River, critics write. We disagree and think that seaweed was depicted in the lines. It should be mentioned that the artist created certain sections so that the laying could be accelerated all the while cutting costs.

Two more examples of another style, where the actually flat Calçada Portuguesa was reduced to lines.

“Penelope“ by Fernanda Fragateiro shows an embroidery pattern and recalls the wife of the seafaring Odysseus, who had to wait so long for the return of her hero; “Untitled“ by Pedra Calapez is an arrangement of graphic lines in which you might discover children’s drawings of crooked houses. The paving, traditionally delimited by an outer border, here runs into the surroundings.

Ernesto Matos, “The artistic cobblestone at the 1998 Lisbon World Exhibition,
a paradigmatic renewal in the Public Art panorama” (Portuguese)

Get Lisbon (Portuguese)

Visit Lisbon

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(31.03.2023, USA: 03.31.2023)