Design lovers around the world are anticipating the reopening of MUDE, Museum of Design and Fashion in Lisbon. The only museum of its kind in Portugal, MUDE has amassed a collection of fashion and jewelry that spans countries and generations, with a special focus on Portuguese design. Founder, Director and Programmer Bárbara Coutinho joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to explain the mission behind MUDE, talk about the history of Portuguese jewelry and give a preview of what to expect from the museum when it reopens in 2021. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello everyone, welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Bárbara Coutinho—I’m going to let her say her name. It’s Portuguese, and I find Portuguese pretty difficult to say. Bárbara is the founder, director and programmer of MUDE, Museum of Design and Fashion in Lisbon, where she’s talking to us from today. She has a Ph.D. in architecture and museology and a master’s degree in contemporary art. She also puts her postgraduate study in arts education to work as an assistant professor. The museum is currently closed for renovation, but on a recent trip to Lisbon with Art Jewelry Forum, we had a chance to get a sneak peek at some of its holdings, which are absolutely amazing. Today, Bárbara will tell us about the museum as well as jewelry in Portugal. Bárbara, welcome to the program.
Bárbara: Thank you very much, Sharon. You said perfectly well my name; it’s Bárbara Coutinho.
Sharon: Thank you.
Bárbara: I’m pleased to talk about your recent research with the Jewelry Journey podcast. I liked meeting you in Lisbon, so it’s a pleasure for me to be here.
Sharon: It’s delightful to be talking to you again. Bárbara, tell us about your jewelry journey. You studied and you teach art history. Is jewelry something that you came to as part of the Museum of Design and Fashion, or is it something that you had an interest in before?
Bárbara: Sharon, to be honest, I think it’s a mix of both. Of course, it is in my background in art history. I had the opportunity to know more about the history of art in these different expressions, so it gave me a wider and more contextualized meaning of creation during the time, internationally and nationally. Jewelry has always been very much connected with arts and design, but also with technology and economy. So in my study, it was always a presence. I cannot say that I was into that issue or topic. It was more about the fine arts, architecture and more or less design, but the jewelry was always present. For me, probably as a woman, I was always very interested and liked to know, to meet and see the history of the evolution of forms, the evolution of materials. When I assumed the role of the director of this museum it was not yet opened—it was just opened in 2009. I started to work on the concept of this museum in 2006, but in this role, I have the obligation to become more knowledgeable and aware of contemporary creation, especially in Portugal. So I know better about jewelry and its fields, and I’m very fascinated by it, even if it’s not my main field of interest in terms of academic level.
Sharon: It’s fabulous to see it in that context because people don’t realize that jewelry tells its own story. It’s not just big diamonds and emeralds, but you can tell a lot of history through jewelry. It’s great when you have that overall context. Can you tell us about the museum, which looks like it’s going to be fabulous. It was open for a while, right, and then closed?
Bárbara: The name of the museum is MUDE. It’s a simplification of two words, museum and design, but in Portugal, “mude” means change. It’s an invitation to change. I considered and proposed that to the municipality because this is a municipal museum of Lisbon. I proposed that the name would be MUDE because it opened in a moment of a big crisis, a financial, economic crisis in Portugal in 2009. We opened in the old headquarters of the second major bank in Portugal, the National and Overseas Bank. To be more precise, it’s a quartier; it’s a whole quartier in the main avenue in Lisbon, Rua Augusta. The building was closed and empty because the bank moved its headquarters and the municipality didn’t know what to do with this spot. We started to work in this place, and the museum in the meanwhile opened to the public. We were developing, as other museums, exhibitions, talks, educational workshops, guided tours, etc., also showing new products, making lessons and collaborating with several artists and designers from 2009 to 2016, but the problem was that the building itself needed to be redone, mainly in terms of structure. We needed to close the doors of our headquarters. We closed it in 2016. Between that time, our activities were like a nomadic museum. We occupied different spaces in Lisbon, or we traveled with our exhibitions and activities around the country and abroad. We were in Beijing and Madrid, very near the U.S. and Europe and other places abroad while the museum here in Lisbon is closed due to construction. That’s why you didn’t see the museum open, unfortunately, but I expect very much that you will return to Lisbon and you will see MUDE open.
Sharon: Is there a timetable? When is it expected to reopen?
Bárbara: We expect to reopen in 2021. That’s our expectation and our goal, that in 2021 we can open this museum. It is a big museum because we have a quartier, as I was saying, eight floors and 15,000 square meters. It’s a big museum and you don’t create a new museum from scratch so often, so it’s very demanding from all the fields of expertise. We need to do it very well, and I think we will. I’m sure we will.
Sharon: Yes, absolutely.
Bárbara: You asked me about the fashion collection that you saw a bit of. Our collection, it has been a path to take and to develop during these years. The founder collection was a private collection that was bought by the municipality in 2003. This founder collection was a collection mainly of international products and fashion design, and the fashion design didn’t have much jewelry included. We have some pieces of jewelry, for instance, from Jean Paul Gaultier, but they were pieces that they made for a specific outfit. The collection is very singular and unique in national terms and very representative in international terms because the oldest piece of this collection is from 1930 and comes until the end of the 20th century. If you think about the name of a designer or a fashion designer, we probably have one or two pieces of her, because it was collected with a very strong sensibility for fashion and design, but there was no jewelry whatsoever to be representative. It was also not representative of the Portuguese designers. That’s work that we have been developing since 2009.
Sharon: To have more representative Portuguese pieces, whether fashion or jewelry?
Bárbara: Yes, exactly. The way I see it, we are a museum based in Lisbon. We have a collection, a goal and a strategy that is international, which we’ve established since the beginning with plenty of collaboration and in a strong net with other museums of our expertise, but we cannot forget the national culture and history. I think it’s an obligation because we are the only museum of design in Portugal. We have this obligation to promote the study, the research, the promotion, the preservation and the interest and organization of our history and history of design. That, since the beginning, has been one of our missions. I’m very happy to share with you now that we, more or less, have a percentage that is international and half is already our Portuguese collection. I think it’s very interesting.
Sharon: I didn’t realize it was so much, half and half. On the podcast we’ve talked about Cristina Filipe’s book “Contemporary Jewellery in Portugal,” and I know that the museum was very involved in supporting that publication. Can you tell us about the history of jewelry in Portugal? What we think of as traditional Portuguese jewelry is the filigree.
Bárbara: Yeah, and you think very well. I don’t know if you saw some of the pieces in filigree when you came to Lisbon, but it’s one of our best recognized, worldwide traditions regarding jewelry. It’s a special work because, as you know, this work of filigree is characteristic of the north of Portugal, from a specific region. In the north of Portugal, there is a national popular festival each year, where the women go out in the streets and walk from one side to the other in the city, wearing all the gold they gain as an inheritance. It is the earrings, the necklaces, the chains they receive. Normally, it is inheritance that they received from their fathers and grandfathers. They wear it, and if you visit that festival, you can feel the expertise that is present in this work. It is an amazing work, tying strains of gold or silver, but most of the time it’s interwoven gold that composes each piece. It’s a work of time, dedication and care. This is one of our traditions that is being reinvented by the young generations, but the tradition of gold in Portugal goes back in history. If you see the history of jewelry in Europe, the first information we have about gold objects is from the fifth millennium before Christ, and it was produced in the Balkan region. The second one is here in our territory, in the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula.
Next time, I will invite you, Sharon, to come with me to the national Filigree Museum in Lisbon. They have very beautiful pieces of gold jewelry, most of them diadems, pendants, necklaces, and chains from the Celtic periods, all in gold. They deal with spirals, beads, lines, so it’s very stylistic and the form of these pieces is very contemporary. I want to share with you—it’s the first time that I will say this publicly, let me say—that when MUDE reopens, one of the exhibitions with which we will reopen the museum will be an exhibition precisely about the tradition and the contemporary way of working with gold in Portugal. I’m doing it with that mission I told you about. This goal is to promote the knowledge of the locals, the nationals and the foreigners to the different expressions of Portuguese culture, and this is one of them. That’s why we invite other initiatives that we have promoted.
Since the beginning until the present, we have helped Cristina Filipe by promoting the book. Of course, it all started with Art Jewelry Forum and with the projects that Cristina presented and gained that opportunity with, but immediately after Cristina came to talk with me I said, “Well, we have to be present and we have to help you make the first book about contemporary jewelry in Portugal.” That’s the most important motive, why we were present since the beginning helping this publication.
Sharon: I think a lot of us were surprised at how vibrant the contemporary jewelry community is in Portugal. Not knowing anything about Portuguese jewelry except the filigree, I was surprised that there was so much history. The book was so well researched, “Contemporary Jewelry in Portugal,” but who knew there was enough to write a big volume about?
Bárbara: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was a surprise for the designers that also made history. What I’ve recognized since the beginning was the work of Cristina Filipe to investigate, to research, to systematize the information that was available, to talk directly with different protagonists. She conducted plenty of interviews, and an art historian knows that this is rich information to capture and record, the contribution of people while they are still alive. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important elements of this book. The second one is that Cristina Filipe is also an author of jewelry. She made it possible to combine a more academic book with a book for the public to read because she included plenty of photographs, plenty of images from different generations, men and women wearing the jewelry. I think she managed to reach the public in a way, which is also something that the museum is sensitive about. The exhibitions and the catalogues, whatever we do, we need to reach people.
I’m very happy that you felt the richness of the contemporary creativity, because while we were helping Cristina and Arnold with publishing the book, as a museum, we have been collecting and appraising jewelry for our collection. We started two or three years ago doing that more regularly, but the purchasing was more intense during this last year. We were able to collect some very symbolic and important pieces from the 60s, from the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, from different generations. Most of them are present in the book; they are well represented in the book. MUDE is gaining a wider representation in terms of national jewelry. That’s important for our time because, until now, there was no public collection of contemporary Portuguese jewelry. MUDE is creating the first one. I think it is important for future generations to know the story better, and with that be able to do more in terms of creativities and products.
Sharon: That’s a good point you brought up, about the fact that it’s important to capture this information while the artist, whether it’s a jeweler or a fine artist, while they’re still alive and can tell the story themselves about what inspired them or the challenges they faced. What else would you like us to know about MUDE? The fashion collection, I could still be wandering around there if—
Bárbara: You can return, Sharon. You can always return and make it a problem here. I can tell you that we are in a moment of change. When I thought about the name of MUDE, I never thought that it was the DNA of the museum. It became the DNA, because since 2009 until now, we have crossed different contexts—financial, economical. The creation and the growing of the museum has been a complex process. I normally like to see a good example of the design process, and to make this museum is a design process itself. What I would like to add is to invite you all to follow us to see what we are doing and proposing in Lisbon or abroad. I also leave you with the image that when MUDE reopens in a year on the main avenue, all of you, or all of us—I normally like to include myself in the public of the museum—will be at a house of design in the widest concept possible, not just with places for exhibition, but places for debate, for talk, to rest, to enjoy the place and to learn. For me, it’s also very important inside the museum. In a different way, it’s still the most important thing we should have inside a museum, to learn and to feel. We are doing it in the sense that when people visit us in the future, they can always expect these portraits of a society over time, seeing how design reflects and inclusively transforms society and must transform society nowadays. It’s going back to the past, but always with eyes into the future in terms of our culture. It’s very challenging.
Sharon: It sounds like it’s going to be fabulous and a huge project. I’m sure it’s keeping you very busy.
Sharon: Bárbara, thank you so much for being here today. To everybody listening, we’ll have Bárbara’s contact information in our show notes at TheJewelryJourney.com. That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you’d like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thanks so much for listening.
END OF AUDIO