Serralves Museum

Serralves Museum

Photo by Sara silva - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Serralves Museum is the foremost museum for contemporary art in Portugal, uniquely sited in the grounds of the Serralves Estate, which also comprises a Park and a Villa. Through its collection, temporary exhibitions, performance, education and public programmes, publishing initiatives, and national and international collaborations, the Museum fosters the understanding and appreciation of contemporary art and culture. Introducing the work of the most important artists working today to diverse publics, strengthening ties with the local community, and encouraging reflection on the relationship between art and the environment that is intrinsic to the context of Serralves, are central to the Museum´s mission.

Monographic and thematic exhibitions of established and emerging artists and the Serralves Collection are featured as part of a changing programme in the Museum galleries. The Serralves Villa and Park are also privileged sites for the presentation of special exhibitions, commissions and Collection displays, together with travelling exhibitions organized in collaboration with cultural partners in Portugal and abroad. A dynamic programme of cinema, contemporary dance, music and performance is presented in the Auditorium and other spaces of the Museum. The Auditorium and the Museum Library are also host to conversations, lectures, symposia in which the public can participate in discussions and debates on artistic and cultural issues of our time.


Photo by Sara silva - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


The framework for the Museum of Contemporary Art was developed with the creation of the Serralves Foundation in 1989. In 1991, award-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira was commissioned to design the new museum in the grounds of the Serralves Estate. In 1996, construction of the building and the planning of a museographic programme begun. Vicente Todolí was appointed by the Board of the Serralves Foundation as the first Artistic Director, with João Fernandes as Deputy Director.
The Museum was inaugurated on 6 June, 1999 with the exhibition, ‘Circa 1968’. This ground-breaking exhibition, reflecting a radical decade of art making that corresponded with a period of social and political change in Portugal and around the world, was a manifesto of the Museum’s international ambitions and the historical starting point for the Museum´s future collection and artistic programme. In 2003 João Fernandes was appointed Director of the Museum, with Ulrich Loock as Deputy Director. In January 2013, Suzanne Cotter assumed the role of Director.

Located in the Serralves Park, the Museum is in direct dialogue with the Serralves Villa and the surrounding gardens. In the place of a monumental façade, the architecture of the museum is defined by a harmonious articulation between different architectonic elements in relation with the gently sloping terrain where it is sited.

The building is erected in a longitudinal manner from North to South, with a central body divided into two wings, separated by a patio to create a U-shaped structure. An L-shaped construction creates a second patio that connects with the main building and serves as the main access to the Museum, with connection to the underground car park and gardens.

The Museum has 14 exhibition galleries distributed over three floors. The upper floor is the location of the restaurant, Education studio, and Multipurpose room. A terrace leading from the restaurant provides expansive views of the Serralves Park. The entrance floor provides access to the exhibition galleries and bookshop. The lower floor houses galleries, the Library, the Auditorium and a cafeteria. Access to these spaces from the Museum entrance is facilitated via a square-shaped atrium located next to the reception, complemented by a cloakroom and information area.

The fluid disposition of the spaces of the Museum offers the visitor multiple itineraries and points of view suited to the changing programme of exhibitions and related activities. Characteristic of the architecture is the succession of long perspectives through the building and to the exterior in the form of visual ‘escape routes’ to the gardens. In the interior natural and artificial lighting are combined.

The structure of the building is in concrete and steel, with an exterior covering of granite and painted plaster. Locally sourced materials are used for the building’s roof covering. Inside the building, the floor is in oak and marble, walls and ceilings are constructed of painted and gypsum plaster.  Ceilings heights range from 2.88 to 9.50 metres (average 6.20 metres).

Visiting the Museum

The architectural plans for the Serralves Museum were first drawn up in 1991 by the architect Alvaro Siza. The new building was finally inaugurated in 1999, harmoniously integrated within the surrounding urban area and the pre-existing spaces of the gardens of the Park and Villa.

A visit to the Museum always offers much more than the exhibitions alone. It’s also an opportunity to discover the particularities of each space within this architectural work, that has a strong organizational structure and great flexibility and transformational capacity, enabling it to respond to the diversity and unpredictability of the contemporary art works on display.