Championing art: Vila Vita Resort in Porches aims to organise “regular showings of Portuguese and international artwork”
Vila Vita Parc, in Porches, has been fine-tuning its version of luxury for 30 years, time for the specialised international staff to construct a temple of hospitality to which many guests return year after year. In 1995, this much awarded resort became a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The resort has had a strong 2022, with bookings close to pre-pandemic levels. British and German visitors have between them accounted for over two thirds of all reservations, whilst bookings from Americans have increased significantly. Only the most demanding would dare murmur that one thing was perhaps missing from this rarefied cocktail for the resort to attain absolute perfection – art.
Drawing on the expertise of long-time Algarve art scene participant, curator and gallerist Ben Austin, Vila Vita Parc has now added art to its hotelier’s palette of sensorial experiences, joining a movement in which art is no longer shown only in galleries or museums but equally in a variety of informal and sometimes temporary spaces.
Katya Bauval, the resort’s executive director of sales and marketing, commented to Essential Algarve: “People can have a heightened receptivity to art when they are relaxing on holiday in beautiful surroundings. Many of our guests are art lovers.” The resort’s owners, the Pohl family, are also collectors of art. The intention is to organise regular showings of Portuguese and international artwork, as well as exclusive events involving artists and celebrities.
The first edition showcases work by two artists, a Portuguese woman and a British man, both of whom have artist studios in the Algarve. At Ocean, Vila Vita Parc’s flagship restaurant (two Michelin stars), a spectacular ocean view and a menu inspired by Portugal’s waters are now complemented by an arresting piece by textile artist Vanessa Barragão, who works with leftover yarn which would otherwise become fashion industry waste product. Like a lot of Vanessa’s work, Bleached Coral is inspired by the beauty of coral reefs she saw on childhood visits to the Carribean.
These reefs are now becoming ‘bleached’, as the coral dies, slain by the effects of rising temperatures due to climate change. At Ocean, she has embedded vibrant LED lighting among the muted tones of her ocean-inspired textile piece, created entirely from recycled materials. The small eyes of the coral struggling to survive call out for our attention.
At 30, Vanessa Barragão is developing a strong international practice, which includes commissions from Heathrow Airport and Royal Botanical Gardens Kew and, judging by the size of her Instagram following, her environmentalism resonates with her audience. On the day of our conversation she had just completed a work for the West Bund art fair in Shanghai.
An installation of works by London-born artist Tom Leamon is on show at another Vila Vita Parc restaurant, the Bela Vita Bar & Brasserie, with its flavours of Parisian flair. Leamon has created a series of 20 paintings for sale titled Chamber of Secrets, which reference the great early Modernists who worked in Paris between the world wars and spent their evenings in the brasseries of Montparnasse. Appropriating the vocabulary of the 20th-century, he reinvents it in the idiom of the 21st century. Leamon, who has participated in the Frieze New York art fair, speaks of the strength an individual artist can find as part of a collective. With this in mind, he has created Espaço Yucca, artist studio spaces outside the beautiful town of Tavira in the eastern Algarve.
When asked if Portugal might become a new focus point for artists, he replied: “Portugal is definitely attracting increasing numbers of artists.” He regrets that the artist-dealer relationship is perhaps not as stable as it used to be, whilst acknowledging the balance of power has sometimes shifted towards the artist, who today needs to develop skills in marketing and communication.
Speaking to Essential about this project, curator Ben Austin said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with Vila Vita Parc. Katya Bauval had the vision to include art in the resort’s celebrations of 30 years in hospitality. Vanessa Barragão is an extraordinary talent, whilst Tom Leamon’s installation is a wonderful homage to the great early 20th-century Modernists and the Avant-garde movement.”
Ben is also working on a new venture in Lisbon. “With this challenging and exciting project completed, I have opened the Galeria Augustine with a programme of exhibitions, featuring British, Portuguese and internationally acclaimed artists.” Entitled Carry-on Baggage, the project invites British artists to pack a piece of art work in their carry-on bag and fly to Lisbon for a short break, at the same time short-circuiting the customs complications which have mushroomed since Brexit and hampered the international practice of artists as well as businesses in general. Ben is also a strong advocate of Portuguese art, and the gallery in Lisbon is showing a parallel exhibition entitled New Discoveries, showcasing emerging national talent.