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GLENN LONEY'S MUSEUM NOTES
By Glenn Loney
 EXPO ‘98 in Lisbon
 Exploring Historic Lisbon
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Copyright © 1998 Glenn Loney. Illustration by Sam Norkin.
EXPO ‘98 in Lisbon:
“The Last World’s Fair Before the Millennium”
Prelude To Portugal’s Fair—Queen Victoria’s much admired Consort, Prince Albert, created the very first International Exhibition, or World’s Fair. It was splendidly arrayed in the iron-and-glass Crystal Palace in London.
Essentially, it was a trade-fair, with the major inventions of the Industrial Revolution on triumphant display. Manufacturers showed off their carpets, furniture, and soap. Tailors paraded their fashions. Nations proudly pushed their wines, grains, and ores.
Prince Albert’s concept was speedily imitated by New Yorkers who constructed their own Crystal Palace on what is today Bryant Park on 42nd Street. It shared the block with a Neo-Egyptian Water Reservoir, later replaced by the New York Public Library.
Manhattan’s copy-cat Glass Palace didn’t rate officially as a World’s Fair. But the United States Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park in 1876 certainly did. The Portuguese Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro, was widely pictured admiring the great Corliss Steam Engine—now to be seen in replica in the Smithsonian.
Also world-class World’s Fairs were the splendidly flamboyant Chicago Fair of 1893, and the 1904 “Meet Me in St. Louis” Fair. Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress, in the depths of the Depression, was an inspiration to many that the future would be better.
And, on the eve of World War II, both the New York World’s Fair, in Flushing Meadows, and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, on Treasure Island, also oozed an ill-founded industrial and social optimism.
These were both themed fairs. New York’s heralded a World of the Future which has yet to be realized, at least in Norman Bel Geddes’ vision of automated cars on Electronic Superhighways.
San Francisco’s was the first West Coast recognition of the Pacific as a Geographical Area with great potential for Commercial, Cultural, and Political Interaction.
This optimistic view was enthusiastically endorsed by the Japanese, who—soon after the fair’s second season—Bombed Pearl Harbor and forced America into World War II.
Today, the Pacific Basin and the Pacific Rim are words to conjure with, especially in Seattle. Despite troubled economic conditions on the Asian Edge of the Rim.
As the idea of themed fairs gained ground, the National Product Preening and Industrial One-upmanship moved away into the many vast Trade Fair Arenas.
But announcing a Fair Theme is easily done; carrying it through is quite another matter.
EXPO 98’s Message from the River Tagus—Never has an exposition theme been so thoroughly and effectively executed as in Portugal’s “The Oceans, A Heritage for the Future.” This is the all too timely motif of Lisbon’s current World’s Fair.
Take Better Care of Our Oceans!
Major theme-pavilions are all related to some aspect of the world’s oceans, their resources, and their ecological importance. The fact that most of the planet’s surface is water, rather than land, should give us pause. Both major and minor installations in Lisbon make this point repeatedly.
In 1994, the UN suggested the theme, designating 1998 as the “International Year of the Oceans.” Conveniently, this is also the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea-route to India. And the grand beginning of Portugal’s worldwide network of colonies and most-favored ports.
With the early oceanic explorations of Prince Henry the Navigator, tiny, mountain-isolated Portugal rapidly—if relatively briefly—became a rich World Power. This was entirely owing to the daring of her oceanic explorers and voyagers.
When their tiny caravels began to explore the seas, the existing maps showed a flat earth. And relatively flat oceans, whose outer limits were shrouded with clouds and swarming with horrifying Sea Monsters.
Much is made of this in Portugal’s national pavilion. There is even a multi-media evocation of the 16th century penetration of Japan.
The Portuguese explorers—with their pointy noses and stove-pipe hats—were the first white men the Japanese had seen. The pavilion’s film has been inspired by some remarkable antique Japanese screens which record this initial incursion of foreigners from the West.
These ancient images were also used in Seville at Spain’s World’s Fair. But they were on view in the Japanese Pavilion, not the Portuguese.
Considering America’s on-going agonies about the Black Slave Trade with Africa and its perceived need to continue to apologize for slavery’s evils and their consequences, still felt today, there is no mention of Portugal’s maritime role in this.
Slaves were rounded on the west coast of Africa and shipped across the Atlantic to Portuguese and other New World Colonies.
Much is made at EXPO ‘98 of the historic benefits of exploration and trade made possible by Portuguese mariners and ships.
But not a word I could find about the Slave Trade. Though the Portuguese were hardly the only nation and people to profit from this! [There are even some disturbing allegations that Portuguese “New Christians” made money from this trade with the New World.]
Aside from that dark footnote in Portugal’s long, adventurous history, the celebration of its affinity with the seas and oceans of the world is entirely admirable. But Portugal’s exhibits and multi-media installations are mainly about the present state of the oceans and their future as well. Not only about what’s past.
The Past is Prologue, of course, to the discourse on what must be done to restore oceanic eco-balances and ensure the Future of Mankind on the Planet.
There are no Disney-style ride-through pavilion presentations at EXPO ‘98. Spectators stand in long lines at the most popular pavilions, only to discover that they will experience generally stunning state-of-the art multi-media and Virtual Reality shows which are soon over.
While there are some nautical and marine artifacts scattered here and there, the most effective pavilions are those with dazzling audio-visual shows, using the latest computer software to dramatize the past, present, and future of our oceans.
Dangers from widespread industrial pollution and tanker oil-spills are highlighted. Pathetic oil-drenched terns and penguins, slowly dying, present a potent indictment of our carelessness in using and abusing the great resources of the Oceans.
For those who love the briny deep and its amazingly varied denizens, there are video-visions galore. Stock footage of a great black whale’s tail sliding beneath the seas—variously morphed—turned up in four different shows.
The impact of the International Age of TV is everywhere to be seen. Even the Computer-Illiterate are urged to diddle with endless keyboards to discover more about our oceans.
But what happens on Terra Firma is not neglected either.
China surveys its long history and intriguing architectural relics with a 360-degree panoramic film. It also flaunts its Missile and Satellite technology.
The uninformed may think this great nation is all about fan-waving and Fortune Cookies. Chinese still use fans, but they do have air-conditioning now. And they have never had Fortune Cookies.
Until recently, with the Thought of Chairman Mao always on hand, they didn’t need printed fortunes. The calligraphy was already on the wall.
Even when giant screens, unusual projecting surfaces, and ingeniously designed videos are not provided in various pavilions, sound-and-light effects highlight the relationship of some nations to their contiguous oceans.
Even landlocked countries such as Switzerland and Austria ingeniously present their lakes and rivers as oceanic tributaries and ergonomic resources.
But—as with that little problem about Nazi Gold deposited in Swiss Banks—there is little attention paid to pollution of the River Rhine by some Swiss Chemical Companies. This is understandable, after all. At a World’s Fair, you do want to Put Your Best Foot—or Waterway—Forward.
Officially, there are over 150 pavilions, including several handsome venues provided by sponsors such as Swatch. The number of national pavilions is swelled by including virtually every island and land-area the Portuguese visited and colonized. And a lot of other Island Paradises as well.
Some Third World countries—unable to afford sophisticated multi-media presentations—nonetheless use technical theatre know-how to construct impressive mockups of natural wonders or historic sites. Only the poorest have been content with an assortment of salable souvenirs, arrayed as in an Arab Suq.
The Egyptian Pavilion—aside from some interesting references to its fascinating history and current economy—has heaps of souvenirs for sale. Most of them are of fine workmanship, which is the rule in handicraft-rich pavilions.
Macao’s popular pavilion is fronted by a recreation of its famed ruined baroque cathedral facade. Elsewhere on the extensive fairgrounds, there is a Macao restaurant, featuring Chinese Cuisine.
There seem to be as many fast-food outlets as national pavilions. No one will go hungry or thirsty at this fair. Hot Dogs, Pizza, Coca-Cola, US Bar-B-Cue, and other multi-national culinary treats are widespread. Portuguese Bock Beer even soars overhead, its logo painted on the bottoms of the cable-gondolas.
EXPO ‘98—unlike Seville’s fair before it—has no unforgettable national architectural constructions to proclaim the wealth, power, and ingenuity of aggressively competitive countries.
Instead, the architectural equivalent of School Uniforms has been used to make all pavilions appear more or less equal on the outside.
They are housed in huge windowless boxes, distinguished by handsome wooden sunshade overhangs and spatters of colored rectangles on the walls.
Nonetheless, some nations have overcome this effort to level the presentational playing-field. China has erected a great exterior ornamental gate, which was also seen in Seville.
The American Pavilion’s two outside walls feature banks of TV monitors. These ease the wait in line with video images of the peoples, lands, and oceans of the United States.
President Bill Clinton greets the sweltering standees with the disturbing news that the majority of America’s population lives within 60 miles of a coastline. Is this really true? Isn’t anyone left in Kansas and Nebraska?
Anyone outside the United States who has seen recent major American films—aside from “The Man in the Iron Mask of Zorro”—could easily believe Clinton’s assertion. In our movies, America’s only cities seem to be New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. All of them bordering on Oceans.
Inside, a variety of interactive computer-stations permit spectator exploration of important American oceanic initiatives. There’s also a short film feature that’s impressive. Work by Woods Hole scientists and National Geographic explorers is given its due.
But the hit of the installation is the Tip of the Iceberg, kept frozen on an iron plate for photo-ops. Speaking of which, the press-photos made available feature the cheer-leaders and band of USC!
There are also some shots of the Pavilion’s Commissioner, Tony Coelho. He used to be in the Congress. His name, in Portuguese, means Rabbit. John Updike, please note!
There are several Oceans Theme-Pavilions, devoted to various important aspects of this vast and watery topic. As with such major constructions as the Post-Modernist Tower Vasco da Gama, they are projected as permanent public installations.
One which will certainly long survive is the Oceanarium. It rises out of the new lagoon created beside the great swollen sea-mouth of the River Tagus.
From a sister-structure on land, spectators stroll up long ramps into this amazing Live Oceanic Show. Designed by American architect Peter Chermayev, its central element is a giant two-story tank. It holds as much water as four Olympic Swimming Pools.
But it’s stocked—not with Australian Crawlers—but with birds, mammals, fish, and other marine-life found in the Global Ocean. With its four 180-degree curved glass windows, viewers walking through its ingeniously planned paths have the sensation of being in the depths of the ocean. Four smaller tanks recreate special coastal habitats.
This can accommodate 60,000 visitors per day. Currently, it is immensely popular, with the longest lines at the fairgrounds.
So it will surely be a major feature of the continuing “EXPO URBE” of the next decade, as the fair-site and its flanking acres of handsome new offices, condos, and superhighways become Lisbon’s newest and most innovative district.
One major installation which is sure to be widely replicated after EXPO ‘98 is Innovitech’s astonishing Virtual Reality pavilion, “Oceania.” Using a variety of multi-media and theme-park techniques, a breath-taking voyage to the bottom of the ocean to explore a sunken ancient city is simulated.
After marching through a Portuguese Telecom [an Expo sponsor] installation, visitors pass through a series of adventure-chambers. They get a teeth-rattling plunge into the deep with the rumbling and shaking of hydraulic seating, called “The Shuttle.” There are 3-D graphics, virtual reality HMD’s [head-mounted displays], and projections on a vast hemispheric dome.
This is not just a push-’em-through, rapid-turnover installation. It requires a number of attendants to move the spectators onward and adjust them to each new chamber of experience. It will be a permanent feature at EXPO URBE, with new shows—as with the IMAX technology—developed periodically.
Innovitech, a Montreal-based company, has formed a subsidiary, Metaforia Inc., to provide more of these LBE [Location-Based Entertainment] facilities worldwide.
Because the fair site—developed from a polluted area of broken-down docks, rusting factories and refineries, and wastelands—will be the core of a new residential and business section of greater Lisbon, special permanent performance venues have also been constructed.
The new, blue Camões Theatre—named for Luis Camões, author of the Portuguese National Epic, the Lusiades—is a conventional modern proscenium theatre. Its auditorium is named for the visionary first Sci-Fi novelist, Jules Verne.
Its most attractive feature is its two-story glass lobby-facade overlooking the man-made lagoon and the “Sea of Straw.” That’s what the River Tagus is called at this bulging point in its journey to the ocean.
Pride of place is given by Expo experts to the Utopia Pavilion, designed by Regino Cruz Architects and Consultants. EXPO planners hope it will become the visual image of this fair, as was London’s Crystal Palace in 1851 and Paris’s Eiffel Tower in 1889.
They insist its huge oval shape suggests a giant mushroom. But it looks more like an enormous UFO refueling. It is surrounded by exterior oval stairs.
Its interior roof-skeleton, of ribs of Swedish pine-laminate, resembles the inverted hull of an ancient ship. It can accommodate 12,000 for special events and spectacles, with 16,000 for concerts.
During EXPO ‘98, it is featuring four performances daily of “Oceans and Utopias.” This is an amazing multi-media show, devised by François Confino and Phillippe Genty. With live actors, inflatable creatures, smoke-curtains, strobe-lights, innovative projections, and other theatre/media technologies, it evokes myths and legends about ancient, uncharted seas, dreams and nightmares, and impossible utopias.
There is also a huge open-air SONY Plaza amphitheatre for concerts. It boasts an enormous video-screen over the stage. Nearby is the Promenade performance-area.
And there is a large open-air Dock Theatre on the lagoon with tiered seating. In the center of the lagoon is an installation which features a giant inflatable balloon, used as a deliberately distorting projection surface.
Six smaller stages for music and dance are scattered around the fairgrounds. Free performances are provided throughout the day and into late evening. In fact, as the various pavilions close early in the evening, the EXPO Experience until the early hours of the following morning is all about entertainment, food, fun, and fireworks.
During the day, however, as hundreds wait in lines or stroll about, fanciful rubberized Sea-Monsters pedal by on bicycles. Their interior animators step out from time to time to entertain with songs and dances.
Designed by José de Nuno da Cãmara Pereira, they are based on medieval Portuguese beliefs about dreadful creatures at the unknown edges of the ocean.
There’s also an epic “Pilgrimages” parade in the early evening. This is composed of a surrealistic series of large and small ship-floats. They suggest antic aspects of exploration, adventure, and travel.
If EXPO ‘98 is to be remembered by any major architectural symbol, it won’t be a beached UFO. Instead, it will be Santiago Calatrava’s amazing Post-Modernist Neo-Gothic canopy for the new Oriente Station.
Combining a new Metro subway terminal with an international and regional train-station—as well as a bus-terminal—this spacious, fantastic complex is sure to become a major landmark of Modern Lisbon.
Its steel-and-glass canopy is supposed to suggest an abstraction of a forest of trees. But it looks more like a futuristic version of the columns, vaults, and groining of a medieval Portuguese cathedral.
Bonus Lisbon Travel Advisory:
LISBON ON STAGE:Rambling over seven hills—like Rome and San Francisco—Portugal’s capital city is one of Europe’s most beautiful and most unusual. In this EXPO year, hordes of tourists are expected from all of its sister nations in the European Union. All of which have impressive pavilions on view at the fair site.
Not to overlook the hundreds of thousands—millions even—which are hoped for from around the world. But, after having made Herculean efforts to improve transport and cultural venues in the city itself, Lisbon is hoping tourists won’t neglect its own indigenous attractions.
Prince Henry the Navigator, Lisbon
(Glenn Loney photo)
Even before EXPO ‘98 opened in mid-May, a Cultural EXPO has been underway since early in the new year. A concert by soprano Kathleen Battle, for example, was not scheduled for the fairgrounds, but for the massive Post-Modernist Belém Cultural Center.
Built for Lisbon’s star-turn as Culture City of Europe in 1974, it looks rather like a sprawling Aztec Temple, somewhat simplified in outlines and decoration. Major performing arts events are planned at the Center for the remainder of the year.
Even without all the fascinating performances and exhibitions which have been programmed through December, Lisbon has long been well worth a visit. And yet both the capital and the nation are little known to travelers from the Americas.
Focusing on its many attractions in architecture, art, and performance is a way of making Lisbon—as well as EXPO ‘98—a must-see, must-do.
Unlike America, where the word "culture" may suggest a boring night at the opera, in Europe it refers to all sorts of sorts of arts, from folklore celebrations to religious rituals—both of which Portugal has in depth. And from the haunting traditional music of the Fados to the opera arias of Verdi.
Lisbon ticket-prices are attractive. An opera-evening costs less than a third of the Metropolitan Opera’s current best-seat price. Venues range from the elegant Teatro São Carlos [opera] and the lovely Teatro Naçional Doña Maria II, to the ultra-modern Belém Center Something for everyone has been the rule in programming, as well as keeping costs to tourists low.
The truth is that Lisbon and Portugal provide the last real “affordable” holiday in Europe. Becoming Europe's Culture City in 1974 gave Lisbon a good excuse to spruce up many of its marvelous historic churches, palaces, monuments, and residences. And now that historic restoration is really paying off.
So this is an excellent time to explore this remarkable city, EXPO ‘98, and the “Undiscovered Country” that is Portugal.
Lisbon doesn't have as many museums as churches, but 47 is still an impressive number. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum houses the world's largest private art and antiquity collection.
Lavish rococo royal carriages are featured in the National Coach Museum. Palaces such as the Ajuda and that of the Marquises of Fronteira are also now museums.
Churches and monasteries have also been converted: distinctive Portuguese tiles are shown in the Museum of Azulejos, a former convent. An outstanding example of Manueline architecture is the Jerónimos Monastery, a mixture of flamboyant Gothic and Moorish styles.
Here are some other things not to be missed:
1. Dinner in a Fado-house, where the uniquely Portuguese ballads of love and fate will surely cast a spell, a mingling of native, Provençal, and Moorish traditions.
2. Seafood luncheon in one of the many open-air cafés—Lisbon has over 3,000 restaurants.
3. Tour of the Alfama district where narrow passages, cobblestones, cages of canaries, and ancient houses recall another age.
4. Visit to the famed Belém Tower (1520), a castle-like fortification on the River Tagus.
5. View of the city from the Castello do São Jorge.
6. Inspect the 18th century Aqueduct, 18 kilometers long, with 109 arches.
7. Tour of the National Museum of Ancient Art—Old Masters and precious objects from Europe and the colonies.
8. View of the imposing Monument of Discoveries in the Belém district, featuring an heroic statue of Prince Henry the Navigator.
9. Excursion to Estoril, with its beaches, night life, and casino.
10. Sightseeing in nearby Sintra.
And that's only for starters!
Unlike Los Angeles and San Francisco, Lisbon hasn't had an earthquake worth noticing since 1755. But that one was a catastrophe—it destroyed most of the city.
An initial visit to EXPO ‘98 and to Lisbon will surely lure tourists back for more. The fairgrounds will continue in use as EXPO URBE, an ongoing development project.
Also worth an extra week or two are excursions into the north and the interior of this Iberian nation. Most European visitors head for the southern beaches of the Algarve, so you can have the less frequented castle-posadas and charming villages almost to yourself.
Portugal's past dates back to the Stone Age. And Lisbon was founded—according to legend—by Ulysses on his epic voyage after the Trojan War.
The Phoenicians were also here, and there are notable Roman ruins. Not to overlook some forbidding castles built by the Moors during their long occupation of the land.
Portugal's great power and wealth came from its mastery of the sea, beginning with Prince Henry the Navigator and soon followed by Vasco da Gama's voyage to India in 1497/8.
For a nation which is only 150 miles wide, Portugal is fortunate to have 500 miles of sea-coast. It's astonishing how much beauty, history, and architecture can be contained in a land no bigger than Maine!
For information about EXPO ‘98 and concurrent cultural events in Lisbon, contact the Portuguese National Tourist Office: 1-212-354-4403.
Copyright © Glenn Loney 1998. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, Curator's Choice." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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