For eco projects and agribusiness, Alentejo has emerged as a new marketplace. Follow the artists as they revitalize abandoned city neighborhoods and untapped rural land. Don’t artists consistently shape the furrows from which real estate springs forth and amplifies their value creation?
Georgia O'Keeffe, 'Lake George Reflection,' featured in The Times of Israel.
In 1951, French-American novelist and essayist Anaïs Nin writes from Acapulco, Mexico: “To me Acapulco is the detoxicating cure for all the evils of the city: ambition, vanity, quest for success in money, the continuous contagious presence of power-driven, obsessed individuals who want to become known, to be in the limelight, noticed, as if life among millions gave you a desperate illness, a need of rising above the crowd, being noticed, existing individually, singled out from a mass of ants and sheep… Here, all this is nonsense. You exist by your smile and your presence. You exist for your joys and your relaxations. You exist in nature.”
Coined ‘The Loner of the Desert’, American painter Georgia O'Keefe who had moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949, seems to answer in echoes, against the instant gratification promise of happiness: “I think it's so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary–you're happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.”
Georgia O'Keeffe [1887–1986] painted from the 1920s.“She gained celebrity status due to her independence, the simplicity with which she structured her life, making her a role model for counterculture lifestyles," says curator Wanda M. Corn in a Life Magazine feature.
In 1959, Swiss sculptor Jean Tingueli defined movement as static, in contrast to anchored things and, by default, as the rhythm of life: “True essence resides only in movement. Today, we can no longer believe in permanent laws, rigid religions, enduring architecture, or eternal kingdoms. Immutability is nonexistent. Everything is in motion. Everything is fixed. – ‘Static, static, static!" Fast forward >> Seven years ago, American artist-technologist Jonathan J. Harris relocated from New York to High Acres Farm, reimagining his ancestral family land in Vermont as his new playground for creative exploration: “In life, we possess only time. People chase after success, hunger for fame, fortune, and power. Yet, within all these pursuits, a common question arises — how will you spend your time? How do you wish to shape your days?" As [writer] Annie Dillard reminds us, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Browse through Jonathan J. Harris's projects on his site. In 2021, artist Ai Weiwei finds peace in Portugal: "I could throw away all my art and not feel much," says the Chinese-born artist to The Guardian. Being still wasn’t exactly what defined the life of the international Chinese-born artist in exile. A decade in New York during the 1980s. A tumultuous return to China. Five years in Berlin but the German city didn’t feel right, “Berlin winter is too long, it makes me sad”. Then came Cambridge, England, where his son studies, but bureaucratic complications derailed his plans. Portugal and a small town near Evora, in the golden fields of the Alentejo region, captured his heart: Montemor-o-Novo. Ai Weiwei will stay here long-term, he said, adding "unless something happens". For people living in exile, stillness is often hard to trust.
@aiww "Artist Ai Weiwei on Finding Home in Portugal’s Countryside" courtesy CondeNast Traveller
Since the move, Ai Weiwei has launched two major shows in Portugal, "Rapture" in Lisbon, and "Ai Weiwei: Entralaçar [entanglement]" in Porto. Although his work brings him to the city, he feels most at peace in the countryside:
“The view goes far, far away. You can see the edge of the empty land. That's the luxury of my life here.”
Wilderness: the call of the wild as an open canvas for imagination to thrive. Yesterday, Anaïs Nin in Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico, or Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas… Today a new breed of artists in live art, land art and art installations is inspired by Portugal's peaceful and simple lifestyle. Capital cities are the new airports. But are they still liveable? They enclose all flagships of what defines a country’s national identity and cultural marks: luxury brands, souvenir shops, varieties of liquors and biscuits, and all miniatures or other ‘merch’ reproducing architectural landmarks. Meanwhile, similar to airports, everything is increasingly overpriced. The water bottle triples in price. The restaurants cater to wealthy foodies. The art venues increase their entrance fees.
As an example, this past June, Tate Modern in London features three payable exhibitions priced between £18 to £22 each, without a pass for all three. That’s between €20 to €25 for one show, even a small one, which a large majority of artists or art students won’t afford. Living in capital cities – particularly historical centers or their most desirable neighborhoods, as in Lisbon, Paris, and Barcelona – takes its toll. Tourists will pass by your front door with rolling suitcases, people will be walking across residential areas throughout the night, speaking loudly, and in areas where the party is on, featuring international DJs, renowned chefs and skilled bartenders, dog walkers will walk around the acrid scent of urine and empty bottles. Read our blog: "Southern European Overtourism: How to Preserve National Heritage Sites in Countries Like Portugal?" for more facts on the theme.
In Portugal, tourism is here to stay.
“The country’s tourism-related GDP contribution may even increase to €56.4 billion (more than $63 billion) by 2033. Should that come to pass, it would represent more than one-fifth (21.1 percent) of the economy. [In 2022, that figure was about 15.8 percent]. More than 1.2 million people will likely be employed by Portugal’s tourism industry across the country, which would amount to about one in four people working in the sector, according to the Economic Impact Research data, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), via #travelpulse. This summer, the search for flights during the month of August revealed that Portugal is amongst the most sought-after destinations by both the Portuguese and Europeans. Sources: Publituris, Jetcost, and travelpulse. But artists move out when the masses enter. “When you walk on the street in London, you feel you’re a little bit in the way of the young people. I needed a place to be more peaceful by myself,” said also Ai Weiwei. His wide-open plateau on the fields in pristine silence was his alternative choice.
Are artists the new farmers? Or masters at branding local products farmers created? Proceeds in this case will go to Refugees International, according to Flamingo Estate.
In real estate terms, space has always been a luxury. Space in the city is rare and expensive, for that matter. Meanwhile, in nature, Portugal has preserved so well, people still share space without financial constraints. Will that change? In Tuscany, Italy, most beaches are now private. Space and privacy are what famous artists seek when gentrification pushes them elsewhere. From the French castles where rock ‘n’ roll renegades used to record out of sight – supposedly with fewer drugs involved – to The Factory loft in Manhattan, where the trickster of pop-art, Andy Warhol, collected and experimented with artists as if they were butterflies, space is key to creation and production, in collaboration.
In an article titled 'Space Is Not a Void. It’s a canvas for human imagination', space is explored by renowned science fiction author and long-time space observer Kim Stanley Robinson: “We don’t need space [as in going to the Moon]. We need sustainability in this biosphere. Space is a luxury problem and a luxury opportunity. It’s what we get to explore in some detail, in the centuries after we succeed in inventing permaculture here, if we do.”
Portugal presents a new way of life around simplicity, permaculture, and agribusiness. [Agribusiness which focuses on bio-economy is also known as bio-enterprise]. And 'eco projects' or 'eco resorts' are where the trends are.
The 'small boutique hotel' Sublime Comporta is described as “a magical, unspoiled place where you will experience all that is still authentic and genuine in Portugal - living alongside locals and feeling the rhythm of 'slow living'.” On the site, images of deserted beaches, fields populated by birds, and horse riders along the sea –seem to be the only tolerated human presence.
Simplicity has established its recognizable brand along the Tróia peninsula situated in the old district of Setúbal.
And Comporta, a small beachside village approximately an hour’s drive from Lisbon, is simplicity at its quintessence. If undoubtedly, space with a view and privacy remains the cornerstone of real estate, the Portuguese countryside and the country's protected coastlines, offer preserved privacy and expansive vistas.
Just an eight-minute drive from Sublime Comporta, the eco resort Flor de Arroz [now Alma Da Comporta] expresses in similar language: “Comporta is a little paradise, as if lost at the end of the world. It exudes a serenity and a gentle way of life without pretentiousness that immediately captivated Charline and Antoine [owners] during their first trip here. Eight years later, they decided to build their first house overlooking Comporta’s rice fields.” Travel south for 20 minutes and you'll reach Melides. The ‘Prince of Red Soles’ Christian Louboutin roams around in "a faded navy T-shirt, a pair of well-worn yellow Havaianas, and a slightly tilted straw hat, then he seats on a bench overlooking a rice paddy field on Portugal's Alentejo coast.” "La vida simple de Christian Louboutin", titles the Wall Street Journal. “… Melides has held onto its authentic, secret allure, characteristic of the Alentejo hamlets lying quietly just a few kilometers from the coast. In this Eldorado, where a few celebrities seek refuge in tranquility, Christian Louboutin has acquired a ramshackle shack in the heart of the village to craft his own hotel, his "folie," as described by the French Le Figaro.
Take a glimpse at Hotel Vermelho which means red in Portuguese –of course, in Melides.
The site Mansion Global describes the region as follows: “Comporta and its neighboring villages in the Alentejo region have been quietly attracting high-end homeowners for years, including notable figures like designer Christian Louboutin, architect Philippe Starck, and actress Sharon Stone. While the growing interest is sparking increased development, specific regulations are in place to safeguard the organic tranquility akin to the Hamptons, making this an opportune moment to enter the market and secure a portion of this pristine paradise.” Then there's the French aristocrat Louis Albert de Broglie, nicknamed the ‘Prince Gardener,’ who sees his mission as to preserve the ecosystem of the Herdade da Comporta [estate of Comporta], owned by the Espirito Santo family –the last banking dynasty of Portugal. Their estate formed in 1836, with origins in the 12th century, seats in the middle of rice fields and fishing communities on the coastline of the municipalities of Alcácer do Sal and Grândola.
When the Espirito Santo empire, stretching from condos in Miami to gold mines in Angola, collapsed following a corruption scandal in 2014, “Bankers in Lisbon said the BES demise was a watershed moment for the country: the turning point when old Portugal became new Europe.” Nature, unmoved by the nature of men, offers ground for expression at a slower pace. Alone or surrounded, rich or poor, busy creating, researching, exploring, observing, or simply meditating... Mind and body breathing in the sun, in the wind, along the ocean, in soft and loose fabrics, under the rain in flip-flops, on a bike sliding down the hill, laughing like a gentle devil, nature builds sensuality and peace from within, as if nothing else ever had to matter.
April 13, 2015, marked the 500th day in a row that artist Ai Weiwei had protested the Chinese government travel ban by putting flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside his Beijing studio. On Twitter, he said he would do it every day until he 'regains the right to travel freely'."
“When you take a flower in your hand", painter Georgia O'Keefe writes, "and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”
Georgia O'Keeffe, 'Red Canna, 1924' [left] 'Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918' [right]
Anaïs Nin from Mexico: "...You are part of the glittering sea, and part of the luscious, well-nourished plants, you are wedded to the sun, you are immersed in timelessness, only the present counts, and from the present you extract all the essences which can nourish the senses, and so the nerves are still, the mind is quiet, the nights are lullabies, the days are like gentle ovens in which infinitely wise sculptor’s hands re-form the lost contours, the lost sensations of the body… As you swim, you are washed of all the excrescences of so-called civilization, which includes the incapacity to be happy under any circumstances.”
Anaïs Nin in Acapulco, Mexico. Extracts from: The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5: 1947-1955
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Top left Villa near medieval city of Marvão in Alentejo, € 280.000 Top right Land in Amieira in Alentejo, € 26.000 Bottom left Rare quinta in Montemor-O-Novo, Alentejo € 1,150.000 Bottom right Farm to renovate in Elvas in Alentejo, € 150.000
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