French–Portuguese sculptor and multimedia artist Joana Vasconcelos, who lives and works in Lisbon, appropriates objects from daily life and sets them into intricate assemblages and large-scale installations. She incorporates craft elements – usually associated with women – such as knitting and crocheting and everyday Portuguese items by covering the items with the handcrafted textiles. She draws constantly. “Drawing has become a thinking method, a tool that accompanies me on a daily basis. In my sculpture projects everything starts with a drawing and I always carry a notebook that goes with me everywhere.”
Vasconcelos was born in Paris. She studied art at the Centro de Arte e Comunicacao Visual in Lisbon between 1989 and 1996. She has always admired conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp and considers hm to be the master of contemporary sculpture because he took everyday objects and turned them into art works. After graduating from art school, she was awarded the EDP Novos Artistas Prize in 2000.
Her site-specific works deal with womanhood and the complicated boundaries between art and domestic labor. Her sculpture “A Noiva (The Bride),” shown at the 2005 Venice Biennale, was a twenty foot high chandelier made from 25,000 tampons. By eliminating crystals and by using tampons instead, she constructed a metaphor for femininity.
Her 2007 “Emmanuelle” is the head of a bull, first painted with ceramic glaze and then covered with handmade cotton crochet. For her 2008 “Piano Dentelle,” she covered a grand piano with a crochet cover that looked like snowflakes. In the same year, her installation “Red Independent Heart 2” was made from translucent plastic cutlery, painted iron, metallic chain, electrical motor and a CD. In this work music was combined with everyday objects making it into a multimedia piece.
In 2012, she was the first woman and the youngest artist to exhibit at Versailles’ annual contemporary art exhibition in the Hall of Mirrors. Her sculpture “Marilyn” was a gigantic pair of silver stiletto heels made from saucepans whose purpose was to reference the private and public roles of women in society.
In 2018, Vasconcelos designed a permanent installation for the tramline in Paris. Her “Coeur de Paris” consisted of some 4,000 tiles and lights that turned on and off to the rhythm of a beating heart.
Vasconcelos was awarded the Contemporary Art Prize by the Association des Amis Francais du Musee d’Art de Tel Aviv. She has exhibited public works of art in more than 35 countries and has had hundreds of exhibitions all over Europe. She has shown at the Venice Biennale four times. In 2018, she had a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Blbao, Spain and was the only Portuguese artist to have been awarded this honor.
While she has had five solo exhibitions in Europe, she had her first U.S. solo show in 2020 at MassArt Art Museum (MAAM), which honored Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, a slave whose court battle for freedom in 1781 helped make slavery illegal in Massachusetts. The monumental installation, “Valkyrie Mumbet,” was the newest of her Valkyries series which paid homage to inspiring women. This exhibition is on view through 2022.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and others.