May 4, 2021

Portuguese curator Inês Grosso says farewell to one of her country’s most distinguished and respected artists, Julião Sarmento (1948–2021).

I am profoundly disheartened. It is hard to fathom that Julião is gone. He, who clung to life so willfully. Julião was an unstoppable force of nature, restless and thirsting for knowledge, new challenges, and triumphs. Erudite and humane. His energy and joy were as seductive as they were demanding, pushing everyone in his orbit to thrive, always to want more than what the world could offer. He was a mentor and an inspiration. Not just because of the significance and scope of his artistic work, but also because of his generosity, friendship, and exemplarily combative spirit in a country that was often too small for his talent and soul.

It seems just moments ago that we were planning a book that would bring to light the memories and extraordinary tales of a life dedicated to this thing we call the world of art. Julião always had a story to tell. He was a storyteller whose essence was history itself. We were racing against time, trying to rescue these stories—which were not only his but belonged to all of us—from its unyielding tyranny.

Time, the soft, brutish tyrant.

Foolishly, I believed it to be on our side.

Julião’s memory and stories will live on. His life was dedicated to art, to helping artists and gallerists, to inviting them to his home. All of them, and art itself, are the living tissue of his memory. He has not died; he is history.

Art is about people and is made by people. The relationships and friendships we establish in this narrow yet open world—artists, curators, gallerists, collectors—follow us every step of the way. They inform and guide us intimately. Julião did so for me and countless others. Behind every work of art, there is an artist, and each artist is a person. People die, but artists don’t. They live on, and their brilliant souls keep on delivering magic to our world. Julião was one of these, and we—all of us who were the recipients of his friendship and immense generosity—are tasked with the gratifying work of making sure that his stories survive and thrive. That the work he began never comes to an end.

Inês Grosso is an art historian, writer, and curator at the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT), Lisbon.

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