Critics’ Picks

View of “The Pyrgus from Chaves,” 2019.

View of “The Pyrgus from Chaves,” 2019.


Francisco Tropa

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum | Lisbon
Av. de Berna 45A
February 21–June 3, 2019

“The Pyrgus from Chaves,” Francisco Tropa’s latest exhibition, is set in a dark, vault-like gallery, where an eclectic array of small figurative sculptures is assembled on asymmetrically arranged tables. A selection of Tropa’s works since 2006 are featured alongside artifacts found in the Roman baths of Chaves in northern Portugal, a site exceptionally preserved by a landslide that buried it around the fourth century CE and rediscovered in 2016.

Tropa collaborated with archaeologist Sérgio Carneiro, who was involved in the excavation of the Chaves baths, to create a natural history Wunderkammer. Stored inside a glass box, remnants from the pyrgus—an ancient dice tower that ensured a fair roll, as the dice were thrown in at the top and tumbled through corrugated plates before coming out—open the exhibition. Nearby, Lanterna (gota de água), 2012, a brass-and-glass optical device designed by Tropa, projects the shadow of a drop of water on a screen, echoing the pyrgus with its mechanical intricacies and ornate sophistication. Various tables bearing selections from the artist’s series of human bones cast in bronze, Gigante, 2006–19, and his game-inspired series “Scripta,” 2009–18, follow. These works rely on a ludic visual lexicon of board games and their movable pawns, geometrically cut from a variety of materials: marble, painted bronze, wood, glass, and stone. Conversing with history through play, replica, and preservation, Tropa’s incarnations exist not to be trifled with but to infuse the archaeological remains that inspired them with kinetic tension and charisma.