Joana Vasconcelos’ ‘Plug-in’ Retrospective Buzzes with Three Decades of Energy and Power

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Detail of “Valkyrie Octopus,” installed at MAAT. Photo by Bruno Lopes. All images © Joana Vasconcelos, courtesy of MAAT, shared with permission

From a towering solitaire diamond ring made of wheels to a sprawling, embellished textile tree, Joana Vasconcelos (previously) is known for creating monumental sculptures and public artworks that reframe familiar objects and materials into striking installations. Plug-in, a new retrospective at MAAT—the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology—in Lisbon, explores nearly three decades of the Portuguese artist’s comprehensive oeuvre.light

Focusing on an undercurrent of electricity and power, Plug-in brings together new pieces in dialogue with earlier works. For example, two sculptures reimagine vintage cars: “Drag Race,” an ebulliently baroque Porsche, sports gilded woodwork that nods to track racing, self-expression, and pop-culture phenomena like RuPaul’s Drag Race. “War Games,” on the other hand, is encased in toy rifles in an antagonistic tug-o-war between play and violence. Red LED lights switch on and off continuously, and “the interior is filled with hundreds of stuffed toys that wiggle noisily, clamouring for attention and space,” says a statement.


“Drag Race” (2023). Photo by Lionel Balteiro

Vasconcelos often incorporates textiles into her works, working with beads, brocade, fringe, and a wide variety of fabrics. The lavish “Valkyrie Octopus,” part of the artist’s expansive Valkyries series, is shown for the first time in Europe since it was originally unveiled in Macau. Illuminated with tiny lights, the inflatable form coated in patterns looms across the entire width of the room. Plug-in invites visitors into a multi-sensory experience in which flashing lights and shiny surfaces question how we define luxury and power.

The exhibition continues in Lisbon through March 31, 2024. And if you’re in Florence, you can also visit Vasconcelos’ Between Sky and Heart at the Uffizi through January 14. See more on the artist’s website and Instagram.


“Valkyrie Octopus” (2015), installed at MGM Macau. Photo by Luís Vasconcelos

“Solitaire” (2018). Photo by Bruno Lopes

“Árvore da Vida” (2023). Photo by Bruno Lopes

Detail of “Árvore da Vida.” Photo by Didier Plowy, courtesy of Centre des Monuments Nationaux

Installation view of “Drag Race” (foreground) and “War Games.” Photo by Bruno Lopes

“Strangers in the Night” (2000). Photos by DMF Lisboa

“I’ll Be Your Mirror” (2019). Photo by Bruno Lopes

“War Games” (2011). Photo by DMF Lisboa

Detail of “War Games.” Photo by DMF Lisboa

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