“Are you having any fun?” artist William Powhida asked me yesterday over twitter. I was slightly embarrassed to read the question — a critic’s opinions should be clear enough that this doesn’t have to be asked — but then my feelings on the 40 Hour Party aren’t entirely straight forward. Even if the festival by any objective standards is great — and it is — the only native English speakers are the roughly 40 percent performers who’ve travelled here to perform. Of course, most people here speak English, but for me, knowing only three words in Portuguese makes me uncharacteristically shy and forgetful. This isn’t particularly helpful when you’re a journalist.
I bring this up though, not because I think readers should care whether I felt awkward asking for directions, but mostly because I think it’s relavent to other travelers. Serralves 40 Hour Party is exactly the kind of event many I know would want to attend in terms of a completely unique local phenomenon, but that’s also what makes it difficult. It’s not designed for tourists.
It’s also not designed for artists, which isn’t my favorite aspect of the party. It’s fairly mainstream, and hosts more music than it does art. I assume this is to attract more people — many of whom would never think about art — and on that front they’ve been very successful. Without ever feeling claustrophobic thanks to the sheer size of the garden, the event brought in a little over 98,000 visitors — close to 10 percent of the city’s population. I’d like to see any museum in New York come close to those kinds of numbers. Add to that the very high calibre of musicians and performers working and there’s not a lot to complain about. So I won’t.