Agnès Varda
Agnès Varda © Martin Kraft - Creative Commons
Visual arts

France-Portugal 2022 Season - A retrospective on the work of Agnès Varda

The tool for any self-portrait is a mirror. You can see yourself in it. Turn it around, and you’ll see the world.

As part of the France-Portugal 2022 Season, implemented by the Institut français on the French side, the Serralves Foundation is organising a retrospective in Porto on the work of Agnès Varda, from 21 June to December 2022. We look back on the career of this key artist. 

Updated on 17/05/2022

5 min

Born in Ixelles in 1928, Agnès Varda grew up in Sète, a town that frequently reappears in her filmography, from her first feature film, La Pointe courte (Short Point, 1955), a precursor to the French New Wave, to the highly autobiographical Les Plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnès, 2008). Having lived her entire life at her legendary house on rue Daguerre in Paris, which she bought in 1951, Varda first worked as a photographer, most notably with Jean Vilar, before making a name for herself as a high-profile filmmaker with Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962). It was the start of a resolutely unique career, in which a documentary approach intermingles with portraits of ordinary people to create a highly personal style that would never make concessions to the norms of traditional cinema. In the 2000s, her work took a more autobiographic turn. Armed with a digital camera, which allowed her to shoot cheaply, she made more documentaries on her current and past life, including her last film, Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès, 2019). 

In the early 2000s, following the success of her film Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I, 2000), Varda was invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale. Her very well-received installation Patatutopia saw her wander among the visitors, dressed as a giant potato. Three years later, she exhibited at the Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain with l'Île et Elle, an exhibition on Noirmoutier Island. This is where her work as a visual artist took shape, in particular with her famous shacks, which went on to be the subject of one last exhibition, Une cabane de cinéma : la serre du bonheur (A cinema shack: the greenhouse of happiness), inaugurated in 2019 on the day of her death. It was a testament to two decades of intensive creation, where the intersection of photography, film and visual art had never been so present in her work. 

A committed and passionate documentary maker, Varda was often witness to major international political upheavals. In 1963, she dedicated a short film to the recent Cuban Revolution, with the short film Salut les Cubains (Hi, Cubans), before making the joint documentary Loin du Vietnam (Far from Vietnam, 1967) with Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard.  Having spent several years living in Los Angeles with her husband, Jacques Demy, she also immortalised the struggle of the African Americans in Black Panthers (1968) and pre-revolutionary Iran in Plaisir d’amour en Iran (The Pleasure of Love in Iran, 1976). An internationally-renowned filmmaker, Varda spent a large portion of her later years travelling the world, and received numerous distinctions, including an Academy Honorary Award and a Palme d'honneur for her career as a whole. The retrospective on her work at the Serralves Foundation in Porto, as part of the France-Portugal 2022 Season, will include a large collection of photographs taken in Portugal. 

  • 1962


    Cléo de 5 à 7, a precursor to the French New Wave.

  • 1985


    Sans toit ni loi (Without a Roof or Law) with Sandrine Bonnaire, her greatest success in cinemas.

  • 2003


    Patatutopia, her first major exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

  • 2008


    Les Plages d’Agnès, an autobiographical documentary that receives a César award.

  • 2022


    Retrospective at the Serralves Foundation in Porto, from 21 June to December 2022.

The Institut français and the artist

The Institut français implements, for the French side, the France-Portugal Season 2022, during which the Serralves Foundation is organising a retrospective on the work of Agnès Varda, from 21 June to December 2022 in Porto. 

Find out more 

L'institut français, LAB