During the immediate period following the 1974 revolution, the city of Oporto hosted several movements that demanded the creation of an exhibition space in the city, in order to exhibit art produced at that time.
Several initiatives, in particular the Centre of Contemporary Art, that remained in operation until 1980, played a key role in consolidating the artistic context in Oporto.
These achievements were recognised by the Secretary of State for Culture, Teresa Patrício Gouveia, when she chose the city as the location for the future National Museum of Modern Art.
The State acquired the Serralves Estate in December 1986 for this purpose. On this date, and prior to creation of the Serralves Foundation in 1989, a Founding Committee was constituted, whose members were Jorge Araújo, Teresa Andresen and Fernando Pernes. Serralves Park and Villa were opened to the public on May 29, 1987.
The creation of the Foundation, via Decree-Law no. 240-A/89, of July 27, signalled the beginning of an innovative partnership between the State and civil society - encompassing around 50 public and private sector bodies. The present number of Founders has risen to 181, including companies and private individuals, thus demonstrating growing and continued adhesion to the Serralves project.
In pursuit of its statutory objectives, the Foundation signed a contract in March 1991 with the architect, Álvaro Siza, in order to draw up an architectural project for the Museum. Construction of the "National Museum of Contemporary Art", as it was then known, was financed by community funds with matching funds from national PIDDAC resources.
Serralves first president was João Marques Pinto (1989-2000), followed by Teresa Patrício Gouveia (2001-2003), António Gomes de Pinho (2003-2009), and since 2010, the president Luís Braga da Cruz (2010-2015).
The Serralves Foundation is now renowned as one of the main Portuguese cultural institutions and the leading body of its kind in the North of Portugal. It has conducted a great effort in order to project contemporary art at the national and international levels and divulge its notable architectural and landscape heritage.
Encompassing the Serralves Villa, Park, Museum of Contemporary Art, Auditorium and Library - managed within the orbit of its mission, the Foundation annually presents a diversified programme of initiatives, aimed at promoting debate and reflection on art, nature and the landscape and provide an innovative form of art education while taking an active part in reflection on contemporary society.
In view of their important architectural interest, the buildings of Serralves were jointly classified as a "Building of Public Interest" in 1996.
The buildings of Serralves - Villa, Park, Museum of Contemporary Art, Auditorium and Library - were jointly classified by the Portuguese State as a "National Monument" in 2012.
On December 3, 2014, at the annual meeting of the Board of Founders of Serralves and at the end of the celebrations of the Foundation’s 25th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, awarded Serralves the distinction of Honorary Member of the Ordem Militar de Sant’Iago da Espada, for its "invaluable contribution" to culture in Portugal. In his speech, the President stressed the fact that Serralves, besides being "a reference in the international art world" is also a "major success story in terms of its economic impact, and the enhancement and overall increase in tourism it has generated."