This year’s Beirut Art Fair took place during a significant level of upheaval in the region. Against many odds, the fair directors pushed forward with the event, refusing to cancel the fair. Although there were some gallery cancellations, the exhibition center was filled up. We all commend their efforts!
Opening night, which took place between 6-10 pm, was very busy. There was a positive vibe throughout the night, as people were happily surprised to see such a strong showing (despite the political situation). It was a good start, with some galleries selling well during those first 4 hours. However many of the good galleries that participated last year were noticeably absent at this fair. I started roaming around the fair, and was very impressed with the works at some of the booths. And as with all art fairs, there were some weak works. I was also not very impressed to see jewelry and furniture booths, after all this is the Beirut Art Fair. In order for the Beirut Art Fair to one day compete with global art fairs, these type of antics need to end.
Beirut was once the cultural hotspot of the region. Prior to the Civil War there were dozens of galleries dotting the landscape of this small city. There was a strong collector base, plans for museums, art centers, and exhibitions. Unfortunately Beirut’s significance as a regional art center was tarnished with the onset of the Lebanese Civil War. After the Civil War the art scene slowly started to recover with gallery openings, exhibitions, and retrospectives. One of the main things the country was missing was an Art Fair.
The fair directors never lost hope in Lebanon, despite the odds. They pushed ahead with plans for Beirut’s Art Fair. After all, Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art were extremely successful ventures, which put those cities on the international art circuit; there was surely space for an art fair in Beirut. So they started their first art fair in 2010, which was much smaller in comparison. It was a test fair. Each gallery was only allowed to showcase one work at this first fair. It was successful and was received warmly by the people of Beirut.
It was then morphed into a full-fledged fair, taking place in the newly constructed waterfront area of the Beirut Central District. This piece of land, which has been artificially expanded into the Mediterranean, also plays host to the Beirut Exhibition Center. The 2011 fair were received well, with very strong galleries taking booths from throughout the region. At this year’s art fair, many of these great galleries were noticeably absent. Many gulf countries issued travel warnings to Lebanon, embassies told their citizens not to travel to the country, and hotels across Beirut were reporting a significant drop in the number of visitors. Lebanon, which is usually buzzing with tourists, only received a few this year. It is despite these great odds, that the Beirut Art Fair pushed through and decided to hold the fair this year.
I walked into the fair the next day and was greeted by the Ayyam Gallery booth, which had 3 beautiful elephant sculptures made by Nadim Karam. The largest of which (which was by the far the largest I had ever seen) was priced at $650,000, by far the most expensive work at the fair. These are beautifully done, and made up of all the small characters typical of Nadim’s work.
Ayyam Gallery also had a beautiful work by Safwan Dahoul, who never fails to impress me. This one was slightly different from his usual works however, in that there was a structured, 3D effect to it.
Galerie Epreuve D’artiste, run by Middle Eastern art expert Amal Traboulsi, had a very strong booth.
Amal’s booth included two works by Chaouki Chamoun, whose canvases always incorporate small figures at the bottom of each work.
There was also a beautiful work by Edgard Mazigi, whose works are a mixture of figurative and the abstract. This work, titled Jazz, had a strong energy to it.
One of my favorite booths at this year’s Art Fair was Agial Art Gallery. The gallery’s theme for this year’s exhibition was works on paper, including works by both modern Arab masters from the mid to late 20th century as well as some of the gallery’s contemporary artists. The works were stunning and at the same time affordable. Saleh Barakat, owner of the gallery, got the pricing right for the Beirut Art Fair, and as a result, sold very well. His prices started at $500 and went up to $8,000. This is the range I believe people in Beirut are willing to spend on art at an Art Fair. One always has to adapt to the market they are in, and as a result, Saleh did very well, with many of the works sold by the second day of the fair. It is interesting to note that at Art Dubai, for example, Agial had much more expensive and larger canvases that were priced in the tens of thousands. That’s because Dubai has a much higher purchasing power than Beirut. The works were truly top quality at Agial’s booth, and I commend Saleh Barakat and Carol Chehab for putting on such a great show. The nice thing about the booth was that there were wooden racks installed so one could sift through the works; there was a great selection to choose from.
A beautiful Ayman Baalbaki:
Tagreed Dargouth’s beautiful painted mushroom clouds:
Omar Fakhoury’s work, which at first I did not understand, but upon looking closer I realized that these red and white barrels were the ones used by the army at bases and checkpoints around Lebanon. They were beautifully painted onto a stunning light blue background.
A fantastic work of a Druze Sheikh by Hassan Jouni
Beautiful landscapes by Fateh Moudaress .
Le Violin Bleu had a whole wall dedicated to Sabhan Adam’s works. I am a fan of Sabhan’s works; his unique creatures are always full of personality. His paintings are also strong because of the bright colors he uses on dark backgrounds, giving the creatures an almost comical look. These works drew a lot of attention from the fair goers.
Ginane Makki Bacho had an installation of Beirut Street Art, where this creative artist went around Beirut taking pictures of the often neglected grapphiti that is ever present along the city’s walls.
I was impressed to see Tehran’s Azad Art Gallery at the fair, as it was nice to have some Iranian art. They had a beautiful blue calligraphy work by Ali Shirzai.