Passion for Art
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Selected works from the
38th Annual Fine Arts Exhibition
BEIRUT, THE exquisite capital city of Lebanon, has for centuries held a prime and important spot in the history of art and culture. Situated, much like Istanbul, at a crossroads between East and West, Christianity and Islam, and in more recent history held as a protectorate by the French -- the city is a unique, multilayered and sophisticated spot to both enjoy and analyze trends in contemporary art.
This year, between July 5th and 8th, Beirut will again host the BEIRUT ART FAIR at BIEL Exhibition Center, an event that is fast becoming one of the most important platforms for the promotion of contemporary art of the ME.NA.SA countries (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia). As preparations for the fair move into high gear, Laura Stewart spoke with Laure d’Hauteville, Beirut Art Fair Manager, to discuss the changes in the fair’s programming, the growth of the market in the region, and the themes that will undoubtedly dominate this year’s event.
Ms. d”Hauteville describes the fair with a passion for the transformative power of art, that is best expressed by the French: “Beirut
Art Fair,” she enthuses, “is like a showcase for art, culture, liberty of expression and a unique place for an exchange of ideas for the Arab regions, from Morocco to the Gulf.
“This year,” she continues, “several galleries that have already registered for the Beirut Art Fair like Sophie Lanoë from Paris and Waddah Fares from Baghdad, have chosen Beirut (not Dubai or Paris or London) because they are sure that they will be well seen in Beirut.
"New additions to this year's fair include an exhibition presented by ArtBahrain of Rashid Al Khalifa's "Reflections" series -- currently on view at the Bahrain Financial Harbour Fine Arts Gallery. Other exciting new additions include works from Indonesian artists which have been selling at extraordinary levels at recent auctions.
When asked how the Beirut art fair is different from the many fairs crowding the art world calendar, Ms. d’Hauteville has a clear vision.
“Beirut art fair is a boutique art fair,” she explains, “and is also a hybrid art fair. What I mean by that is that unlike many fairs that are solely focused on sales, the Beirut Fair is 50% educational - with exhibits that are not for sale -- an example is the wonderful Catherine David Pavilion, and the other 50% is the 40 or so galleries with art for sale.”
“Hybrid” programming will include several creative programs and exhibitions including one devoted to comics, and another, that should be a huge draw on Beirut graffiti and street art. The graffiti program will enable visitors to walk through the city following the organic expression of the urban Lebanese artist, seeing the “tags” of different artists like superstar Yasan Halwani. To accompany this program, there will be tie-ins to the hip-hop scene with video images of VJs (Arab video jockeys), street performances and music performances.
Considering the frenzy created by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent Street Art show, this adjunctive programming
should prove very popular and provide an interesting juxtaposition between the concerns of street artists from the U.S. and those living in Beirut.
“My challenge,” Ms. d’Hauteville reveals, “is to keep pace with the growth of an emerging market (ME.NA.SA), by adding increasingly rich programming *including conferences, workshops, ancillary outdoor installations and tours of artists’ studios, galleries and museums organized for VIPs.
“However, whilst doing all of this, I must also remain focused on ensuring that the core of the fair -- the artists and the galleries that are chosen and vetted by a selective committee -- are of the very best quality, and have the integrity necessary to interest and attract collectors from around the world.”
According to Ms d’Hauteville, the fair, which is supported by The Lebanese Government, “Is poised to grow exponentially in the next
several years. “In 2011,” she relates, “we had 10,000 visitors with a 63% increase in attendance over 2010, and we attracted private and institutional visitors from leading art centers around the world, including the Arab Culture Fund BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), the Tate Modern Centre, The Georges Pompidou Qatar Art Fundation Institut du monde Arabe, along with representatives from Christie’s Bonhams and Sotheby’s.
“We were also delighted to host a geographically diverse group of high net worth collectors from the UAE, KSA, Europe, China, Indonesia, USA, India, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Palestine, Syria, Iran, Qatar Hong Kong and Singapore,” Ms. d’Hauteville recounts. “This diverse group represents a growing collector base which leads us to believe -- and this has been borne out in the results of auctions of ME.NA.SA artists, and ME.NA.SA-centric art fairs -- that the best contemporary artists of the region are fast becoming on par both artistically and commercially with Western artists, who have tended to dominate the market in the recent past.”
“In the 2011 Fair,” she reports, “25 art galleries sold art with a turnover that exceeded $1million US dollars.” While that figure might seem modest, compared to some of the dizzying totals tallied at the world’s blockbuster art fairs such as the Basel fairs in Switzerland and Miami -- Ms. d’Hauteville points out that: “Arab art is not as expensive as European art, and must be seen for what it currently is -- an emerging market. For example,” she explains, “when ART Hong Kong started, they did not have more galleries than we do now, and the turnover at the fair was not any higher than Beirut Art Fair. Today, however, ART Hong Kong is one of the biggest art fairs in the world, and they have recently been bought by Art Basel.”
The number of galleries at the Beirut Art Fair has grown from 25 to 40 from 2011 to 2012 and this year will be featuring over 500 artists. With expansion this broad and deep, the eyes of the art world will be focused on how curators and directors such as Ms. d’Hauteville at Beirut, Ms. Egerton at Art Dubai, and new Chief Curator at Art Sharjah, Yuko Hasegawa, manage this growth.
These women should not be underestimated. Although their fairs are devoted to emerging and somewhat regional markets, they are all sophisticated art professionals. They are as aware as any one of the dangers of speculation in a growing market, (and the proof is in the Beirut Art Fair newsletter with a fascinating article on the pitfalls of speculative buying http://menasartmag.wordpress.com/newsletter/) and they understand the need to build this market in steady increments with a broad collecting base.
An obvious essential component to art from the ME.NA.SA region has, over the last 18 months, been borne out in work that reflects the desire by artists to address in aesthetic terms the geopolitical events now routinely referred to as “Arab Spring.”
This preoccupation is natural, and will add to the excitement surrounding art and culture in this part of the world -- especially by those who hope that honest dialogue and the contemplative introspection that only art can bring, will be a calming and transformative force in the region as things begin to settle.
Ms.d’Hauteville sees these events as a positive thing, stating, “When people come to see the work at Beirut and speak to one another, my hope, and my belief, is that peace through art is not a naive concept and is a way in which disagreements can be calmly discussed through a beautiful and productive prism.”
It will also be interesting to see how art from the ME.NA.SA region fares in comparison to, for example, the burgeoning and then slackening of the contemporary art scene in China - buoyed by that nation’s explosive economic growth. In short, as the region weathers its idiosyncratic political storms, all will be watching to see which artists will rise to the surface as the ones who are able to access both internal and universal themes, compete in the mushrooming mediums made possible by technology, film and sound art, yet doing so without losing the unique voice and expression that living and working in the countries in the region brings to
Ms. d”Hauteville’s mission should not be very difficult to achieve. The explosion of prices for contemporary artists from the region, the press attention that these artists have garnered, coupled with the evolving events in the region, make Beirut a destination of interest to the art world’s leading congnescenti.
Conde Nast Traveler Magazine routinely lists Beirut in their Top Ten List of cities to visit -- and this fascinating location has become a leading tourist destination in the world, due to the recent rebuilding of this beautiful, yet often war-torn city. In addition, the beautiful vistas, fine dining -- and rich archeological and artistic culture -- not to mention the world class architecture, have long been a magnet for the discerning traveler. The city boasts Mosques and churches, office buildings and boulevards and a perch on the sea, all revealing a palimpsest of Arabic, Neoclassical, and French influences under a temperate Mediterranean climate. In short, Beirut -- when it has been able to escape its internal strife -- and the ongoing strife in the region, is perhaps, one of the few cities in the world that offers nearly everything that culture loving travelers wish to discover.
"...the best contemporary artists of the region are fast becoming on par both artistically and commercially with Western artists, who have tended to dominate the market in the recent past.”
A Conversation with Laure d’Hauteville
Beirut Art Fair Manager
By Laura Stewart
A UNIQUE ME.NA.SA COMIC BOOK CORNER
This year BEIRUT ART FAIR presents for the first time, an exhibition dedicated to the ME.NA.SA. comics with thirty original drawings. The Comics Corner offers through the «ninth art» a survey which runs from Maghreb to Asia via the Middle East, and shows how comic creators seize the political, social and economic situations of their native countries.
“THIS IS NOT WONDERLAND”: MONUMENTAL SCULPTURES & INSTALLATIONS
Lined with monumental sculptures, visual and sound installations, this exhibition is designed as a labyrinth, an initiation journey to the discovery of contemporary Lebanese creations with only guides, the artists themselves; among them include Amine Boulos and Samar Mogharbel.
STREET ART & HAPPENINGS
BEIRUT ART FAIR dedicates a space for the artistic creation born in the heart of the city and makes the walls speak revealing five years of archives offering a journey through Beirut, its tags and graffiti, and its performances in urban areas. Links with the hiphop culture will be shown throughout the fair with a mix of images of VJs (video jockeys) in succession while a performance is planned by a group of Lebanese artists: Ashekman. Other street artists in the spotlight include Yazan Halwani.
VIDEO BOX :
An awaited engagement since the last installment, the VIDEO BOX of BEIRUT ART FAIR, invite a watch and re-watch of videos by the most remarkable video artists of the ME.NA.SA. region: notably from Lebanon Ali Cherri, from Algeria Halida Boughriet and from China Qiu Zhijie.
BEIRUT ART FAIR TALKS :
As part of the panel discussions, «BEIRUT ART FAIR TALKS», proposed to visitors of the fair, the organizers invite professionals from the art world to exchange ideas on various topics to understand contemporary art from the ME.NA.SA. territory in all its richness and diversity.
A PAVILION CURATED BY CATHERINE DAVID.
*BEIRUT ART FAIR 2012: Selected Highlights of New Programs