The eighth edition of Lebanon’s four-day art fair featured a diverse selection of works across its classical booths and Revealing, a new section dedicated to work by emerging regional artists
The eighth edition of the Beirut Art Fair saw the annual four-day commercial fair come into its own. After a few years disrupted by security problems or ongoing travel bans in the wake of unrest, the fair opened this year amid an atmosphere of optimism, with an increased presence from Gulf exhibitors and collectors, who are beginning to return to Lebanon after several rocky years and repeated travel warnings.
At the heart of the fair were two non-profit exhibitions, Ourouba: The Eye of Lebanon, a selection of works on loan from local private collectors, curated by Rose Issa, and The Prophet, a display of black-and-white illustrations of Khalil Gibran’s famous literary masterpiece by Algerian artist Rachid Koraichi. But with 51 galleries from 23 countries, the commercial gallery showing was also very strong, both in the classical booths and the fair’s section for emerging artists Revealing, which returned for the second year running with an enlarged space and increased number of galleries.
Standouts at Revealing included a display of delicate illustrations by young Egyptian artist Mohamed Monaiseer at Cairo’s Mashrabia Gallery. More than 120 detailed illustrations, some in colour and others executed in black and white, formed a series entitled Dictionary, in which Monaiseer explores herbs, plants and substances used in traditional cooking and healing practices, combining alchemy, parapsychology and metaphysics. Substances such as henna, hibiscus and liquorice were used to treat fabrics and create his handmade canvasses, upon which he draws and writes, archiving a vanishing set of practices and beliefs.
Another highlight was Jeddah-based Hafez Gallery’s display of photographs by Syrian artist Osama Esid. Delicate, hand-coloured prints captured The Girl with the Silver Shoes, a woman reclining on a sofa, looking down and away from the camera, her hair partially obscuring her face. The muted shades and classical composition combined to evoke something of the mystery and poise of 17th century Dutch paintings, such as Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring.
In a more contemporary and self-consciously kitsch vein, Iranian artist Kourosh Salehi’s hand-painted resin skulls at Abu Dhabi’s Salwa Zeidan Gallery moved away from painting and photography in favour of a three-dimensional representation of the beauty and horror of mortality, inspired by Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat.
Among the classical booths, a display revived annually by Emmagoss Gallery, featuring work by Paul Guiragossian and his clutch of artist children, was particularly strong this year. Work by siblings Emmanuel, Jean-Paul and Manuella Guiragossian was complemented by work from Markus Lupertz, Seta Manoukian and A. R. Penck.
A new addition to the fair, Paris-based Galerie Nathalie Obadia, displayed a selection of more than 20 beautiful mixed-media abstract works on paper by Armenian artist Sarkis. Dating from the early 1960s, they were priced between $17,000 and $33,000 and were made in Istanbul, before the artist moved to Paris.
Based in Manama, Albareh Art Gallery showcased a series of dramatic mixed-media works by Lebanese artist Abed Al Kadiri. Part of a series juxtaposing Iraq’s rich cultural history and heritage with the destruction of ISIS, his canvasses combined delicate charcoal sketches with vibrant daubs of oil paint, creating bold, eye-catching tableaux combining traditional and contemporary influences.
Overall, the fair provided an encouraging insight into the diversity of the regional art scene and the growing confidence of galleries and collectors to view Lebanon as a strategic hub for the arts.
By Irene McConnell
Featured image: Georges David Corm, Les Hâleurs (Haulers), Oil on canvas, 44 x 66 cm, 1935