Lucy Knight

Bringing art to the shoppers

Beirut’s most affluent district exposes a little extra art to the public

Beirut Art Week
Beirut Art Week

Andy Warhol once said "an artist is somebody who produces things that people don't need to have." He was probably right, but who wants to live in a white box with nothing on the walls? In August the UK was host to what was considered the world’s largest exhibition of British art. For two weeks, displayed across 22,000 billboard and poster sites, the general public could view some of the country’s greatest art. A project was born out of the desire to bring art to the masses, outside of a gallery or museum, and while those two weeks are over, the idea continues to be expressed.  


This ‘democratization’ of art is something that is being experimented with in Beirut during Beirut Art Fair (BAF). Running alongside the fair the organizers decided to create Beirut Art Week (BAW), an open-air tour of contemporary works from regional artists. Not everyone likes to venture into galleries or museums, perhaps because they can be overwhelming, or perhaps because the prospect of remaining silent while trying to decipher the message behind a clay lump can be bit a off-putting; for these reasons a lot of people never actually expose themselves to art. To display pieces in public in this way is a perfect formula for dispelling those myths that art is something reserved for the elite. Stumbling across a giant steel Xavier Veilhan horse as you walk to get your morning coffee is as good as taking yourself to a gallery (where you probably wouldn’t be allowed to drink your coffee anyway.) 


Despite being firmly ensconced in Downtown, an area largely known to be the breeding ground for all things Solidere (which is a BAF sponsor), Laure d’Hauteville and Pascal Odille, founders of the BAF, have managed to bring an extra 20 or so pieces to the public’s attention. Amongst the works there are giant graffitied cubes from GRAFF ME Lebanon; a huge stainless steel apple from Ahmed Al Bahrani and a totem from Naim Doumit. They have been sourced from galleries like Art on 56th, Ashiti Foundation, the Art Sawa in Dubai, and in some cases, from individual artists. Odille and d’Hauteville are taking one step in the right direction when it comes to sharing art with the masses.


When it comes to the art that is being displayed inside shops, one of the most interesting works comes in the form of plastic sheeting inside Momo at the Souks. The work of Barcelona based art collective Penique Productions, a single sheet of plastic covers the interior of the restaurant and is held to the walls by air being blown through the building. It is maybe a little too much like a scene from the TV show Dexter, but it’s also an artistic experience that ordinarily one might not have. 


It could seem a little like there is some subtle advertising for various brands going on, such as for Hermès who is hosting the work of Nabil Nahas. But as Saleh Barakat of Agial Art Gallery is quick to assure, the two oil paintings they currently have displayed in their shop windows are not sharing their space with a single piece of Hermès merchandise, they are merely the temporary holders of the work. “The priority is the paintings and the ability for the public to see them.”


“It is extremely democratizing,” says Lebanese artist Aya Haidar. “When an artwork's concept is socially and politically engaged, I think it is only right to place it within the social realm.” Haidar’s ‘Dwelling’ installation situated in the center of Saifi Village is a collection of 18 corrugated iron birdhouses perched on rods of differing heights. It is set “within the context of Lebanon which has historically been and currently is a dwelling site for most of the region's diaspora. The choice to locate it specifically within Beirut's most affluent district is certainly a conscious one.” 


Out of the 25 pieces listed on the tour’s fact sheet, there are actually nine that are permanent fixtures of the Downtown scene – begging the question of why Beirut, as the cultural hub it is touted to be, is not displaying more work for the man taking a coffee on his lunch break. 



Beirut Art Week will be running until September 24. To find out more about it, you can visit the Facebook page here.

This giant stainless steel apple by Ahmed Al Bahrani is on display as part of Beirut Art Week (image via intheframe.org)

"The choice to locate it specifically within Beirut's most affluent district is certainly a conscious one"