BEIRUT

Culture

A warehouse of paper cacophony

BEIRUT: By their nature, curated group exhibitions tend to unite the work of artists of diverse styles under thematic umbrellas, suggesting connections among the pieces. This approach works best when unusual clustering encourages fresh perspectives on work.

Unfortunately “Works on Paper,” the show currently on show at Galerie Janine Rubeiz, is not one of the gallery’s more successful attempts at a themed collective exhibition.

Though the works on show are indeed all on paper, they appear to be little more than odds and ends from previous exhibitions with little else to tie them together. The exhibition has a disjointed aspect, with works hung haphazardly in no discernible grouping, making for a jarring transition from one to another.

The exhibition showcases works by 16 artists who are among the more prominent names on the Lebanese art scene – including pieces by Yvette Achkar, Huguette Caland, Samir Khaddaje and two esteemed literary-artistic figures, Laure Ghorayeb and Etel Adnan.

Sadly they are rather lost in the general confusion, in which pieces by these well-known modernists are combined with contemporary work by Mansour El Habre, Charles Khoury and Julie Bou Farah.

Laure Ghorayeb’s work, entitled “Memory and Ancestral Legends” in Arabic, is a wonderful example of her instantly recognizable style: a delicate black-and-white ink drawing of a woman, constructed from doodled figures, swirls and flowers.

The incredibly detailed patterns, which make up the figure are somehow mesmerizing, a modern take on the traditional miniature.

With her exaggerated bob and cartwheel eyes, the figure is strangely endearing, though her thin line of a mouth suggests sullenness or terror. A closer examination of the fine patterns making up her body reveals strange creatures hidden among the flowers, alien-like plants perhaps, with mouths full of tightly-zipped teeth.

Caland too is represented by her complex abstract miniatures, in this case two pieces combining blocks of yellow paint with a hand-drawn grid of thin black lines.

The mixed-media works, both from 1999, are very similar. The first consists of a bold pattern of gridded yellow blocks. The second is a patchy-looking version of the first, as though the yellow paint has been eaten away in places, leaving the black grid intact but looking naked beneath.

Mansour El Habre is the most heavily represented artist, with four of his pieces on display.

Two are from his exhibition at Janine Rubeiz earlier this year, “Republicafé.” The bold screen-prints of political figures with their colorful abstract backgrounds are striking but – like many of the other works on display – a little lost amid the competing themes and styles of the other artists, their political message marginalized without any explanation or frame of reference.

A single painting by Charles Khoury will be easily identified by those familiar with his work, though it is not one of his more colorful or engaging pieces. The untitled painting suggests the strong influence of tribal art and cave-painting, which provides the inspiration for many of his works.

A gloomy, speckled grey background is topped with a blocky yellow footprint capped by nine black toes. Alongside are two sketchy black outlines, one of a human head on the body of an ant, the other a strange elliptical creature with two bulging eyes.

There are two works by Etel Adnan.

One, entitled “New York 10” is a departure from her usual colorful abstracts – a sketchy, impressionistic series of black lines on grey paper. The complexity of the subject matter is rendered simplistic by the naive lines delineating a bridge and what may be a boat and a plane, which look like they’ve been finger-painted.

Adnan’s other work, “Hommage to the Ink Pot,” is one of her accordion-style art books, a welcome three-dimensional addition to the exhibition. The paper concertina is covered with sketches, combining colorful images of ink pots and citrus fruits with short lines and Arabic quotations, scrawled haphazardly across the pages in bold red ink.

A 1994 painting by Yvette Achkar comes with a hefty pricetag, one outweighing all works but Adnan’s artist book. Achkar has been at the forefront of the Lebanese painting scene since the 1960s and her work, auctioned at Christie’s, has accrued financial value.

The French-titled “Heavier, Larger with the Silence,” however, is not one of her more easily accessible works. Less colorful and with fewer contrasting shades than many of her abstract paintings, it is a symphony of murky browns, augmented by three bold vertical strokes, two approaching black, one an interrupted sweep of khaki.

“Works on Paper” includes work by an interesting range of artists, several of them key figures in Lebanese and indeed Middle Eastern art. The overall curatorial principle, however, is as ad hoc as a warehouse.

“Works on Paper” is up at Ain Raouche until Aug. 30. For more information please call 01-868-290.

 

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