BEIRUT: Most people cannot afford to get too creative with the decoration of their sports cars – not least because most people can’t afford a sports car at all. Be that as it may, the idea of using luxury vehicles as an artist’s canvas is not new.
As far back as 1975 race car driver Hervé Poulain commissioned U.S. artist Alexander Calder to transform a BMW into a work of art, marking the beginning of the “BMW Art Car” project, which has been ongoing ever since.
To date 17 artists, including David Hockney, Andy Warhol and, most recently, Jeff Koons have been selected by a panel of international judges for the honor of transforming a BMW into a work of art.
This year in Lebanon cars are again providing a catalyst for art. As part of the launch of its Porsche Arts for Society initiative – aptly titled “PArtS” – Porsche Centre Lebanon has taken 16 bonnets from its Porsche 911 series and donated them to well-known local artists and designers to use as media for their work.
The result is “Hoods for Heritage,” a selection of 16 works currently on show at the Villa Audi in Ashrafieh. The pieces will be auctioned off at a gala dinner next month, with the proceeds going to support the labors of the Lebanese National Heritage Foundation.
The artists and designers chosen to participate in the project are all well-established names on the local scene, from a variety of disciplines. Their number includes painter Ayman Baalbaki, designer Nada Debs, photographer Roger Moukarzel, architect Youssef Haidar and multimedia artist Zeina El Khalil.
Most of the artists have chosen to retain the hood’s distinctive shape – a triangle with a rounded tip and two curved fins, somewhat reminiscent of a manta ray.
Baalbaki, for example, has oriented the hood with the points facing down. Below the hood hangs a neon sign, a recurring feature of the artist’s work, whose text reads, “Burn It.” The slogan is redolent of the smoking start of a suburban drag race but here it seems to refer to the subject of Baalbaki’s painting – an expressionist rendering of an enormous rubber tire using strokes of black, white and red.
Other works evince less sociopolitical grounding, tending to be more decorative, with maximum visual impact in mind.
Gregory Gatserelia, the designer behind Karantina’s SMO Gallery, has remained true to his design background, transforming his bonnet into something both functional and visually striking. The black hood has been polished to such a high sheen that it has become a dark mirror, mounted in an enormous gold rococo frame.
The contrast between the smooth, ultra modern hood and the baroque framing is over the top, but undeniably eye-catching. Gatserelia’s piece is reminiscent of American artist Fred Wilson’s work with mirrors – in particular his “Iago’s Mirror” from 2009, in which the artist used black murano glass to create a baroque mirror intended to raise questions about racism.
Rather than transforming the metal into a functional item, designer Nada Debs has, by contrast, gone the artistic route. Beautifully etched in subtle shades of brown and bronze, her piece takes traditional Islamic geometric designs and elongates them, so that what begins as a circular pattern at the hood’s curved bottom is extended into a mesh of delicately crisscrossing lines as it approaches the fins at the top.
Roger Moukarzel’s piece is less subtle, but also very striking – a mosaic of small photographs which together form the image of a beautiful woman, face twisted into a snarl. Moukarzel has perfectly tailored his mosaic to fit the distinctive shape of the hood. The woman’s open mouth and perfect pearly teeth are complemented by the curve of the bottom of the medium. Her dark eyes, narrowed to slits in rage, each rest just below the bonnet’s pointed tips, a suggestion of horns that accentuates her devilish look.
One work that stands out from the other, more straightforward approaches to using the Porsche parts as media is that of designer Karim Chaya. He has chosen to all but erase the brand recognition, melting the metal down into a single slightly pockmarked bar.
Only the Porsche emblem, which has been re-affixed to the transmuted material, provides a clue as to its origins. Shaped like a gold ingot, the metal has been polished to a silvery sheen. Yet small holes, resembling wormholes in a plank of wood, dot its surface, subverting this appearance of perfection.
Not all the works on show are quite so interesting.
Joe Kesrouani’s pixilated view of a woman’s curvaceous rear end, arched back and thrusting breasts might not look out of place on the hood of Hugh Hefner’s private Porsche, but it’s not particularly original in artistic terms. Likewise designer Karen Chekerdjian’s effort – a plain green hood topped with childlike embroidered autumn leaves – fails to capture the imagination.
On the whole “Hoods for Heritage” is an interesting exhibition. And the effects of brand saturation may be offset by the promise that the coming sales will help the National Heritage Foundation’s efforts to preserve some of Lebanon’s historic sites.
“Hoods for Heritage” will be on show at Villa Audi in Ashrafieh until Sept. 4. For more information please call 01-975-911 or visit http://www.facebook.com/HoodsForHeritage.