BEIRUT: Like this month’s headlines, the latest exhibition at Gemmayzeh’s Art on 56th gallery is largely Syria dominated. An enormous group show, entitled straightforwardly – if unimaginatively – “Summer Collective Exhibition,” this collection of almost 60 works by more than 20 artists is creatively curated to fit into the beautiful but limited space available without ever appearing cramped.
The exhibition features works from as yet unestablished artists alongside some well-known figures, among them Lebanese sculptor Naim Doumit, Syrian painter Edward Shahda and Syrian calligrapher Mouneer al-Shaarani.
A refreshingly three-dimensional show, both literally and metaphorically, “Summer Collective Exhibition” marries paintings and mixed-media works with a healthy selection of sculptures in wood, bronze and clay.
The unusual variation in terms of standard, medium and approach is reflected in the prices, which range from $55 to $102,125. This is one exhibition that genuinely does have something for everyone.
Lebanese artist Carla Barchini, who trained in antique furniture restoration in Florence, Italy, is represented by two works. The first, “The Lost Wing,” is an enormous, jagged panel of dark brown leather, stamped with an indented curved pattern, like scales on the flank of a dragon. The expanse of this simple motif is offset by the top right-hand corner, in which Barchini has painted dots of gold and jewel-like turquoise in the center of each scale, a regal, feminine touch.
A second work, “Volcano,” echoes the curved, scalelike motif of “The Lost Wing,” but the painting, executed on wood, lacks the former work’s subtlety, instead consisting of a riot of fiery red and orange, punctuated with patches of scorched black.
Shaarani, in whose beautifully composed gouache-on-paper works the proportion of the space left bare becomes as important as the letters themselves, is represented by three pieces, each stunning in its clean lines, perfect composition and simplicity.
An interesting juxtaposition is created by the pop-art painting of the show’s sole Turkish artist, Yigit Yazici, the mechanically titled “RTU173612” – a garish, neon-tinted, ‘60s rendition of an old-fashioned barber’s shop – and Lebanese painter Rana Raouda’s “Et Nubes Pluant Justum,” which hangs on the opposite wall.
The painting, whose title translates as “and let the clouds rain the just,” the second half of the Rorate Coeli, an extract from the Book of Isaiah often sung at Catholic Mass, is a semiabstract landscape, a subtle blend of blues and beiges that resembles mountains glimpsed through a rainstorm, above a wind-tossed sea.
When it comes to sculpture, an equally broad selection of works stand dotted around the gallery’s three rooms and grace the small terrace outside.
Four wooden sculptures by Doumit are accompanied by two sketches. “Contrast” captures a woman’s face in pensive repose. Formed of two distinct blocks of wood with a small but decisive gulf between them, the sculpture neatly bisects the woman’s head. The left side of the face is perfectly smooth, unlined save for the grain of the wood that runs from forehead to chin. The right is covered with tiny chips and indents, creating a minutely textured surface that begs for the caressing stroke of a finger.
A series of clay sculptures by Syrian artist Yamen Yousef capture a bulbous, androgynous figure, wrapped in invitingly textured cloth.
A ceramic work by Lebanese sculptor Joseph Barchini, meanwhile, is a wonderful, monstrous tangle of tentaclelike skeins of raw clay. Atop this base Barchini has applied an unusual textured glaze. A series of shiny blobs of gray and black, resembling frog spawn, create the impression of damp suckers or myriad eyes, an alien accoutrement that recalls the writhing sci-fi fare from enjoyably unbelievable B-movies.
His daughter, Dana Barchini, is also represented. Dana’s clay sculpture captures the bust of a man midscream, head thrown back, eyes bulging in horror, teeth bared around an open mouth that displays the hollow inside of his skull. The small work communicates an depth of urgency and emotional impact that belie its diminutive size.
“Summer Collective Exhibition” may be a standard Beirut odds-and-ends show designed to fill the lull before the autumn cool revives the flagging art scene, but gallerist Noha Wadi Moharram is to be congratulated for achieving a creative and engaging deployment of the pieces that makes this one summer recap worth visiting.
“Summer Collective Exhibition” is on show at Art on 56th until Sept. 22. For more information call 01-570-331.