BEIRUT: Clearly a metropolis the size of this one can never have too many art fairs. The phenomenon, however, is a surprisingly recent one.
The trend got going in 2010 with the launch of the Menasart Fair, which focused on work from the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Later rebranded as the Beirut Art Fair (“Beirut’s exclusive Contemporary Art fair,” as its website puts it), it flogs all manner of visual art and photography.
The Beirut Photo Fair was launched in 2012 and, if all goes according to plan, it will hold its third edition this year at Karantina’s Artheum. The same venue has also played host to the Syrian Art Fair.
Since Wednesday, the space has hosted a third marketplace for contemporary art objects: the Contemporary Beirut Global Art Fair.
The new fair includes work by artists from Lebanon, Syria, Germany, China, Japan, Tanzania and Senegal, working in media ranging from paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations.
A sense of déjà vu may strike some patrons as they step into the CBGAF, as some of these works have been displayed in Beirut before.
The large mixed-media canvases of Reza Hedayat, for instance, were hung last April at Gemmayzeh’s ArtLab Gallery.
Known for his technique of painting the background before his foreground figures, Hedayat’s works depict scenes in which animals and humans mingle, linked to one layer by white paint. Hedayat’s technique enables onlookers to read the dynamism of his work, as though it were moving in front of one’s eyes.
Among the most interesting works on show from Arame Art Gallery, Ruben Grigorian’s realistic oils convey the dichotomy between absence and presence.
In “Wounded” and “The Substitutes,” onlookers find hands abstracted from their body, a coat deprived of its owner and an empty chair. There is a patina of the paranormal about Grigorian’s otherwise realistic depictions, as though the works were odes to the dead.
Though the fair includes displays from various galleries from around town, Contemporary Beirut also includes a few outstanding works from artists never before exhibited in Lebanon.
The talented German artist Pola Brandle is represented by four mixed-media depictions of women. “Urban Lady,” “Wild Child,” “My Sensitive” and “Misunderstood” might be seen as quadriptych of a woman’s role in society. Mixing bits of newspaper with paint, Brandle gave a vintage look to contemporary embodiments of femininity.
George Lilanga, from Tanzania, has two mixed-media works at Contemporary Beirut. Reminiscent of colorful children’s cartoons, his paintings portray vistas redolent of tribal and totemic cultural practices, with traditional-looking clothing design alongside fantastical rural settings.
Three international photographers have work on show at the fair – Syria’s Mohamad Khayata, Lebanese-born U.S. artist Audree Anid and Japan’s Susumu Shimonishi. These works fall well beyond the parameters of conventional photography, each taking a distinct departure from the medium.
Khayata is concerned with the harsh conditions currently being endured in his country – embodied in the fragility and sadness of the central female figure in his works.
For her part, Anid applies paint on vintage images in a manner that recalls Gerhard Richter’s own painted photographs.
In Shimonishi’s “I’m on Earth” series, on the other hand, the Japanese artist finds irony in placing her lens close to the ground.
The Indonesian, Senegalese and Tanzanian works chosen for the fair all share an interest in juxtaposing place the dichotomy between tradition and modernity – a point of view that’s not alien to the work of Middle Eastern artists.
Easily salable media – canvasses and sculpture – are the focus of this event, but there are also a few installation works by Lebanese and Syrian artists.
The works on display in Contemporary Beirut offer a passable overview of today’s global art scene. Although several of the pieces will not be new to any local gallery-goers, some may find in the fair an opportunity to glimpse what’s been missed, and to discover those “new” artists who give the fair a breath of fresh air.
Contemporary Beirut is on show at Karantina’s Artheum until May 31. For more information, please call 71-781-783 or visit www.artheum.com.