BEIRUT: Emerging artists whose work is estimated in the triple, rather than quadruple, digits often struggle to find exhibition spaces. Gallery overhead means most commercial art spaces cannot afford to dedicate much space to newcomers. Confronted with galleries whose exhibitions are scheduled months or years in advance, many young artists turn to nonprofit spaces.
At 392Rmeil393, Gemmayzeh’s “nonaligned project space,” director George El Hamawy is currently showing a selection of work by seven young artists – two Lebanese, five Syrian. Hamawy appears to have replaced the previous director, George Rabbath, whose name has been artfully “whited-out” from the gallery’s masthead.
The 24 works on show vary as widely in quality as they do in price ($100 to $2,600), from Zein Al Ahmadi’s naive, unframed portraits to sophisticated, textural paintings by Nader Hamzeh.
Entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by two chains hanging against an empty expanse of wall. The large work that once formed the centerpiece of the show was a colorful abstract by Wissam Shaabi. It has been purchased and prematurely removed, leaving absence.
Further abstracts by the artist – multilayered scrawls of paint that resemble walls tagged by competing graffiti artists over the years – are scattered throughout the three-room exhibition space. A portrait of his pregnant wife seated in profile before a bulbous sun, an odd juxtaposition of color and black-and-white, hangs in the front window.
Three nicely balanced iron sculptures by Sari Kewan tread the line between delicacy and strength, the fortitude of the material contrasting with the fragility of the welded forms.
In “Floating Lady,” a female form is supported horizontally by strands of her long hair, which rise in waves from the base of the sculpture.
The enigmatically named “Man with Sticker Iron” captures a human form clutching a looped piece of rebar with both hands, as through struggling to bend it further. Wrapped in rough strips of what looks like jute sacking, the figure resembles a mummy covered in thousands of years of tomb dust.
Hamawy has chosen to exhibit these two sculptures against a canvas backdrop, printed with photographs of the work, creating a multidimensional effect that shows the piece from several angles at once. It’s an unusual but visually arresting approach that succeeds in helping the pieces stand out from the corrugated iron wall behind them. The third work, “Dancing Lady,” is exhibited in the window, where the busy backdrop overwhelms it.
Ahmadi’s three portraits – cartoon-style busts of wild-haired women – and decorative, framed paper collages inspired by dance choreography, executed by Lebanese artist Sara Abou Mrad, fill the left room of the gallery. Two psychedelic paint-and-collage on canvas works by Rawad Ghattas flank the empty space in the central room.
The highlight is Hamzeh’s series of eight paintings. These sophisticated mixed-media works demonstrate a subtle palette, delicate texture, well-judged composition and an evocative style somewhere between abstraction and figuration.
Faces loom from the colorful backdrops, their bodies twisted, half-glimpsed or deformed.
Most appear to contain two figures, engaged in a moment of physical exertion – perhaps breeding, fighting or dying.
Two smaller works are less abstract, capturing crude, monkey-like figures in shades of mustard, maroon and deep teal, their faces marked by anger, fear or despair.
In keeping with the Beirut gallery tradition of putting on collective exhibitions during the slow summer months, this show has little in the way of a central theme or curatorial approach to tie it together. Those looking for affordable work by undiscovered artists might stumble across something of interest.
“Collective Exhibition” is up at 392Rmeil393 in Gemmayzeh until Aug. 29. For more info, please call 76-875-936.