BEIRUT: Four sheets of preternaturally polished glass encased in steel frames form a transparent, asymmetrical folding screen. In the depths of the panes, orbs of light seem to shimmer and dance. Two spherical lamps, placed on the floor between the angled panes, reflect in the glass, creating seven ghostly copies like yellow moons.
This is an optical illusion with a twist. Walk around the back of the screen and it transpires that two of the spheres exist in physical form – one of sandstone, the other of crystal glass. Each is identical in size to the lamps and, when glimpsed through the glass, plucks up the reflected luminescence, which seems to be emitted from within.
Berlin-based Polish artist Alicja Kwade’s “Matter of Opinion” is among the highlights of “Carte Blanche.” This group exhibition is curated by Paris-based gallerist Kamel Mennour and Tony Salamé, owner of the Metropolitan Art Society where the work will be housed until the end of next month.
Mennour gave Salamé carte blanche to select the work for display in the former palace – thus the inspiration behind the exhibition title, according to the gallery employees. An alternative story, propounded in the press release, suggests “Carte Blanche” was chosen as the title because “the exhibition presents freedom and liberty of art and the space.”
Work by six further artists – Mohamed Bourouissa, Marie Bovo, Daniel Hominal, Latifa Echakhch and Claude Lévêque – is also on display, but Kwade is undoubtedly the star of this show. A total of five sculptures, several dealing with time and light, recurring themes in the artist’s work, are scattered throughout the gallery.
The surreal, fairy tale quality of “Eadem Mutata 11” – a fragment of the Latin phrase “eadem mutata resurgo,” meaning “Although changed, I arise the same,” used by Swiss mathematician Jakob Bernoulli to refer to the proliferation of logarithmic spirals in nature – nods to Kwade’s interest in physics and space.
The subtly humorous sculpture, placed off center in the gallery’s main hall, consists of a door that seems unlikely to arise as it once was anytime soon. The wooden object – complete with chipped white paint, a brass handle and a letter box – has been twisted into a tightly curled spiral, becoming a pillar that echoes the two marble columns holding up the hall’s lofty ceiling.
In a side room, Kwade’s “Heavy Times (4 p.m.),” is another play on words and the intangible forces of time and gravity. Consisting of an old-fashioned pocket watch encased in a clear acrylic pedestal, itself chained to a large rock, it evokes the physical impact of these unseen forces on our lives.
In the same room, a series of four photographs by Bovo form a stark contrast to Kwade’s weighty conceptual approach. A draw in their own right, these beautifully composed images capture the architecture of buildings photographed from below, and the chaos imposed on their symmetry.
Two shots are taken in interior courtyards, surrounded on four sides by apartments. Bovo has managed to include all four walls in each shot, the sides of the building towering upwards to frame a small square of sky. In both images, this symmetrical apex is crisscrossed haphazardly by washing lines hung with colorful, mismatched clothes.
Buren’s enormous wall sculptures are the least subtle of the works on show, dominating the large hall with their bold lines and curves. Taken from a series entitled “Quand les carrés font des cercles et des triangles” (when squares are circles and triangles), the four aluminum reliefs play with presence and absence to create positive and negative geometric forms.
Lévêque is showcasing a series of pieces from his “Murmures” (murmurs) series, consisting of old-fashioned mirrors paired with words (“drunk,” “powder,” “boat”) written in neon lighting, while Bourouissa’s lightboxes capture battered old electrical equipment, photographed close up to create semi-abstract patterns.
More traditional media is employed by Echakhch and Hominal, both of whom are exhibiting acrylic-on-canvas works. Echakhch’s enormous triptych, “Driftings,” consists of a series of jagged black lines on a simple cream backdrop.
At first glance an abstract tangle of scribbles, closer inspection suggests that the artist might have taken a more methodical approach. The seemingly random lines are subtly echoed in places, suggesting they might be disentangled to reveal a less abstract form.
Hominal’s paintings are more visceral. Characterized by rough, seemingly uncontrolled brushstrokes, his black-and-white canvasses are untitled, left open to interpretation. One might capture a white snake or distant plume of smoke, while the other two resemble breaking waves or the wings of some dark angel.
“Carte Blanche” doesn’t appear to have any overriding curatorial concept or theme to tie the works on show together. Luckily, the pieces are strong enough to speak for themselves.
“Carte Blanche,” curated by Kamel Mennour, continues at the Metropolitan Art Society in Achrafieh until Nov. 30. For more information, please call 70-366-969.