‘Art of the Mid East’ gets real in the Big Apple

BEIRUT: Taymour Grahne seeped into the online consciousness via his popular blog “Art of the Mid East,” a source of up-to-date art news from the region launched in early 2011.

The blog attracted thousands of followers, drawn to the convenience of regular updates about exhibitions and reviews of Middle East-related shows and fairs around the world, and links to articles from international media outlets in one easily navigable location.

Himself a prominent art collector and a graduate of Sotheby’s art business MA program, it should come as no surprise that Grahne recently swapped blogging for a more active involvement in the scene, opening his eponymous gallery in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood in September 2013.

“New York was an easy choice for me,” the Lebanese gallerist told The Daily Star in an email interview. “I had lived in the U.S. for five years prior to opening the gallery ... and really felt at home here. New York is also an amazing city for a young entrepreneur such as myself. In other cities around the world, being young and starting a gallery might have been a roadblock. In a city like New York, people are really supportive of starting something you are passionate about.

“I felt the New York art scene was ready for the types of artists I planned to show,” he added. “American collectors are beginning to embrace international artists, as are American institutions ... You have the top museums in the world located in the city, an incredible art scene and infrastructure, and a strong, dedicated collector base.”

Since the inaugural exhibition, a solo show featuring paintings and works on paper by Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi, the Taymour Grahne Gallery has exhibited the work of half a dozen regional artists, many of whom have never previously exhibited in the U.S., as well as hosting exhibitions by Ireland’s Ciaran Murphy and American Corey Escoto.

“While we’re not exclusively a Middle Eastern art gallery,” Grahne said, “the reason a strong part of my initial roster happens to be from the Middle East or its diaspora is [that] I met many of these artists initially through my background as a collector and blogger ... I am not interested in these artists because they are Middle Eastern, but rather ... because they are amazing artists.

“The world is becoming smaller and more globalized,” he added, “and the art world is following suit. I am interested in showing artists who have typically been sidelined by the traditionally Eurocentric art world. I am interested in showcasing artists from across the world, including the Middle East, South America, South East Asia and Africa ... artists who have incorporated some level of research into their works and whose works reference historical, cultural, or political topics.”

Choosing to showcase the work of artists previously untested on the U.S. market may have been a gamble, but Grahne said that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. In its first nine months of operating, the gallery has sold works to such prominent U.S. institutions as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New Jersey’s Newark Museum, the Nasher Museum of Art in North Carolina and Illinois’ DePaul Art Museum.

The gallery’s current exhibition and first group show, “Thin Skin: Six Artists from Beirut,” showcases the work of six Lebanese artists represented locally by Agial Art Gallery founder Saleh Barakat, who was invited to curate the New York exhibition.

Featuring paintings by cousins Ayman Baalbaki, Mohamad-Said Baalbaki and Oussama Baalbaki, along with recent work by Tagreed Darghouth, Omar Fakhoury and Nadia Safieddine, the exhibition explores the effects of decades of cyclical violence on the surface of the city, depicting a physical landscape disfigured and fragmented by the scars of war.

“This is not an exhaustive survey of the contemporary Lebanese art landscape,” Grahne stressed. “I decided to introduce these six artists together because they are all connected – either through family or friendship – and are of the same generation that came of age during the Lebanese Civil War. I thought it would be interesting to present these artists within the context of a group exhibition with their kinship and closeness.”

Upcoming collective exhibitions are set to feature work by some of Lebanon’s conceptual artists – including filmmaker-artist and Beirut Art Center co-founder Lamia Joreige and artist, curator and writer Haig Aivazian.

“We show artists from around the world who are engaged in research-based work that [includes] historic, social, or political references,” Grahne said of the gallery’s programming. “I love all [media], and find paintings and installations equally engaging.”

The gallery’s regular program of exhibitions, discussion and tours is to be supplemented by a series of monographs on Grahne’s roster of artists, beginning with a book on Palestinian-Kuwaiti artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein, set for release during the artist’s solo exhibition at the gallery in September.

With a largely local collector base and an impressive list of sales to permanent collections in the U.S., the gallery’s initial months of operation have lived up to expectations, Grahne said. From this fall onwards, he added, the gallery will begin participating in international art fairs and is set to publish a number of books on their artists.“Thin Skin: Six Artists from Beirut” is up at Taymour Grahne Gallery through July 2. For more information on upcoming exhibitions, please visit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2014, on page 16.




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