the creative prosperity of Beirut, before the civil war
By devoting an exhibition to the Beirut art scene of the 1960s and 1970s, the two curators of the Biennale de Lyon, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, were twice right. The demonstration being placed under the sign of fragility and uncertainty, they found in this city an exemplary case of destruction. Since 1975, the civil war has prohibited any artistic life there. Second merit, more durable: they participate in the revision of the history of the arts of the XXe century, which is currently in progress, by adding a new chapter to it.
This is not their first contribution to the subject. In 2016, they already presented at the Center Pompidou “Art and freedom. Rupture, war and surrealism in Egypt (1938-1948)”, which established how Cairo had been one of the places of modernity. The Lyon exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art takes up the story in a second capital of the Middle East. The subject is therefore artistic and historical, creation and the state of society being inseparable.
Throughout the course, built by a scenography if not fragile, at least light, showcases abound in posters, magazines, catalogs, photographs of openings and portraits of artists. This abundance of documents has in itself the value of proof establishing that, from the 1950s, Beirut became a city of workshops, galleries and private museums. Nothing is ignored there of what happened, in Paris, in the preceding decades and since the end of the war, and nothing either of the news in New York.
Economic life being prosperous, thanks to the port and commercial exchanges, a bourgeoisie developed, from which both artists and their collectors came. When new images emerge, militiamen brandishing their weapons and street fights, the end of the golden sixties. Begins the tragic age, of which the explosion of August 4, 2020 is the most resounding catastrophe.
The 230 works of thirty-four artists, canvases, drawings, prints, tapestries and sculptures in all kinds of materials, are inscribed on this web of events. The practices are diverse, and the desire to be part of the present of art supported. Gestural, material or geometric abstractions have their followers, and homages to Staël, Rothko or Manessier are as visible as the reminiscences of previous generations, De Chirico, Picasso, Klee or Arp. Nothing surprising in that: the same references are recognized at the same time in many other places.
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