BEIRUT GALLERY WEATHERS WAR
One of the many causalities of the current conflict in Lebanon may be Beirut’s budding art scene, if the experience of Beruit’s branch of the Hamburg Galerie Sfeir-Semler is any indication.
The Lebanon-born German art dealer Andrée Sfeir, who opened her first gallery in Germany more than 20 years ago, launched a branch in an abandoned iron factory in Beirut’s Quarantine district in April 2005. The initiative coincided with Lebanon’s "Cedar Revolution," and the awakening of Lebanese civil society following the departure of Syrian troops -- the gallery opened on the same weekend (Apr. 9-10, 2006) that the last of the Syrian forces officially departed Lebanon.
Sfeir told Artnet News that the Beirut gallery was not, at first, a commercial endeavour. Flowing from the optimism of the Cedar Revolution, Galerie Sfeir-Semler in Beirut was designed to promote local artists and help build the Lebanese art market -- Beirut has been, of course, an important business and cultural center in the Middle East -- as well as to bring prominent international artists to Lebanon to stimulate dialogue.
"I didn’t know if it would function," Sfeir said. "I believed in Lebanon, and I wanted to do something in the country. We had finally recovered from the last war. Life was beautiful and it truly felt like we were living in a young democracy, and that things were happening. There was an opening."
The gallery met with considerable success, on esthetic, social and commercial levels. According to Sfeir, the positive results had everything to do with the return of exiled Lebanese who had been living abroad and other cosmopolitan Arabs who were hungry for culture.
"We were even selling video installations," the dealer said. "Can you imagine?" The Lebanese Bank Audi purchased a video work by Lebanon-born artist Akram Zaatari (who trained at the New School in New York), which is to be installed in their lobby.
On July 6, 2006 -- six days before the Israeli air force began the bombing of Beirut -- the gallery debuted "Moving Home(s)," its most ambitious show to date, originally scheduled July 6-Nov. 22, 2006. Upwards of 700 people attended the opening.
The show features work by Atelier van Lieshout, Balthasar Burkhard, Diller + Scofidio, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Jimmi Durham, Dan Graham, Bernard Khoury, Stephan Mörsch, Peter Piller and Rayyane Tabet. It was intended to bring together works that touched on themes of globalization and tourism -- but now its title has taken on a new meaning, given the mass exodus from Lebanon, with over 600,000 people already fleeing their homes, according to the United Nations.
Sfeir herself left Beirut earlier this month after waking up to bombing and seeing the city covered in soot from the air strikes. She hired a taxi to escape along the mountain road to Damascus. "There were hundreds of people with suitcases waiting to get across the border," she says. "Fortunately, my taxi driver knew somebody, and I was able to cross." Her husband, who keeps plane tickets on reserve for business purposes, was able to secure space on a flight to Germany.
Sfeir-Semler’s gallery director, Natalie Khouri, who has family in Beirut, has remained in Lebanon and has been keeping an eye on the gallery. Sfeir hopes that the space will remain safe, given its location in a sturdy building in a neighborhood devoted mainly to warehouses.
At present, the art in "Moving Home(s)" remains as installed. "How would we get it out?" Sfeir mused. "The airports, the ports, all these things have been bombed." She has been in contact with the artists in the show, and said that they have all been supportive.
Sfeir predicts that Galerie Sfeir-Semler will open again. "I am not closing the gallery. We are waiting," she says. "I did not open the gallery to make a profit," she adds. "I opened it to give the people a cultural space to exchange ideas -- to get other ideas besides war and destruction."
NEW MUSEUM STYLE FROM HERZOG & DE MEURON?
Could Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who wowed the international art world in 2000 with their minimalist transformation of a brick power station on the Thames into the new Tate Modern art museum, now be forging a whole new look in museum architecture? It certainly seems so, since in fast succession the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y., and the Tate Modern in London announced plans for new buildings, both designed by Herzog & de Meuron. Idle observers couldn’t help noticing a certain similarity of esthetic approach, though the Parrish is horizontal and the Tate is vertical. Call it the "pile of asymmetrical blocks" look.
The new Parrish, a $65-million facility sited on a 14-acre plot in Water Mill, L.I., features a haphazard grouping of 30 small buildings with angular roofs, clearly inspired by local village and farm layouts. Construction begins later this year, with completion slated for 2009. As for Tate Modern, it plans a £215 million extension sited just south of its current building, a futuristic, 230-foot-tall building that the Times of London described as a "chaotic-looking glass structure featuring huge blocks protruding from a pyramidal form." Tate Modern 2, as Englanders are calling it, "looks like the work of a child with a tub of bricks," according to the Times. Tate director Nicholas Serota has £7 million in hand from the London Development Agency, but must raise the rest. He said he hoped to open it in time for the 2012 Olympics.
ART STARS IN "MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND"
The New York Post says the new Uma Thurman-Luke Wilson comedy, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, is "20 minutes worth of sketch comedy filling a 95-minute hole," but art-world insiders have their own reason to catch the film. Thurman -- who plays the titular superheroine -- also has a secret identity as the "assistant curator" of. . . Nancy Hoffman Gallery on West Broadway in SoHo. There, she meets up with Wilson in the middle of an exhibition of new sculpture by. . . Kiki Smith. The art is "a little disturbing," says Wilson. "It’s surprising how frightening things attract us," Thurman replies -- and before you know it, they’re in bed together. Smith actually shows with PaceWildenstein Gallery, of course. Consultant for the film was PaceWildenstein dealer Marc Glimcher, whose father, gallery founder Arne Glimcher, was associate producer of Legal Eagles (1986) and director of The Mambo Kings (1992), among other Hollywood credits.
CENTRAL AMERICA ART BIENNIAL SET
The fifth edition of the Central American Visual Arts Biennial, Nov. 16, 2006-Feb. 18, 2007, is set for the El Salvador Art Museum (MARTE) in San Salvador. The exhibition promises works by 36 artists from six Central American countries -- Guatemala, El Savador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The biennial features three "Tiahcuilos" awards (worth $8,000, $6,000, and $4,000), the winners of which are selected by a three-person jury including former Museum of Modern Art curator Paolo Herkenhoff. The show is organized and sponsored by a consortium that includes Banco Promerica of El Salvador, Fundación Paíz of Guatemala, Banco Promerica de Honduras, Fundación Ortiz Gurdián of Nicaragua, Empresarios por las Artes of Costa Rica and Fundación Fernández Pirla of Panama, in collaboration with MARTE and the National Council of Culture of El Salvador (CONCULTURA). For further details, contact Rodolfo F. Molina at email@example.com.
HILLARY AT MUSEUM OF SEX?
Those wacky kids at the Museum of Sex at Fifth Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan are unveiling a "presidential bust" of Hillary Clinton on Aug. 9, 2006, for an exclusive six-week run. According to artist Daniel Edwards, his sculpture titled The Presidential Bust of Hillary Rodham Clinton: The First Woman President of the United States of America features the Democrat "in a low cut gown, her cleavage on display, prominently portraying sexual power, which some people still consider too threatening." Gown? Looks like a brassiere to us! Art lovers will remember Edwards as the sculptor who made the curious statue of Britney Spears giving birth [see "Artnet News," Mar. 28, 2006].
$50,000 IN GRANTS FROM FCA
The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, established by Jasper Johns, John Cage and other artists in 1963, has announced grant awards for 2006 totaling $50,000 distributed to 41 arts organizations. Recipients range from Art in General and Apexart to White Columns and Yellow Taxi Productions. For a complete list, see www.foundationforcontemporaryarts.org
CHRISTIE’S STAFF EXHIBITION, 2006
Think the New York art world is going quiet for August? Not entirely. "Insider Art: Christie’s Staff Art Exhibition," Aug. 4-24, 2006, opens at the auction firm’s headquarters at 20 Rockefeller Plaza on 49th Street. Paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, ceramics, jewelry and more by over 50 staffers are on display, Monday to Friday, 10 am-5 pm.