Beirut Art Fair celebrates half a decade

The fifth edition of the Beirut Art Fair held its opening night on September 19, and spanned 3 days at the BIEL center.

Still going strong half a decade after its launch in 2010, with 46 galleries from 14 different countries, the art fair aims at re-affirming Beirut’s status as a cultural and artistic hub.
This year, the BAF presented the Lebanese and international public with an eclectic array of art and design galleries from the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as South and South-East Asia. Visitors had the chance to discover the works of various artists, well-established and less-renowned alike, in media ranging from video art, photography and installations, to paintings and etchings.

Highlights from the BAF included Thai artist Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew’s mixed media work, which comprised ethereal portraits on fishing nets. Hadi Sy’s pop-art influenced series, Loving Kills or the game or Eros and Thanatos without Frontiers, also caught the attention of many spectators as it delved into the relationship between love (Eros) and death (Thanatos).

The Bangkok-based Adler Subhashok Gallery featured an installation made of neon lights that flicker between the two Arabic expressions, “Rahit al-kahraba” and “Ijit al-kahraba”, a nod to the worsening Lebanese electricity situation, which drew smiles from the viewers. Body Politics, curated by Silke Sckmickl, was an interesting booth that projected a series of experimental films and video art from several artists of the MENASA region, exploring the use of the artists’ bodies as agents of socio-political critiques.

An engraving workshop by Fadi Moghabghab was set up in the middle of the fair, allowing viewers insight into the engraving process, but also encouraging them to create their own works of art. The Indian Pavilion, baptized Small Art is Beautiful and curated by Fabrice Bousteau, exhibited miniature work by 17 artists. The more intimate, dimly-lit exhibition space provided a well-needed break from the crowds.

With its wide-ranging artistic diversity, the BAF is a good indicator of the direction in which the art world is moving, allowing us to catch a glimpse of both the local and international trends. The seemingly infinite succession of booths, artwork and titles, however, ended up being too overwhelming, as they overswhelmed viewers’ senses, attacking them from all directions.
The plethora of pieces in every corner shortened art enthusiasts’ attention spans, as one could not look at a piece long enough before being swept away with the attractions of another.

This is perhaps the shortcoming of all these large-scale shows: while they display a diverse body of work, they do not allow viewers time to reflect upon everything there. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that events like the BAF are not exactly for reflection as much as they are for buying and selling art, a fact the little price tags on the walls serve to remind attendees.

The Beirut Art Fair is also a place to photograph and be photographed. Among the large crowds wandering around BIEL’s 15,000 square meters, only an almost negligible minority was not holding smart phones, taking snapshots of everything in sight.
The social media frenzy, which has wrapped its fingers around every other aspect of our lives, has not failed to seep into the art world as well. Capturing and posting pictures of the galleries online, in the hopes of gaining the biggest amount of likes possible, has become as much a part of the BAF experience as looking at the art itself.

In a sense, this social media integration not only exhibits and asserts our presence at the event, but perhaps even helps acquire the art, own it, even if only at the virtual level. The #BeirutArtFair hashtag on Instagram provides a great example of this practice, and brings up the question of how the art market—which is, after all, a business with buyers and competition—is influenced.
With the aim of creating more buzz, of attracting as many amateur photographers as possible, is the art of the future bound to become bigger, flashier, louder, and fit only for the screen?

Regardless of the validity of this prediction, one thing is for sure: the Beirut Art Fair is a culturally and artistically uplifting event that contributes to the diversification of the Lebanese art scene.

Aya Alameddine
Contributing Writer

Photo source: Outlook/Philippa Dahrouj

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