The Art of Viewing: Beirut Art Fair 2016

The seventh edition of the Beirut Art Fair (BAF) opened its doors to the public for three days in September, presenting over forty galleries from the MENASA region and beyond, as well as other attractions. Over 23,000 visitors came to BIEL to experience the artworks on display.


Diverging from last year's art fair which featured an almost dizzying mixture of art and design, BAF 2016 focused exclusively on fine art featuring both gallery stalls and curated sections. Visitors were invited to discover new talents in an area entitled 'Revealing', where gallerists presented one emerging artist on a single panel, allowing for artistic confluence and a dialogue between walls. Here a visitor might connect Ossama Baalbaki's desolate seaside highway, Morteza Khosravi's hypnotic take on the facade of a Beirut building, or the anti-genesis of Hassan Samad's starry night amidst burning trash, among many other works that reflected on the outside world and everyday experiences.

To further the dialogue between artworks past and present, the midsection of the fair was devoted to Lebanese female painters from the Modernist tradition, curated by Pascal Odille, the artistic director of BAF. The works of renowned artists such as Etel Adnan, Huguette Caland and Helen Khal rubbed shoulders with artists between 1945 and 1975, creating a museum-like experience within the BIEL exhibition space.

"Beirut is alive and kicking, thata balance exists between being regional and globally connected."


For visitors looking for a break from the artistic overload, other attractions included MACAM's 'Recto Verso' library, where one could peruse art books, or the Selections Lounge featuring seasonal cocktails and bites, which were all welcome additions to this year's BAF, as well as a large scale installation.

As the artistic director of Artspace Hamra, a participating gallery, I spent a marathon three days at the fair; I ate, drank, socialized and most importantly formed important aesthetic experiences that help me confront, celebrate, escape and create reality around me.

By strengthening and challenging the very fabric of how we see, art draws attention not just to what is being viewed but to the act of looking itself.

Art fairs connect countless visitors, artists, exhibitors and patrons, the right combination of which creates a healthy ecosystem for the arts and establishes the host city as a cultural hotspot. This year's BAF showed that the art scene in Beirut is alive and kicking, thata balance exists between being regional and globally connected, and that there is a vibrant local audience eager to practice the most important art of all, which is the art of seeing.

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