Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sursock Museum, the natural ecosystem for Lebanese art

Detail from a work by Khalil Zghaib
My readers will be forgiven for not knowing about the "Salon de l'automne" - the yearly criterion for art which used to take place in the now reopened Sursock Museum. I am one of the lucky ones to have attended it - several editions of it - and so visiting the museum today was tinted by nostalgia. Come to think about it, even the people overseeing the museum are tinted by the same feeling. And truth be told, there's nothing to be ashamed of.
The museum houses, in two floors, what is labelled as "permanent collection" which includes anyone who is anyone in the artistic Lebanese scene: Rawas, Molaeb, Zghaib, Jurdak, Achkar, Madi, Nahle, Assadour, Seraphim, Totikian, and the list goes on and on. I even saw today with what was an audible gasp in the otherwise silent place, a work by Seta Manoukian I remember having seen as a teenager on one of my trips to the museum. It was there as I remembered it, a woman with thighs on the foreground smoking a cigarette with the whiff combining with her hair. The frisson that ran through me was truly indescribable.
The collection sheds a light as to how Lebanese artistic masters - with very few youngsters among them (Flavia Codsi comes to mind) - managed to produce beautiful, ugly, touching, reverberating art in a country always teetering on the edge of the abyss.
There are also two rooms facing one another on the ground floor which seem to be focused on newer artists, such as Randa Mirza, Roy Dib or Vartan Avakian, which - on the whole - perhaps due to the restrained space feels a bit more forced as an effort.
And level -2 is where the big current exhibition takes place. It is about - what else? - Beirut through the years and through the art. Calling it extensive would be an understatement. Sylvia Ajemian the chief curator did a wonderful - dare I say pleasant - job amassing all these works from different sources and media. Usually artistic institutions pride themselves in being undecipherable in their settings, scenography and works. This one however is embarrassingly approachable, convivial and opens its arms far and wide to the visitors making it a delightful experience of knowing Beirut through the (perhaps treacherous) eyes of the artists who have experienced it through the years.
What is delightful about the Sursock Museum is that it has filled a much needed gap in the artistic sphere in Lebanon - one that goes back to the roots, to the big names, to the past, to the beginnings of the Lebanese artistic experience. And for keeping this balance, I cannot but congratulate all those who pitched in this endeavor for letting me, once more, experience those magnificent feelings I have felt growing up when I visited the museum.
Telling you to visit there would be useless, you should all run to experience it.