The Ayyam Gallery has opened a new experimental space that challenges the ecosystem of art in Beirut
Among the few experimental art spaces that have appeared in Beirut in recent years – outside the circle of traditional galleries – there is a new substantive addition: Ayyam Projects.
A twin space to the Beirut branch of Ayyam Gallery, one of the leading galleries in the region, the gallery is best known for its relentless championing of modern and contemporary art from Syria. Now operating in London as well and being visible in offsite projects and art fairs, Ayyam celebrated its fifth anniversary in Beirut on 30 October with an exhibition of established artists Nadim Karam and Safwan Dahoul. The anniversary exhibition was held in parallel to the inauguration of the projects space. While the format is not new, Ayyam does challenge the ecosystem of art in Beirut by being the first commercial gallery to launch and support a non-conventional space.
The driving force behind the project, it would seem, is a need to alter the perception of what is considered art by both the public domain and the collecting community. This isn’t something necessarily without an aim to expand the margins of the art market itself, but in a region where contemporary art is so young and the model of cultural institution largely traditional, these experiments are in for a very long term bet if the aim is to change the mindset of collectors educated by auction houses and galleries, rather than merely expand the scope of sales. The operational mode, however, of a project space supported by a gallery, however, isn’t too different from that of a non-profit and that’s something Ayyam Projects is keen on stressing.
The project space, located in an area adjacent to Ayyam Beirut that formerly hosted a now defunct art gallery, opened with the exhibition Postponed Democracy by a Syrian artist resident in Beirut, Abdul Karim Majdal Al-Beik. Featuring a main installation piece alongside a number of objects and images, the exhibition lies at the final boundary between photography, painting and installation and runs until 10 January.
The show is, first of all, in the spirit of a projects space, a significant departure for the artist in his practice, who had previously earned a reputation for his semi-abstract paintings in the tradition of social realism. Albeit not conceptually distant, the new work is engaged with the lack of political participation among the new generation across the Arab world.
With a fragile and almost invisible public space, people retreat into the private sphere where the invisibility becomes synonymous with their identities. With political participation, the artist refers to the polling and voting mechanisms, highlighting the need to expand the field of politics from law and order into community building and socialisation. Almost obsessed with these mechanisms, the work in the exhibition attempts to simultaneously define, debate and criticise the tools that make it possible to exit invisibility in times of turbulence and revolution. The work, while consistent, is still somewhat open-ended and not yet in possession of its own symbols, but it remains conceptually ambitious and open to different readings, doing justice to the new space where it is hosted.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Rose Tinted issue #28, on page 30.