Pascal Odille, artistic director of the Beirut Art Fair, reveals his top picks for the eighth edition

For many art lovers, the most exciting element to the eighth edition of the Beirut Art Fair is likely to be its nonprofit section. Continuing to build year-on- year from its modest beginnings in 2010, when it attracted 30 galleries and 3500 visitors, this year’s fair — which runs from September 21 to 24 at BIEL — is likely to attract more than 20,000, many of them keen to visit the fair’s centrepiece, OUROUBA: The Eye of Lebanon, curated by Rose Issa.

Issa, an independent curator, writer and producer based in London, has selected more than 80 pieces that reflect the aesthetic, conceptual and sociopolitical concerns that have surfaced in the Arab world over the last decade. “There are many ideas behind it but the most important one is: What is it to be Arab today?” says Beirut Art Fair’s artistic director Pascal Odille.

Featuring installations, paintings, photographs, video works, mixed media works and sculptures on loan from major private and institutional collections, the exhibition will include work by Nabil Nahas, Ayman Baalbaki, Abdul Rahman Katanani, Taghreed Darghouth, Serwan Baran, Mona Hatoum, Raeda Saadeh and Adel Abidin, among many others. The selected works focus on themes including memory, destruction and reconstruction, conflict and peace, while exploring how to resist clichés, injustices and double standards.

Odille is particularly excited about the exhibition, to which he has dedicated 400 square metres of space. He is coy about Issa’s curatorial approach, but reveals that the work will not be arranged by country or chronologically, but according to theme.

This year’s edition of the fair sets out to achieve three goals: to foster a spirit of expansion and renewal, to promote young talents and to reveal new perspectives on the recent history of creating and collection in Lebanon. Odille emphasises the importance of the fair’s artistic committee, established last year, which consists of collectors Basel Dalloul, Tarek Nahas and Abraham Karabajakian. Their participation has changed the atmosphere of the fair, he says, helping to improve the quality and making galleries feel more secure.

“We have important galleries coming,” he says, expressing particular excitement about newcomers Galerie Nathalie Obadia, who will show works on paper from the 1960s and ’70s by Armenian artist Sarkis, and Analix Forever, bringing new work by Mounir Fatmi. “And we have an important section with Revealing, which was a great success last year.” The platform for emerging artists will return at twice the size this year. In total, the fair will host 52 galleries, some participating in both the classical and Revealing sections.

Another of Odille’s top picks is The Prophet, an exhibition featuring 12 original illustrations created between 1920 and 1923 by famous Lebanese author and poet Khalil Gibran for the first English edition of his seminal text. His work will be accompanied by 49 new drawings by Rachid Koraichi, who has just published a book containing original illustrations based on Gibran’s writing.

Overall, the fair is set to welcome many new artists and galleries while retaining its particular emphasis on original art with a regional focus. “We are looking for new works, things that have not been shown at art fairs before,” says Odille. “We want to keep this focus, it’s important. The artists of the region do not have enough visibility outside of their countries, so we have to give them visibility.”

by Irene McConnel.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections A Dialogue Between Generations
of Arab Women in Art #42, pages x.