Art on 56th
NOHA WADI MOHARRAM,
FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR
Art on 56th gallery is an independent visual arts gallery in Beirut, Lebanon. It was founded by Noha Wadi Moharram in 2012 and is rooted in Gemmayze, the capital’s booming artistic and cultural neighbourhood. In addition to presenting a roster of local artists to an international audience, the gallery’s mission is to promote both established and emerging contemporary artists from the Middle East and beyond. This results in a colourful exchange, highlighting the powerful meaning of images and creativity within a society. The gallery exhibits artworks in a large variety of media, including painting, sculpture, work on paper, photography and video installation.
What did you do before you opened Art on 56th in 2012?
I studied business and began my career as a risk analyst in a corporate bank. I always wished to study art history, but for family reasons, this plan was derailed. My fascination and curiosity for the arts never ceased, so I studied the subject on my own and spent time cultivating my knowledge by submerging myself in the available literature and going to museums, galleries, exhibitions and art fairs around the world. I kept this passion within me for 30 years, as most of my time was dedicated to the financial sector and the corporate banking system. This passion was thus a hobby, and eventually, while I developed my eye, my business background helped me fulfil my lifelong dream of opening up a gallery. I believe that having a PhD in art history does not necessarily suffice in guaranteeing the success of a small business, just like having an MBA does not suffice in guaranteeing that one can understand the intricacies of the art market and develop an eye adapted to the diverse tastes of collectors.
Could you tell us about your first exhibition, which acted as a statement for your programme?
The first exhibition was a solo show for Rana Raouda, an established Lebanese artist known for her minimalist work. She showcased her works internationally and nationally, and received wide recognition from curators, collectors, museums and critics. Her work can be described as a belief in love and beauty, set in a world where these virtues have become increasingly hard to find. Her inspiration from life, nature and love is what drew me to her work and is what inspired me to dedicate the gallery’s first show, as a mission to bring great art to our spectators.
Why did you choose the name Art on 56th Gallery for your gallery and how did you choose the location of your gallery?
I used to live in the United States, and I loved the idea that the galleries were named after the streets in which they resided. I also wanted to be based in a cultural and artistic neighbourhood, which is why I chose Gemmayze. As for the space, I searched for a place that had its own character, heritage and history, rather than a minimalistic and modernist white cube. The space is a traditional old house, built in the French taste, and is more than 100 years old. It can be viewed as a landmark and a timepiece.
How would you define the identity of your gallery?
The gallery’s identity is to showcase established and emerging Lebanese artists and beyond. We encourage and support art that we discover in young artists, in order to engage the youth in the artistic scene. This has helped us focus on urging schools to galvanize their students to visit our gallery as a way to widen their creative scope. We believe that art is a tool that can change the world, one day at a time. It conceives new horizons for the younger generation, which is why we are keen on the inclusion of student spectators.
What can you tell us about the roster of artists you represent?
We showcase artists who have a combination of quality, talent, narrative and strong technique. We select artists who can speak to international and national audiences and who have the capacity to bring to life the gallery’s mission through their art.
Could you tell us about your programme for 2020?
Every season we schedule two exhibitions dedicated to our represented artists. For this year, we have chosen to exhibit the established contemporary artist Edward Shahda and the young and recognised artist Tarek Butayhi. We will also be hosting a solo exhibition for our new represented Iranian artist, Mahmoud Hamadani, who is based in New York and is known for his delicate, monochromatic and minimalistic drawings. His works have been in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.
KEY DATES IN THE LIFE OF THE GALLERY:
– Chronic Blueprint 1995-2018 – Rafik Majzoub: a solo exhibition summarising the oeuvre of established Lebanese artist Rafik Majzoub and gathering works from early on in his career, as well as his most recent projects.
– Untold stories: a solo exhibition of works by established Lebanese artist Edgard Mazigi. His paintings straddle abstraction and figuration, and play with the idea of the recognisable image.
– What Is Beirut to the Artist: a collective exhibition showcasing works by Lebanese artists whose vision of the Lebanese capital is rooted in personal vernacular, to tell the story of Beirut through their paintings and sculptures to both protect and preserve their youth.
– Kardesim Beirut – Pinar Du Pre, Baris Saribas, Yigit Yazici: a collective exhibition of works by three established Turkish artists who pay tribute to Beirut, a city they each love and celebrate. This exhibition took place under the patronage of the Turkish Embassy.
– Art & Sustainability: a collective exhibition of works by established Dutch artists Hans Gussekloo and Elles Kattar, along with the young and recognised Lebanese artist Dyala Khodary, who all came together to address their mutual concern for the environment. This exhibition took place under the patronage of the Dutch Embassy.
– Fifty Three Years – Nazir Ismail: a retrospective exhibition that celebrates the career and oeuvre of the late Syrian contemporary artist Nazir Ismail, in honour of the third anniversary of his passing.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, SHOW & TELL #51