Juliana Seraphim, Untitled, 1979. Oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm. © Courtesy: Saleh Barakat Gallery / Agial Art Gallery

Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility revisits an exhilarating chapter in global modernism in Beirut from the 1958 Lebanon crisis to 1975, the year that witnessed the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. The exhibition showcases a heterogeneous mix of artists whose drive for formal innovation was matched only by the tenacity of their political convictions. Beirut and the Golden Sixties traces the antagonism between Beirut’s politicised cosmopolitanism and its surrounding trans-regional conflicts. With around 220 artworks by 36 artists, more than 200 archival documents and a new work by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige especially commissioned for the show, it is the most comprehensive presentation to date of a pivotal period in the history of Beirut – a city that continues to carry the burden of its irreconcilable ambitions.

Rafic Charaf, Lebanon Untitled, 1971. Oil on Masonite, 73.5 x 63.5 cm. © Rafic Charaf, Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation
Rafic Charaf, Lebanon Untitled, 1971. Oil on Masonite, 73.5 x 63.5 cm. © Rafic Charaf, Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation

The exhibition is curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Associate Curators, Gropius Bau (since 1 January 2022 Directors at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin) and organised in collaboration with the 16th edition of the Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art.

Khalil Zgaib, Untitled, 1958. Oil on masonite board, 60 x 100 cm. © Khalil Zgaib, Courtesy: Saleh Barkat Collection / Agial Art Gallery
Khalil Zgaib, Untitled, 1958. Oil on masonite board, 60 x 100 cm. © Khalil Zgaib, Courtesy: Saleh Barkat Collection / Agial Art Gallery

Beirut and the Golden Sixties maps out a brief but rich period of artistic and political ferment. A continuous influx of intellectuals and cultural practitioners from across the Middle East and Arabic-speaking North Africa flowed into Beirut over the course of three turbulent decades marked by revolutions, coups and wars across the regions. Encouraged in part by the Lebanese banking secrecy law of 1956, a stream of foreign capital also flowed into the city. New commercial galleries, independent art spaces and museums flourished. Beirut was bursting at the seams, not only with people, but also with ideas. Yet beneath the surface of a glistening golden age of prosperity, antagonisms festered before eventually exploding in a 15-year civil war.

Jamil Molaeb, From the series Civil War Diary 1975-1976 [16 out of 33 drawings]. Around 34 x 44 cm, Various techniques (Watercolour, Ink and Felt on paper). © Jamil Molaeb, Courtesy: Saradar Collection
Jamil Molaeb, From the series Civil War Diary 1975-1976 [16 out of 33 drawings]. Around 34 x 44 cm, Various techniques (Watercolour, Ink and Felt on paper). © Jamil Molaeb, Courtesy: Saradar Collection
“We are thrilled to be showing Beirut and the Golden Sixties at the Gropius Bau in Berlin. It speaks to our commitment to challenging the metanarratives of modernism by highlighting centres of artistic production that have often been relegated to the margins of art history. With Beirut and the Golden Sixties, we have approached the period from the vantage point of the multiple crises currently wreaking havoc in Beirut. This contemporary gaze onto the past provides an altogether new point of entry, allowing us to investigate our current moment by looking to the most creative and critical minds of an earlier generation of thinkers, writers and makers.” — Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Associate Curators, Gropius Bau (since 1 January 2022 Directors at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin).

Aref El Rayess, Untitled, 1977–78. Oil on canvas, 80 x 110 cm. © Aref El Rayess Foundation, Aley, Mount Lebanon, Courtesy: Saradar Collection
Aref El Rayess, Untitled, 1977–78. Oil on canvas, 80 x 110 cm. © Aref El Rayess Foundation, Aley, Mount Lebanon, Courtesy: Saradar Collection

Presented in five thematic sections, the exhibition introduces the breadth of artistic practices and political projects that thrived in Beirut from the 1950s to 1970s.

Le Port de Beyrouth: The Place
By 1958, Beirut was a hub of intellectual and artistic life in the Middle East. With its longstanding tradition of freedom of expression, it attracted artists and intellectuals escaping autocratic regimes elsewhere in the region. The first section of the exhibition, The Place, explores the fraught notion of belonging among artists from different communities across the region.

The title of this section is taken from the title of a leporello by Etel Adnan from 1974.

Etel Adnan & Simone Fattal, La Montagne Liban, 1971. Oil on canvas, 54 x 64 x 2.5 cm. © Simone Fattal, Courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah
Etel Adnan & Simone Fattal, La Montagne Liban, 1971. Oil on canvas, 54 x 64 x 2.5 cm. © Simone Fattal, Courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah

Lovers: The Body
The 1960s was a decade of sexual liberation movements across the world. Home to a large number of women and LGBTQIA+ artists, the Beirut art scene was at the forefront of the attendant debates. The exhibition’s second section, The Body, explores the role of Beirut as a site of experimentation and a testing ground against the limits of a heteronormative bourgeois society.

The title of this section is taken from the title of a painting by Mona Saudi from 1963.

Takween (Composition): The Form
A medley of artists utilising and negotiating a wide range of techniques, materials and styles converged in Beirut’s rich art scene. Cultural programming was diverse and involved global actors including Max Ernst, André Masson, Wifredo Lam and Zao Wou-Ki. The exhibition’s third section, The Form, considers the local debates around the articulation of various modernist tendencies in Beirut, paying close attention to the predominance of abstraction in the 1950s to 1970s. It traces the link between artists’ political affinities and their subscription to a style or a school, ranging from oriental abstraction to art informel.

The title of this section is taken from the title of a painting by Hashim Samarchi from 1972.

Monster and Child: The Politics
The fourth section, The Politics, takes a close look at the relationship between art and politics in the years preceding the Lebanese Civil War before sectarianism had taken over all aspects of life in the city. During this heyday of cultural production, artists searched for forms appropriate to their varying commitments – from the utopian projects of Pan-Arabism and postcolonial struggle to the divisive political alignments of the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the Palestinian Cause.

The title of this section is taken from the title of a painting by Fateh al-Moudarres from 1970.

Blood of the Phoenix: The War
The exhibition’s final section examines the enduring impact of the Lebanese Civil War on cultural production in Beirut. With galleries and independent art spaces shuttered and artists migrating to Europe, the United States and the Persian Gulf (in a foreshadowing of the migration from contemporary crisis-stricken Lebanon), the war took its toll. The devastation that followed revealed the irreconcilability of Beirut’s complex politics, stripping bare the myth of a “Golden Age”.

The title of this section is taken from the title of a tapestry by Nicolas Moufarrege from 1975.

Nicolas Moufarrege, Le sang du phénix (The Blood of the Phoenix), 1975. Thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas, 126 x 162.6 cm. © Courtesy Nabil and Hanan Moufarrej (N3M Holdings, LLC) Shreveport, Louisiana
Nicolas Moufarrege, Le sang du phénix (The Blood of the Phoenix), 1975. Thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas, 126 x 162.6 cm. © Courtesy Nabil and Hanan Moufarrej (N3M Holdings, LLC) Shreveport, Louisiana

Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility was developed concurrently to the October uprisings, the devastating explosion in August 2020, Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis and the global COVID-19 pandemic. The show is an investigation into a crucial chapter in history, reconsidered from the vantage point of these contemporary crises. A comprehensive multi-media installation is created specifically for the exhibition by the artists and filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, who live and work between Paris and Beirut. It contemplates the transformation of artworks by acts of violence in an immersive installation of screens and performance. In the face of collapse, disaster and death, the work wonders, can we oppose poetry to chaos?

Huguette Caland, Eux, approx. 1975. Oil on linen, 100.3 x 100.3 cm. © Courtesy: The Huguette Caland Estate
Huguette Caland, Eux, approx. 1975. Oil on linen, 100.3 x 100.3 cm. © Courtesy: The Huguette Caland Estate

With works by Shafic Abboud, Etel Adnan, Farid Aouad, Dia al-Azzawi, Alfred Basbous, Joseph Basbous, Michel Basbous, Assadour Bezdikian, Huguette Caland, Rafic Charaf, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Georges Doche, Simone Fattal, Laure Ghorayeb, Paul Guiragossian, Farid Haddad, John Hadidian, Joana Hadjithomas, Jumana Bayazid El-Husseini, Khalil Joreige, Dorothy Salhab Kazemi, Helen El-Khal, Simone Baltaxé Martayan, Jamil Molaeb, Fateh al-Moudarres, Nicolas Moufarrege, Mehdi Moutashar, Aref El Rayess, Adel al-Saghir, Mahmoud Said, Nadia Saikali, Hashim Samarchi, Mona Saudi, Juliana Seraphim, Cici Sursock and Khalil Zgaib

Saloua Raouda Choucair, Untitled, 1969-71. Plexiglass, stainless steel and water, 87 x 53 x 30 cm. © Courtesy: The Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation
Saloua Raouda Choucair, Untitled, 1969-71. Plexiglass, stainless steel and water, 87 x 53 x 30 cm. © Courtesy: The Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

The exhibition is on view at Gropius Bau from the 25th of March until the 12th of June.

Info is extracted from the press release

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