Friday April 29, 2022

Berlin’s Gropius Bau hosts Beirut and the Golden Sixties exhibition

Berlin’s Gropius Bau hosts Beirut and the Golden Sixties exhibition

A work from Aref El Rayess at the exhibition.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility, is an exhibition at Gropius Bau, Berlin (Mar. 25 – June 12). It 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.

It traces the antagonism between Beirut’s politicised cosmopolitanism and its surrounding trans-regional conflicts. With 230 artworks by 34 artists and more than 300 archival documents from nearly 40 collections, 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.

“Our programming at the Gropius Bau looks at history from a contemporary perspective while emphasising the inter-relatedness of art to current and past socio-political conflicts,” says Stephanie Rosenthal, Director of Gropius Bau.

Martin-Gropius-Bau, commonly known as Gropius Bau, is an important exhibition building in Berlin, Germany. Originally a museum of applied arts, it has been a listed historical monument since 1966.

Berlin’s Gropius Bau hosts Beirut and the Golden Sixties exhibition A composition by Nicolas Moufarrege at the exhibition. 

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.

“Beirut and the Golden Sixties speaks of 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,” say Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Associate Curators, Gropius Bau.  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 Place explores the fraught notion of belonging among artists from different communities across the region. The title of the section is taken from the title of a leporello by Etel Adnan from 1974.

Berlin’s Gropius Bau hosts Beirut and the Golden Sixties exhibition The exhibition unveils a chapter in global modernism in Beirut.

Lovers: The Body: 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, Andre Masson, Wifredo Lam and Zao Wou-Ki. 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 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. 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. A comprehensive multi-media installation is created specifically for the exhibit by 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.

← Back>