Explosions in Beruit sent shock waves through Sfeir-Semler Gallery.

Twin Explosions Devastate Beirut’s Art Venues

A pair of explosions yesterday at the Port of Beirut wreaked destruction on Lebanon’s capital, killing more than one hundred people and leaving over five thousand injured, overwhelming hospitals already struggling due to the pandemic. Although the cause of the disaster is still under investigation, Lebanese officials say that the more calamitous of the explosions may have come from a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate—a compound often used as fertilizer—stored nearby. The magnitude 3.3 shock seismic wave created by this second blast shattered glass and destabilized buildings for miles around the port.

These include many of the art institutions and galleries located near the waterfront explosion site. Marfa’ Projects, Galerie Tanit, Opera Gallery, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, the Arab Image Foundation, Ashkal Alwan, and the Sursock Museum—which was reopened after a costly renovation only five years ago—all lie within two kilometers of the port and have been decimated. The Art Newspaper reports that several works from the Sursock’s collection were damaged by debris. The Sursock, Marfa’ Projects, and Sfeir-Semler have confirmed that no staff members were wounded in the incident. The Rams and Said Dalloul Art Foundation and Galerie Janine Rubeiz in the western part of the city have also sustained damage to their buildings, though not to the same degree.

Many art spaces will struggle to rebuild under such dire conditions. In the months preceding yesterday’s disaster, Lebanon was in the midst of severe economic collapse exacerbated by the costs of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since large-scale protests against government corruption began last October, the lira has lost more than 80 percent of its value. The governor of Beirut, Marwan About, told reporters that he expects the explosion’s financial toll to surpass $3 billion.