Critics’ Picks

Claire Pentecost, Amor Fati, 2016, polluted water from Lebanese sources, hand-blown glass, recycled paper, printed banner, dimensions variable.

Beirut

“Let’s Talk About the Weather: Art and Ecology in a Time of Crisis”

Sursock Museum
Greek Orthodox Archbishopric Street, Ashrafieh
July 14 - October 24

When this museum reopened last year after a long and painful renovation, it had transformed like a butterfly. The old cocoon was dainty and provincial. The new creature was colorful and strange—and also quite big, nearly five times its previous size, featuring an 8,600-square-foot exhibition hall, with double-high ceilings, plunged two stories underground. Before now, the museum had filled that cavernous new space with a major survey of nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings (primarily) about Beirut, and a smaller, more intimate monographic exhibition for a largely unknown Lebanese modernist named Assadour. The first show to really own the renovation and prove the museum’s seriousness—about contemporary art, politics, and the lives of inhabitants of the city today—is now on view, organized by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Nora Razian.

The broader historical backdrops here include climate change, financial crisis, and the real-world usefulness of terms such as Anthropocene or its louche, renegade sister, Capitalocene. Closer to these contexts, this is the first such show to meaningfully respond to Lebanon’s mind-boggling political failure to sort its own garbage, both literally and metaphorically. (The country made headlines last summer when a confluence of factors—including governmental mismanagement, corruption in the private sector, and angry protests by an exasperated public—caused a total breakdown in trash collection services, leading to mountains of waste piling up in the streets.) The photographs, videos, sculptures, sound installations, publications, and prints by seventeen artists here take up themes of contamination, resource extraction, ruin, and waste. Sammy Baloji’s images of Congolese mines set the tone. Pedro Neves Marques’s animations, projecting economic growth and its catastrophes, lend the show a futurist edge. Monira Al Qadiri’s sculptures of pearl-colored deep-sea drill heads give it a sense of humor. Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige’s drawings, photographs, and speculative archeological narratives about core samples from construction sites bring it all back home to postwar, reconstruction-era Beirut, debates about which first animated the city’s most interesting art scene twenty years ago, only to fall eerily silent since.