PRINT May 2015


Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Wonder Beirut #6, Rivoli Square, 1997–2006, C-print mounted on aluminum, 27 3/4 × 41 1/2". From the series “Wonder Beirut,” 1997–2006.

“WHAT IS BEIRUT?” The question, posed in the following pages by curator CHRISTINE TOHME, informs the contributions to Artforum’s annual Dispatch, just as it has continually animated Beirut’s cultural scene. All great cities are screens for hyperbolic projections, but perhaps none more so than Lebanon’s capital, which has long appeared in a dizzying array of guises: as gateway to the Levant, Eastern outpost of la dolce vita, war-torn Ballardian dystopia, and, most recently, disaster capitalism’s Mediterranean port of call. But for the artists and intellectuals who have been drawn to it, Beirut has been a laboratory, a place for vital experimentation. In making art about their city and its contested history, the members of the 1990s “Beirut School” have illuminated the past wherever chimerical cliché threatens to obscure it, while their remapping of the intersections of art, politics, and public space has similarly resonated far beyond their own locale. Today, as speculators of a different sort resurface the city, a younger generation of artists is taking on an even wider range of concerns, from the subjective aftereffects of violent conflict to the global dynamics of rampant development.

Here, Tohme reflects on the fate of the city’s art institutions, which range from pioneering independent space Ashkal Alwan to galleries such as Sfeir-Semler to new private collections–cum–public museums such as the Aïshti Foundation; critic KAELEN WILSON-GOLDIE examines artists’ engagements with history in the region; and architect HASHIM SARKIS traces the erratic reconstruction of the built environment. Finally, eight artists offer their own responses to the fluid and volatile conditions in Beirut—a place whose definition lies as much in these cultural gambits as it does in the instability of geopolitics.