The affordable price of artistic greatness: Beirut's nod to Modern Masters

Published September 27th, 2012 - 09:52 GMT
A lithography of Salvador Dali “Enigme sans Fin”
A lithography of Salvador Dali “Enigme sans Fin”

Think of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol and thoughts of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and multimillion dollar sales likely come crowding close behind.

For young collectors keen to own – or just stand and contemplate – works by these modern greats, however, Mark Hachem gallery in Downtown Beirut may be the place to go.

The gallery’s current exhibition “Modern Masters’ works on paper” is an eclectic and surprisingly affordable collection of works – for the most part limited edition lithographs – by 13 artists who have each played a key role in the history of modern art.

Lynda Abou Khater, the gallery’s managing director, explains that she wanted to introduce the work of these artists to a new generation of young collectors, although the gallery usually concentrates on contemporary art.

By limiting the scope of the exhibition to works on paper Khater has succeeded in keeping the prices of most works relatively low, with many below the $2,000 mark.

The pieces are for the most part grouped by artist, with a short biography of each accompanying the work, providing some context and history for those unfamiliar with the names.

Unfortunately, Khater explains, several of the pieces due to be featured in the exhibition were held up at customs due to security measures connected with the pope’s recent visit to Lebanon.

Works by Warhol, Matisse and Chinese painter Chu Teh-Chun have yet to arrive, though they are expected to be released in the next few days.

The exhibition is far from disappointing, however. A profusion of colorful works by Colombian figurative artist Fernando Botero and Dutch painter Guillaume Cornelis van Beverloo – better known by his pseudonym, Corneille – dominate the far walls of the Downtown gallery.

Botero’s distinctive rounded figures dance across the walls in a series of color prints and sketches.

A particularly endearing number is a sketch of one of his typically heavyset women clutching a cat to her chest, staring out with a look of surprise and dismay as though interrupted in the middle of a private conversation.

Corneille’s pieces are also high-quality color lithographs, a selection of his surreal, stylized images, which are heavily influenced by the colors and forms of African art.

One untitled painting depicts a naked woman reclining against what appears to be a striped bed.

Her hand, raised to her chest, forms an angular triangle that contrasts with the curve of her bared breast.

Her brown hair streams straight out behind her in a solid-looking mass, while above her an enormous red bird hovers, perfectly framed in the blue square of a window.

The painting is wonderful in its simplicity – minimal shading and wavering, almost child-like lines combined with the rich, earthy colors of Africa: the orange tone of the woman’s skin, the red bird, the orange and maroon striped fabric and the deep blue of the sky.

Fans of Dali will enjoy the chance to see a limited edition lithograph of “Enigme sans Fin” (Enigma without End), one of his more unsettling works.

In the background is a lake, surrounded by mountains, while in the foreground are a bizarre collection of odds and ends.

A fish skeleton – balanced on top of a branch that has been abruptly cut short – lies next to a featureless globe and a metal strut with musical pegs at the top and a goat’s hoof at the bottom.

The fore and background combine to make a face, with the left eye a boat on the lake and one mountain a grotesquely distended skull.

The exhibition also includes six Picasso lithographs.

The most immediately recognizable of these is a black and white sketch that shows a naked woman standing with two clothed men. Her lopsided face gives her a slightly drunken appearance, which is compounded by the expression of the bearded man who regards her, his full lips and unevenly aligned eyes conveying a lecherous look.

A contrast to these stylized and surreal works is provided by French painter Claude Weisbuch’s more academic sketch of a man playing the violin, imbued with such movement that he appears to be dancing as he plays, his fingers a blur of speed, his violin suggested by a few perfectly judged lines.

Meanwhile a three-dimensional aspect is injected into proceedings by Alain Berk-Witz’s heavily textured tribal faces, framed against a black backdrop and slightly raised to give them a sculptural appearance.

Modern Masters” will certainly benefit from the addition of the delayed works, but in the meantime it is far from a washout.

Anyone interested in Western modern art should not miss this chance to see works by some of the biggest names of the last century, transported to Lebanon from Paris and New York.

“Modern Masters’ works on Paper” is up at Mark Hachem gallery in Downtown until Oct. 6. For more information please call 01-999-313.

Copyright © 2022, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

You may also like