AUB Art Gallery
Sidani Street, Hamra
Art in Office sets on display works of art selected from various academic and administrative buildings and offices at the American University of Beirut (AUB). During its long history AUB has accumulated many works of art that one encounters daily. Some are part of the AUB art collection (having been donated by artists or other benefactors over the years) while others are the property of those who come to occupy a particular office, in the sense of both public position and four-walled room. A less numerous but no less noticeable category of works exhibited on the walls of various university offices includes artworks made by AUB employees themselves, as professional activity or as hobby. The artworks encountered in the rooms and corners of campus belong to many different epochs, artistic styles, genres and traditions. Some are strictly commemorative, capturing in various media (sculpture, painting, photography) former distinguished members of the administration and faculty; others disclose the particular concerns of a department or office; a third kind of work, more self-contained, attends to more specifically artistic matters, in idioms ranging from realism to abstraction to expressionism. We have also decided to step beyond the borders of the traditional category of “fine art” and include in our exhibition other media (posters, typography, books) that we regard as unavoidable indices of our age of mechanically and digitally reproduced culture.
In addition to showing various instances of the art works that inform the daily life of the AUB community, this project is also a survey, or even a sociologically-inspired case study. Within a wider perspective we launch an investigation into the various relations that tie the AUB community to art. Most importantly, we intend to observe how these relations change across departments, professions and occupations. Could there be a relation between a department, faculty or branch of administration and a particular genre of art? Can we find a parallel between a concrete field of knowledge and a particular artistic style, or manner of attachment to or engagement with artworks?
The research phase of the project has revealed that the main function of art on AUB’s campus is primarily commemorative and decorative. Overall, artworks found in various offices and buildings exist to remind the community about AUB’s history. Another and perhaps a larger grouping serves the purpose of decoration and interior beautification, with the sole exception of some faculty for whom art plays an important part of their scholarly research (CVSP, Design Department, Fine Arts and Art History, the Museum of Archeology). This is not unusual or specific to AUB, but comes to confirm one of the commandments of the modern institution of art: the museum and the art gallery continue to be the main locus where the transformation of the profane into the sacred (of non-art into art) takes place. In other words, it is the museum and not the workplace or the place of residence that bestows upon artworks their artistic and aesthetic legitimacy, their cultural or economic value.
In order to emphasize the results of our findings, and to engage specifically with this feature of the institution of art, we have opted for a mode of display that presents the selected artworks in their immediate surroundings. In other words, we show not only the artwork but also a snapshot of the context in which it appears (a reconstructed context including elements that appear in close proximity to the artwork). In addition, short interviews and conversations with the owners or makers of art will throw additional light on the relation between the occupants of the offices and buildings and the works of art presented in this exhibition.
Curator, AUB Art Galleries