American University of Beirut

Profiles: Collecting Art in Lebanon

April 5—August 24, 2013


The American University of Beirut Art Gallery pr​esents the exhibition Profiles: Collecting Art in Lebanon. The exhibition examines practices of art collecting and art patronage in contemporary Lebanon. On display are ten video interviews conducted with private art collectors and inheritors of collections including Saleh Barakat, Anachar Basbous, Georges Corm, Raymond Audi, Abraham Karabajakian, Ramzi Saidi and Afaf Osseiran Saidi and Tony Salamé. The art critic and publisher Cesar Nammour offers a historical perspective on the practice of art collecting, while Zeina Arida of the Arab Image Foundation speaks about collecting as an artistic strategy. Dima Raad, of the Ministry of Culture of Lebanon, also offers her perspective. On the lower floor of the gallery, the house of a Lebanese art collector—inspired by the home of the collector Samir Saleeby—has been reconstructed.


From the beginning, certain roles in the art world have been firmly established: the artist produced, and the art collector bought or accumulated out of enjoyment, compulsion, concern for cultural heritage, or with the noble intention of showing the artwork to the public. Before the emergence of curatorship as a profession, it was often the art collector who exhibited the artist, acting as a lens through which the product of artistic labor was projected onto the public realm. For this event at AUB Art Gallery, we decided to turn this lens around. Profiles: Collecting Art in Lebanon shines a spotlight directly on the figure of the collector and on the practice of art collecting.

The private art collector has played a very prominent role on the Lebanese artistic scene, acting, for the most part, from behind its curtains. The situation is different in many respects from that encountered elsewhere in the region and beyond, where the state has traditionally played a more active role in the preservation of cultural heritage. In the case of Lebanon, it is predominantly the private sector that has taken this initiative into its hands. From its earliest days, the Lebanese bourgeoisie assembled in the coziness of their homes the relics of the archeological past and the artifacts of the cultural present, locally re-affirming a historical pattern of European modernity.

This exhibition is inspired by the figure of the Lebanese collector Dr. Samir Saleeby. Throughout his life, Dr. Saleeby has collected paintings—a passion that he inherited together with a collection of works by his renowned relative Khalil Saleeby. It was this body of artworks that served as the core of his collection, later complemented with works by other distinguished Lebanese artists whom Dr. Saleeby befriended at certain periods of his life. On the lower floor of AUB Art Gallery, we recreate and reinterpret in miniature the house of a typical Lebanese collector, taking as our main source of inspiration the home of Dr. Saleeby. Most of the intact paintings exhibited on this floor are part of The Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Collection donated by Dr. Saleeby to AUB. 
Saleh Barakat of Agial Gallery also lent us several paintings from his own collection.

To provide a wider picture of the collecting of art in Lebanon we have interviewed a number of prominent Lebanese collectors and displayed the results on monitors on the upper floor of the gallery. Moreover, the number of monitors proportionally expresses the input of patronage resources in contemporary Lebanese art. Rather than provide a comprehensive account of existing collecting practices in Lebanon, we reveal certain established types: the private collector; the bank as collector; non-profit collectors; collectors who started from scratch and collectors who inherited their collections.

We are grateful to the following individuals who agreed to participate in our project: Samir Saleeby, Saleh Barakat, Anachar Basbous, Georges Corm, Raymond Audi, Abraham Karabajakian, Ramzi Saidi and Afaf Osseiran Saidi, Tony Salamé, Dima Raad, Zeina Arida and Cesar Nammour.

Octavian Esanu
Curator AUB Art Galleries

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