American University of Beirut

The Permanent Collection

October 11, 2018  – ​TBA
AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery, Ada Dodge Hall

Etel Adnan / John Carswell / Maryette Charlton / Saloua Raouda Choucair / Saliba Douaihy / Simone Fattal / Moustapha Farroukh / César Gemayel / Farid Haddad / Jean Kalifeh / Helen Khal / Hussein Madi / Omar Onsi / Khalil Saleeby
The first known attempts to establish a permanent art collection at AUB came in the early 1970s. Several key works, including Farid Haddad’s Untitled (1971), Helen Khal’s Jacob’s Ladder (1969), and Jean Khalifeh’s The Singing American (1971), came together in 1971 as part of an initiative to establish the “Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art of the American University of Beirut.” The mission of the project was to encourage artists and collectors to donate or loan artworks to AUB, in order to make “the experience of art a living part of the educational process.”1 The idea was to show modern art across various spaces on campus. Originating in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, the initiative was spearheaded by then-Chair Peter Harrison Smith along with fellow faculty member Gordon Olsen. Smith and Olsen approached artists, such as Haddad (b. 1945), Khal (1923–2009), Khalifeh (1925–1978), Stélio Scamanga (b. 1934), Adel Saghir (b. 1930), and others, asking them to donate works for the express purpose of “educating through art” and, more concretely, “to increase the awareness of art today in the Middle East.”2 The designated central location for the project would be the Mini Gallery that opened on the third floor of College Hall (in the lobby in front of President Samuel Kirkwood’s office). Artist Farid Haddad recalls the enthusiasm with which the faculty, administration, and artists all embraced the idea of a permanent collection. 

The second attempt to establish a permanent art collection, and encourage AUB to play a more active role in the study and preservation of art, came long after the war. In 2011, Dr. Samir Saleeby donated a number of paintings by early Lebanese artists, including Khalil Saleeby (1870–1928), Saliba Douaihy (1915–1994), Omar Onsi (1901–1969), Moustapha Farroukh (1901–1957), and César Gemayel (1898–1958). On this occasion, the University opened two art galleries (the current AUB Art Galleries), thus restating its commitment to support and study national, regional, and international art. 

One cannot, however, highlight these two major initiatives without remembering many other artistic endeavors from the past, which also contributed to the University’s increased focus on the study and preservation of art. Through archival material and artworks from College Hall, The Permanent Collection underlines some of these complementary historical efforts. The exhibition presents, for instance, works from several early “pioneers” of Arab and Lebanese national art, and those who interacted in one form or another with AUB already during the early 20th century (e.g. Saleeby, Farroukh, Onsi). It commemorates those who established the Department of Fine Arts in the mid-20th century (e.g. American photographer, filmmaker, artist, performer, and arts advocate Maryette Charlton [1924–2013]). It remembers former art faculty members who played key roles in promoting radical modernist and postmodernist artistic styles and idioms during the 1960s (e.g. British scholar/artist John Carswell [b. 1931]). And it exhibits several surviving samples of pictorial abstraction produced in Beirut in the 1970s (e.g. Haddad, Khal, Khalifeh). 

You can read a full, unexpurgated version of the curatorial text in the exhibition brochure. 

Octavian Esanu
AUB Art Galleries

1 Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art of the American University of Beirut. AUB 
exhibition brochure, Beirut, 1971. From the personal archives of Farid Haddad (Concord,
New Hampshire, USA)./div>
2 Ibid.

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