For the last 20 years, Lebanese gallerist Alice Mogabgab has played an important part in promoting Lebanese and foreign artists, whether in Lebanon or abroad. Her Ashrafieh gallery has exhibited such artists as Emilio Trad, Charles Belle, Roger Moukarzel, Rima Amyuni and Luciano Zanoni. The gallerist’s work also takes her to international art fairs. Most recently she was at Art Paris (March 29-April 1), a massive art fair organized at the Grand Palais, which gathered 120 galleries from all over the world.
Mogabgab was in Paris representing Lebanese as well as European and Asian artists, displaying an assortment of works clustered under the theme of the animal, which she feels have always played a major role in the history of art.
As intermediaries between established artists (and those who aspire to be professional artists) and collectors, Mogabgab observed, gallerists, work with “beauty and creation.”
Mogabgab talked to The Daily Star about her representing Lebanese artists overseas.
Q: What Lebanese artists do you represent? Do you represent any non-Lebanese artists?
A: [At the Paris Art Fair] I represented 10 artists, including two Lebanese: Fadia Haddad and Houda Kassatly. Haddad paints masks on canvas since 2002, but before 2002 she used to paint birds. I represented her in 1999 for the first year of Art Paris. Haddad has been living in France for 30 years. But for me, it has no significance. She is born and has worked in Lebanon.
Kassatly doesn’t have many photographs of animals but this one [exhibited in Art Paris] is a jewel. It was her second participation in the art fair.
The non-Lebanese artists I represented were China’s Li Wei, Japan’s Takayoshi Sakabe, France’s Charles Belle, Eric Poitevin, Christophe Bonacorsi and Quentin Garel, England’s Emma Rodgers and Belgium’s Pascal Bernier.
Q: How long have you been representing Lebanese artists abroad?
A: I have represented Hussein Madi in Sao Paulo’s  International Biennale. It was [Lebanon’s] first participation ... and actually its last. I did Art Paris in 1999 and then, I got accepted at the International Fair of Contemporary Art (FIAC). And it’s been two years I’m back in doing Art Paris.
Doing an art fair is a way to tell ourselves what is wrong, what we can improve with others and to question ourselves regarding others galleries and the press as well.
Q: Do you have any exhibitions planned for the coming year?
A: No, it is really tiring. For six days, I didn’t stop in Art Paris and I had to go to Lisbon for one day as well. It is fabulous but exhausting.
Q: Do you find you make more sales at art fairs or at freestanding (solo and group) exhibitions?
A: It is the same thing. We work a lot in Europe and in the region. But Lebanon is an important platform and Lebanese are the best customers in the whole region. They have at the same time culture, history, curiosity and audacity in investments.
Q: How do you decide which work by your Lebanese artists are worthy of international exhibition?
A: We usually present themed exhibitions abroad. The selection of the artists depends on the theme that was chosen. All the artists of the gallery are important and our goal is the success of these exhibitions.
Q: Can you make any observations about what kind of art collectors are looking for nowadays? Are collectors still interested in “Arab art,” or have they become more interested in art from “Asia,” for instance?
A: Interest in Lebanese art keeps on getting more important. Arabic art has significance thanks to Art Dubai. There is a certain awakening in people’s minds to buy art from the region. European galleries started to display Arab artists because there is curiosity.
Q: Do you consider your artists to be Arab/Lebanese artists first, or artists first?
A: No, I don’t pay attention to this. Visitors come for the exhibitions and that’s it. And many of them don’t come to my gallery because I don’t have the artists they think I should have. We are in a free country and art is a way of expressing that freedom.
I’ve been doing this job for 20 years and I like showing my experience.
One of the galleries’ policies is to keep the broad-mindedness that characterized Lebanese for many centuries. This is what I try to reflect in my work.
We should put all these persons [interested in art] together and see what happens. Art is a language, it is not a country. It is a universal way of expression that talks to all cultures and all languages. From the moment limits and frontiers are established, these [artistic] birds of a same cage are being separated. Why not put the birds all together and create a symphony?
What is interesting is to put Lebanese artists in a general artistic context. It shouldn’t be to stand up and say “I am Lebanese and all my artists are Lebanese.”
Q: Do you think collectors consider your artists to be Arab/Lebanese artists first, or artists first?
A: For our collectors, they are artists and creators first. From the moment an artist has a universal language, he/she cannot belong to a country anymore. He/she is the child of arts!
Q: Is it possible to generalize about the characteristics of “Lebanese” or “Arab” art that makes it distinct from work being made elsewhere in the world nowadays?
A: Of course, it is the starting point of any creation. Anywhere in the world, art has an identity, even traditions. The artist’s purpose is to go beyond that starting point and reach a new way of expressing him/herself. Some artists reached that state.
Q: How has the market for Lebanese artists changed over the years?
A: It is an important question, but the answer can be exhaustive and needs many precisions.