Mazen Kerbaj, inkjet on fine art paper
Beirut - Arabstoday
“Janine Rubeiz was my mother,” said Nadine Begdache, owner of Raouche’s Janine Rubeiz Gallery. In 1967, Rubeiz founded the Dar al-Fan cultural center, a place mingling art, poetry, politics and debate about them. Begdache created this gallery in 1995 in order to pay tribute to a figure who played such a key role in the country’s artistic, cultural and political scene.
Begdache spoke to The Daily Star about the role she sees herself playing as a gallerist.
Q: What artists do you represent?
A: I believed in young and contemporary artists. They all have something to say. I started with major artists like Chafic Abboud, Huguette Caland, Yvette Achkar. Some of them were already exhibited in foreign countries through Christie’s and Art Dubai. We are able to exhibit the works of our artists easier than before. And I have decided to be a gallery that promotes and defends Lebanese artists.
Every three years, I invite one major international artist. I believe in exporting Lebanese paintings because we have exceptional artists ... I either exhibit works by a Lebanese artist, or by a foreign one: I never mingle things. [In Art Dubai] I recently showed [an] installation made of Murano glass by Maria Kazoun.
I also had a movie by Shirin Abu Shaqra and a drawing by Mazen Kerbaj that was [mounted electronically].
Q: Do you find you make more sales at art fairs or at free-standing (solo or group) exhibitions?
We do sell at Art Fairs. Otherwise, we have no reasons to go. Participating at art fairs costs a lot, so we should sell and in the same time promote our artists. What is difficult to sell are installations and film videos.
We usually attend to enable people to know our artists. We sell abroad, but more to persons who came to our gallery in Beirut and who ask to purchase some of our exhibited artwork.
But it is obvious that with these fairs, sales abroad develop. Not necessarily at the fairs, but abroad in general.
Q: How do you decide which works by your Lebanese artists are worthy of international exhibition?
A: I don’t believe in an artist being a genius at 25 years old. The artist that I choose [to represent] has to have at least 15 years of works behind him before considering displaying the works in a solo exhibition. Someone can do an outstanding work at 25-27 years old. But we have to see if this lasts at least 10 years. We have to give time to judge things.
I got [my] artistic training indirectly. We don’t have to measure and calculate the canvas. [That’s] ridiculous. We have to feel the art. There has to be emotion first. There should also be the ability to differentiate between the beautiful and the ugly.
Q: How has the market for Lebanese artists changed over the years?
A: Arab art has boomed lately, Lebanese art much less. But step by step, they are people who know what to purchase. They have people around them guiding them. They want to learn. I respect them for that. My best Arab clients are exceptional. They have a magnificent culture and honesty.
Lebanese don’t want to learn anymore. They used to know a lot in the ’60 and ’70s, but now ... We, the older generation, have a lot of sorrow. We were the first who got into abstract art in the 1950s. We already had art galleries and we were among the best.
But we never had the artistic maturity to think of art as a means [of] economic and touristic development. None of our ministers understood that. We have to show that we have the ability and that we have artists. We want to do it in order to trigger some kind of revelation in the ministers’ minds.
The only Arab country that doesn’t have a museum of contemporary art is Lebanon. Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai have museums. There are museums in Saudi Arabia. We ... we should have been the first to have a museum of contemporary art ... [Development of] the country stopped at one point. We are burying ourselves in a country like Lebanon that deserves so much more.
The market for Lebanese art is good. We have many young artists, which means that we have a young audience. And with Art Dubai, people are starting to think that Lebanese art is valuable. In the past, it was mainly Western artworks. Art fairs opened foreign and Arab markets to us. But we usually count on the Lebanese art market.
Q: Do you consider your artists to be Arab/Lebanese artists first? Or as artists first?
A: I’m first attracted to the artwork. And it’s a supplement if it’s a Lebanese who lives abroad. When they live abroad I think it’s better, since there is always a reflection on memory and on identity. When they come to Lebanon, they meet Lebanese people. There is a work on communication and this is what I like.
The [relationship] I have with the artist is personal in a way. The idea being his/her works, his/her intellectual level and the fact he/she is Lebanese are important to me. The commercial aspect of art has no interest for me. Of course I have to sell, and I’m happy when I do so for the gallery to keep up. But if an artist is really commercial and I don’t like what he/she does, than I don’t represent him/her. I don’t choose him/her even though I know I might lose a lot.
Q: Is it possible to generalize about the characteristics “Lebanese” or “Arab” art that makes it distinct from work being made elsewhere in the world nowadays?
A: First of all, there are no frontiers to me. We are all mingled together, we have many openings with the French and American schools that were created all over the country. We always had an important blending of cultures, which means that even our artists think with that same broadmindedness, this absence of frontiers. We are not stuck in a country that we call a Mediterranean country.
There is nothing really specific in Lebanese art. What is interesting in art is actually this blending of cultures and civilizations. It is that blending that makes our combination artistically wealthy and exceptional. We feel there are memories.