Beirut Art Space Espace SD Closes


In an act that shocked many in the Lebanese art scene, Beirut contemporary art gallery Espace SD closed its doors in April after eight years of operation and nearly 100 exhibitions. Founder and director Sandra Dagher decided to close her multi-level commercial space in order to pursue other local and international art projects, including a planned non-profit venue devoted to contemporary art. Dagher co-curated “Forward,” the inaugural Lebanon Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale this summer, which brought together artists examining the country’s history of political turmoil.

Espace SD was one of the few galleries in Beirut to regularly exhibit contemporary art. With multiple exhibition areas, a library, an experimental installation space for artists known as “the Lab” and rooms designated for film screenings and conferences, the gallery was a gathering place for artists, intellectuals and the public. From its beginning, Espace SD established itself as an important outlet for Lebanese artists by exhibiting the work of sculptor Saloua Raouda Choucair and architect Nadim Karam, while also promoting up-and-coming artists such as Mazen Kerbaj.

For artist and curator Zena el-Khalil, who began showing with Espace SD in 2004, Dagher’s gallery was central to the growth of the Lebanese art scene: “Because of its down-to-earth nature, Espace SD provided an open platform for both emerging and established artists. Sandra’s approach was not purely commercial. Espace SD was a for-profit gallery with a non-profit atmosphere.”

It remains unclear what kind of ramifications the closing will have on the Beirut scene. Since the 2006 Israeli invasion and the subsequent political stand-off between anti- and pro-government factions, many Lebanese artists, curators and art dealers are looking outside the country for exhibition opportunities and sponsorship. Many cite the lack of government and public funding for the arts as a critical reason for this outward turn, a point underscored by the organization of this year’s Lebanon Pavilion, which was funded exclusively by private donors.

However, Dagher emphasizes, “We are not closing because of economic or political factors. This decision was taken more than a year ago. Now more than ever Lebanon needs platforms and projects for artists because the potential in the country is high. Unfortunately, with the current situation, cultural activities have slowed down, but I think it is important to persevere.”