On January 15, the Beirut Art Center (BAC), Lebanon’s first major nonprofit art space, opened its doors to the public with “Closer,” an international group exhibition featuring prominent conceptual and new-media artists from West Asia, including Tony Chakar, Akram Zaatari and Lina Saneh from Lebanon and Palestinian artists Mona Hatoum and Emily Jacir. Open to the general public, the BAC promises a regular schedule of exhibitions, screenings, lectures and workshops, and is looking to partner with other local organizations to host and to facilitate events.
Spearheaded by Lebanese curator and gallerist Sandra Dagher, the 1,500-square-meter nonprofit art space is funded by private donors and corporate sponsors. The BAC’s founders and board members include new-media artist Lamia Joreige and performance artist Rabih Mroue, whose narrative work about Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war, How Nancy Wished That Everything Was an April Fool’s Joke (2007), ran afoul of local censors in August 2007.
Located in a remote industrial area, the BAC provides Beirut with a destination for art far from the galleries of the city’s tourist center and the chic Karantina district, home to the studio of architect Bernard Khoury and the Lebanese outpost of Hamburg-based Galerie Sfeir-Semler.
The two-story, multi-facility complex was designed by Lebanese architect Raed Abillama, and the BAC includes an exhibition space, a screening and performance room, a mediatheque and a bookshop. The BAC is intended as a platform for regional artists who, according to the mission statement, “face great difficulties due to the lack of financial and institutional support.” The mediatheque, housing a digital multimedia library of images, videos, sound pieces and art books, underscores the center’s importance as a much-needed source for scholarly research on the Lebanese art scene. The center is funded by private and corporate donors.