Monthly Archives: April 2016

New exhibition that look so great

Despite the fact that almost six decades elapsed between 1952 and her death in 2011, most of the obituaries for the artist Helen Frankenthalerdwelled on the year 1952, as if this marked the sum of her achievements.

It was undeniably an important year. It is when Frankenthaler, aged 23, painted Mountains and Sea using a technique of her own invention that would pave the way for a new movement in art. She stained raw canvas with pigments that had been thinned out with turpentine so that pools of color soaked directly into the fabric, rather than sitting on top.

Inspired by the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock’s technique of pouring paint directly on to canvas laid on the floor, Frankenthaler had created a work that became “a bridge between Pollock and what was possible”, according to the artist Morris Louis. He saw Mountains and Sea while visiting Frankenthaler’s studio with fellow artist Kenneth Noland and the imperious critic Clement Greenberg, who was Frankenthaler’s lover at the time. (That the visit was undertaken in Frankenthaler’s absence speaks to the gendered hierarchy of the period). Mountains and Sea sparked the color field movement, of which Frankenthaler, Noland and Morris were key protagonists.

The Gagosian exhibition folds into a revisionist trend centered on Frankenthaler’s work, seen also in last year’s Pretty Raw: After and Around Helen Frankenthaler, at the Rose Art Museum. It traced the tentacles of influence emanating from Frankenthaler’s process-driven art and her unleashing of color through subsequent generations of artists as diverse as Andy Warhol, Judy Chicago,Carroll Dunham, Lynda Benglis,Sterling Ruby, Mark Bradford and Laura Owens. “The generosity of Helen’s work is one of the reasons why it has been so open to so many other artists – they can find their own way of looking at it,” Elderfield says. “There is enough in the work for anyone to engage with.”

Such diverse responses are testament to Frankenthaler’s art. “If a work can be wrapped up easily then it usually isn’t very good. Helen made the kind of art that gives you a lot of problems when you engage with it. That happens when the work is deep enough and rich enough,” Elderfield says. “Helen was a radical: she never stopped inventing.”

Top art scene that you should know

The last 12 months in Beirut have seen the reopening of the historic Sursock Museum and the inauguration of Aïshti, a cutting-edge modern art foundation, while from 15-18 September the Beirut Art Fair will showcase 40 galleries from 18 countries. Then, at the end of the month, the doors will open for Beit Beirut, a centre dedicated to the memory of decades of conflict witnessed here. But if Beit Beirut aims to come to terms with the past, dynamic locals have their eyes set on future projects, and despite uncertainty in the surrounding region, the Lebanese capital has energy and enthusiasm in abundance. After visiting the new museums, rather than follow guidebook recommendations for the luxury downtown area, take a tour of the more bohemian quarters popping up: Badaro, Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh.

Sursock Museum

A symbol of Beirut’s renaissance is the reopening of the sumptuous Sursock Museum after a seven-year, £10m renovation supervised by renowned French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Built in 1912 in an extravagant mix of Ottoman and Venetian styles, the white, wedding-cake exterior of swirling balustrades has been left intact while Wilmotte has created a series of airy salons to exhibit the museum’s impressive collection of contemporary Lebanese art and provocative temporary shows such as the current Lets Talk About The Weather (until 24 October), where artists address the problems of climate change.
Free, Greek Orthodox Archbishopric Street, Ashrafieh, Open 10am-6pm daily, except late-night Thursday (noon-9pm) and Tuesdays (closed)

Aïshti Foundation

The decision of businessman Tony Salamé to commission a private museum in his home town to showcase his contemporary art collection has put Beirut back on the global art map. The venture is comparable to François Pinault’s private museum in Venice and Bernard Arnault’s Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. Designed by British architect David Adjaye, Aïshti covers four floors, currently exhibiting 170 pieces by the likes of Lucio Fontana, Urs Fischer and Alice Channer from Salame’s collection of an estimated 2,000 works. Salamé made his millions retailing luxury fashion brands, and the building also houses a futuristic shopping mall alongside the foundation’s art exhibitions – as well the swish ArtPeople cafe.
Seaside Road, Antelias,


Opened by a jewellery designer, a gallery owner and architect of Beit Beirut Youssef Haidar, Gramm is a fragrant emporium of shelves stocked high with herbs and spices, honey and olive oil, dried flowers, date molasses and grape vinegar, mountain cheeses and Lebanese wines from the vineyards of Batroun and the Bekaa valley. The deli also doubles as a casual lunchtime cafe for Lebanese meze, serving afternoon tea and early evening aperitifs. Local specialities are the pink pepper, baef rose, aromatic za’atar spice, orange blossom and sticky-sweet Maamoul cakes.
El Artz Street, Saifih, on Facebook. Open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm

Under Construction

Mar Mikhael is the nightlife centre of Beirut, and the main drag, Armenia Street, is alive with bars, bistros and clubs. Kick off with cocktails, an absinthe or a glass of arak at Anise, probably the coolest bar in town, followed by a huge burger at The Happy Prince, made from dry-aged black angus beef. Then, on to the latest bar to make its mark on Armenia Street. The unfinished, half-renovated facade of Under Construction could be a metaphor for the whole city. Inside, the roomy concrete and industrial-themed interiors are packed out till the early hours.