Author Archives: marieiphigenie

Canticle of Death: Tagreed Darghouth’s skulls at Agial

Darghouth has come a long way since her slightly awkward, albeit conceptually powerful, period where she exposed the Lebanese’s obsession with plastic surgery. (Later, she denounced another Lebanese obsession: mistreating foreign domestic workers.) This time, her topic of choice, the eeriest one to date, is weapons of mass destruction.

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What happened during last month’s auctions? Or, M. indulges her newfound passion for numbers

On October 25th and 26th , Christie’s Dubai held two auctions of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art; a day earlier, Ayyam Dubai held its 11th auction of Middle Eastern Art. How do they compare to April 2011 auctions, and can any trends be identified concerning Lebanese art prices?

Like last time, click on pictures to zoom in!

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A glance at what Lebanese art is worth, or, M. tries to conquer her fear of numbers and excel spreadsheets

 ETA 02/11/2011: A typo inadvertendly occurred concerning Flavia Codsi’s most recent auction result. It is USD 18,000 and not USD 10,800.

The following is an attempt to answer a question I have been interested in for a long time: what is Lebanese art worth?

One way to answer this question is to visit galleries, another is to look at auction results.

Obviously, the auction numbers do not cover each and every living and deceased Lebanese artist. Some of them never appear at auction because none of their works are available on the market, some dealers prefer not to participate in auctions, some artists do not like to their works to appear at auction for whatever reason;.. so these numbers are unfortunately incomplete.

Much has been made of the auctions initiated by Christie’s (2006) in Dubai, followed by Sotheby’s (2008) in Doha and later Ayyam Gallery in Dubai and Beirut. From the onset (and I will speak strictly of Lebanese art), prices were set higher than ever before for deceased artists. For living artists however, estimates tend to mirror gallery prices (see charts 2 and 3).

But for every work that breaks records such as Abboud or Baalbaki, many barely make the reserve price and some do fail to sell.

What I attempt to do here

I compiled the auctions results at all Christie’s Dubai auctions from April 2006 to April 2011. Unfortunately, Sotheby’s Doha results are not available online (or I was not internet-savvy enough to find them). I also compiled all the results from Ayyam auctions that were available online (April 2011).

As a point of comparison, I ran a search for Lebanese artists on Christie’s website to find instances of Lebanese artists sold at auction in Europe but could only find a couple measly results, so I did not take these into account. Fortunately, Sotheby’s disastrous October 2011 London auction came to the rescue to offer allow us a tentative comparison between Lebanese art’s draw in Europe vs. the Middle East.


1.I charted the number of times Lebanese artists were sold at auction by Christie’s in Dubai, and how many of these times they were sold within, under or over estimation. Then I did the same for the Ayyam auctions, and Sotheby’s recent London auction.

2.I compared Christie’s Dubai results to Sotheby’s London results

3.For every artist that appeared at auction more than once over the past five years, I charted his or her price evolution to try and identify trends.

4.I weighted each lot equally, regardless of technique and importance within the artist’s oeuvre, i.e. a lithograph from the beginning of a career has the same weight as the artist’s ultimate masterpiece

The results of my findings appear after every chart, followed by general remarks, after the jumb (CLICK TO ZOOM IN ON CHARTS)

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Saifi Village Quartier des Arts?

The Introduction to the Adventure

Last Saturday, I found myself walking around Saifi Village with the conversation inevitably turning to the pros and cons of this neighbourhood’s very existence. (Pros: but it’s pretty! Cons: why is it only the nouveaux riches that live in pretty houses? )

Trying to escape the irritating lack of substance of such a discussion I ventured in corners of the Village never properly explored by your servant (oh the irony of calling it a village will never end) .

At some point, I turned right,walked down the alleyway, and found was met with an unassuming wihte-framed window, adorned with a black sans-serif inscription, in all its late-twentieth-century modernity: piece unique. (no accent on pièce, i too had to look twice). So far, the only unique thing about it seems to be its utter lack of visual identity and interior design. Confused by blandness, I walked in wondering what was the conceptual line between a white room with stuff hung on its walls and an art gallery.*

The wonderful S. covered their last exhibit  in these very pages, but I had missed it, and had to content myself with the present one: Artists for Peace, which did a surprisingly good job of being on my facebook’s radar for a disproportionate amound of time. Its selling point, which  doubles as a redeeming factor for its existence, is that it was organized by the   Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Lebanon, an NGO dedicated to helping the poor in many fields, medical, social, rural development, educational, emergency response. All the proceeds of Artist for Peace thus go to working towards peace initiatives in Lebanon – uncontestably a noble and laudable idea.

Putting all causes involved aside, I think one can still discuss the experience of Pièce Unique.

I will now announce so we are all clear: this is not a piece of art criticism, it is a lighthearted description and impressions of an art gallery visit. (Us at the BAC team also do actual criticism, except not in this particular article. Feel free to browse the archives or wait for upcoming posts).

The Unfolding of the Adventure

I walk in.

– Good afternoon!

No answer, not even a blank stare

– Could you please tell me which one of the works is Guinevere Vanderbilt’s?”

– Guinevere WHO?

– Guinevere Vanderbilt-Rockefeller

– It’s the blue one

– Sorry, which blue one?

– (Visibly annoyed, in the tone of a menopausal bulldog ) THE ONE IN THE CORNER

Pièce Unique’s staff shines with their good manners. Deep inside, I felt a little bit offended because the lady didn’t think I could be a client and wasn’t worth the effort. I suppose she does not care about selling anyway, she is not getting a commission.

And that’s really starting a trend, after S.’s curator incident.

Yet, undeterred by this inauspicious start, I politely request a price list.

– On the table.

I fish the price list out of a pile of neglected brochures thrown on a table in the center of the room. Reasonable prices indeed, good strategy for a charity event.

Looking around, I see about twenty correctly-executed drawings, paintings, and collages and a bit of photography. Good feelings are emphasized (some works verge on the tearjerker, but that’s their purpose.) Self-reflection is encouraged. And this ends my quick description of a mostly inoffensive show that mostly failed to catch my attention, except for nice examples of small works by Zena Assi and Nada Sehnaoui.

The End of the Adventure

Now, To preempt any accusations of repeated assaults on the undeserving, the poor and the helpless and to explain why I bothered to write about a non-incident

1. The place is Solidere-run. (oh no she went there!) By which I mean – Solidere is a large, competent institution that is largely capable of providing its clients with a better quality of service. Moreover, the state of neglect of the gallery itself should be remedied. It reflects badly on an organisation that fashions itself sophisticated to run a gallery where lighting is not properly studied, there are no captions near the works except for dirty stickers with numbers, and price lists are printed on A4s with ballpen scribbled on top. Furthermore, Pièce Unique enjoys an enviable spot in the heart of downtown Beirut and could be put to good use to showcase the best of what Lebanese art has to offer, if indeed its owners pride themselves on showing tourists, and the Lebanese too, shiny side of Lebanon’s capital city.

2. I had never planned to visit Pièce Unique and the present piece represents my accidental musings prompted by a chance visit to the gallery on a rainy Saturday, added to my bad case of procrastination. Next article will be epic and just needs more research, and i’m terrible with excel sheets.



* I know the two can be purposely blended. Still, I’m not sure a commercial space should be uninviting.


Dial 911 for the new Middle East: a promenade

Protagonists: Ranine, Marie

Occasion: The Feel Collective, Dial 911 for the new Middle East, The Running Horse Contemporary art Space

Date and time: Thursday 15 September, 3 PM (Exhibition is on til 24 September)

Too bad we missed the opening on 9/11. Or, let us rephrase it, too bad we missed the performances by Paed Conca , Stéphane Rives and Fadi Tabbal from ‘under the carpet’, and then the Incompetents…

We came to the Running Horse the following Thursday, exhausted by three hours of driving around looking for cupcakes (by the way, we still don’t know where the best in town can be found. Marie still claims she can beat any bakery, but I’m skeptical…. Anyway, back on track)

Us being Ranine and Marie, we had to start our visit by the end. With the office at the back of the room. To all our museum studies professors: YES WE BROKE SOCIETY’S ARBITRARY RULES AND THE DICTATORSHIP OF EXHIBITION SPACES AS PROCESSIONAL TEMPLES! Now shoot us or applaud, whatever you prefer.

Out of the gallery’s offices, we stumble upon the design corner. Kind of like when you visit a museum and you can leave with a  mug printed with a famous painting, except edgier and 100 percent local production. There are t-shirts, scarves, ipad cases in a variety of colours, all decorated with patterns derived from the exhibition’s artwork, such as airplanes or Kalashinkov AK-47 guns  (we guess this was it). We say thumbs up to the nicely designed, locally-made, clever products, to art as fashion and art as design as fashion. The prices? More art-collector-friendly…

We promise we’re starting with the proper exhibition review. Only, the wrong way around and back again. Sorry.

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Your guide to Beirut back-to-school exhibitions! (or, M. puts her foot in her mouth yet again and judges shows by their invitation cards)

Sun is still shining, kids everywhere are resuming their regular diet of picon sandwiches, and the Beirut art scene is slowly emerging from its summer lethargy.

What should you look forward to? What’s not to be missed? What should I avoid? I know, we always complain about the dearth of artistic activities available to Beirutis, but when you compile a real list of what’s going on (without even delving about the performing arts) things begin to seem like any art outing’s going to be really hard to cram in your already tightly-packed workweek.

But I’m here to help!!!!

 This handy little guide will save you hours of pointless traffic jams (unless you like traffic jams, and wasting time looking at third-rate art, in which case you probably also feel better about yourself when your skin is a nice shade of orange, and have been known to attend things called “events” at places called “rooftops” . Whatever floats your boat, I won’t judge).


Without further ado, in chronological order of opening:

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Zaha Hadid à l’Institut du Monde Arabe

Marie Nour Héchaimé

Paris, Août 2011

En bonne libanaise à Paris, je me devais d’aller faire un tour à l’Institut du Monde arabe, où se tient l’exposition Zaha Hadid, Une Architecture. Cette dernière y présente une rétrospective de son œuvre à travers une sélection internationale de certains projets tels que la tour Spirale de l’Université de Barcelone, le projet Guggenheim à Singapour ou encore le Centre des Arts Vivants d’Abou Dhabi. L’exposition se déroule dans une structure créée par Hadid elle-même en 2007 pour Chanel et qui a été offert à l’IMA au début de l’année 2011. Ce pavillon mobile intitulé Mobile Art, conçu initialement pour être transporté de ville en ville et inspiré par le langage visuel de Chanel, a la forme d’un escargot ou d’un vaisseau spatial, ou encore d’un « donut » selon les dires de l’architecte. Il doit abriter dans le futur des expositions temporaires autour de la création arabe contemporaine.

Zaha Hadid est sans doute l’architecte arabe la plus renommée. Née en 1950, d’origine irakienne, elle a fait des études de mathématiques à l’université américaine de Beyrouth avant de poursuivre des études d’architecture à la prestigieuse Architectural Association School of Architecture de Londres, ville où elle continue  de vivre. En 2004, elle obtient le prix Pritzker, considéré comme le Nobel de l’architecture.

Bien que je sois profane en matière d’architecture, je m’attendais à découvrir une exposition surprenante retraçant le parcours de Hadid de façon didactique, où la complexité de la création architecturale serait démasquée et sa simplicité serait révélée.

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