From the din of cultural initiatives, exhibitions, symposia, biennials, group shows, and surveys mounted to confront, mediate, meditate, cross-pollinate, advocate, decry, valorize, deny, expose, represent, reconsider, reappraise, reify, or, better yet, to re-unveil what it means to make, show, and sell art in the Middle East, Bidoun magazine responds with NOISE, an exhibition that opened December 11, 2009 at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut.
Between the first generation of post-9/11 cultural survey shows and the reflexive gymnastics of the next generation—which aimed to problematize the legitimacy of yet another regional survey while deliver one—Bidoun attempts to close its eyes and tune its ears to the white noise of the white cube.
As it happens, it does matter, but perhaps not in ways expected. Rather than curating works to illustrate problems plucked from a readymade critical lexicon, NOISE attempted to let these problems arise from, and give rise to, the works themselves, opening the door to the unexpected, and even to the uninvited. The exhibition’s point of departure was the space itself. Its location in Beirut gave it its critical acoustics, but it retained the conceited platonic generality of any clean post-industrial art space anywhere in the world.
Included in the show were a number of special commissions. A text piece by Lawrence Weiner ran along the gallery’s windows facing the Dora Highway. On the roof, a large neon sign by Vartan Avakian spelled out the previously unmarked gallery’s name in Devangari script, facing the neighborhood and its mostly Asian, mostly recent migrant population.
In one room of the gallery hung the unsold works of Syrian modernist painter Marwan from a retrospective earlier in the year. The room housing these paintings as well as other holdings from the gallery storeroom was dominated by an obtrusive white cube, leaving the paintings impossible to view except at an uncomfortably close proximity. Alongside a series of photorealist paintings of exhibition catalogs from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, artist Steven Baldi sealed off one entire side of the gallery with a glass wall, forcing visitors to retrace their steps to see the show in its entirety. Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck and Media Farzin contributed a sculptural installation that told the story of a cultural moment born of the Cold War that continues to have eerie resonance today. And Babak Radboy installed a section of gallery wall on loan from the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, along with a photograph of the corresponding hole left by its removal.
Also included was a new series of photographs by Walead Beshty printed from film damaged as it passed through Beirut’s airport security, as well as glass and copper sculptures destroyed in shipping, and a cartographic ping-pong table by Rayyane Tabet that traced the strange contours of a cultural exchange between an American drinking game and one of Lebanon’s most famous explosions.
Scattered throughout the space were a series of polaroids by Haris Epaminonda taken from the insides of obscure books and magazines, alongside an enigmatic video piece.
Yoshua Okon presented one and a half videos on the state of cultural production in his native Mexico, and Mounira Al Solh and Bassam Ramlawi made their painting debuts.
Also making her exhibition debut was gallerist Andrée Sfeir, as herself.
‘Noise’ was curated by Bidoun Senior Editor Negar Azimi and Creative Director Babak Radboy.
Gallery Sfeir-Semler Beirut: December 11, 2009–February 6, 2010