Pascal Odille: Beirut Art Fair Is All About Identity!

In the middle of all the choas we are witnessing in our region for the past short while, adding to it an overall disappointment, come ART as lets say party crasher, breaks the heavy routine and bring out some beauty and even our pain in creative interactive sometimes sarcastic colors & shapes.

Beirut Art Fair (BAF) is one of my personally favorite art fairs in the region, perhaps because it was the first I ever wrote about & attended back in 2011, engaging this special growing attachment every year that keeps me anticipating what will next edition present or how will it grow?! Not to mention the fair is  held regardless of uncertain situation in Beirut, as an attempt to revive the city as a cultural hub in the Middle East & international scene.

Last March, while I was covering the extravaganda Art Dubai, I ran into Pascal Odille, Artistic Director of BAF, in the outdoor seating area – luckily the weather was perfect for a long chat about the upcoming fair in September, selection of participants, the new wave of merging ME.NA with far east art and consistancy in holding it as a “boutique art fair”… 

It seems upcoming edition of Beirut Art Fair carrys many clear changes, for example the timing, as it is held every year in July… Why moved it to September?

Pascal Odille (smiling): Change is good and the decision to change it is for a very important religious occasion in Islamic world in July which was Ramadan.,

So in 2013 there is change in date and clearly in BAF as an emerging Middle East. North Africa. South Asia fair…

Pascal Odille: Absolutely! In edition one we presented different proposal; asking each gallery to propose one master pieces per artist. Second edition in 2012 we brought back traditional definition of art fairs yet, focusing more on educational programs and non profit intiatives inside what we call boutique  fair, where we have small number of galleries, betweem 40 – 45, because we wanted to guarentee maximum visibility. 

I also like to highlight another aspect of BAF 2012 which is Design Section. Lebanon is popular to be home of sepctacular designers which made us want to boost and support in acclaimed art fair in Beirut, considering the strong  connection between contemporary art and design, so we thought it is logical to push design into modern art.

But wasnt it conradicting to present both at the same place?

Pascal Odille: Not really, because for the next edition in September we are presenting a new vision where we bring design and contemporary art closer to each other! It will be reflecting in display and showcase of all works creating a space where everything is alligned together. So as soon as you arrive in the fair you get to understand the concept. But when we talk about design we are bringing unique piece, not mass production since we are working we unique desigerns.

Who will curate the design section?!

Pascal Odille: For the moment what we have in the section is a booth dedicated to the young lebanese creators, by a team composed of partners of Beirut Art Fair and two Lebanese designers.

In addition to Design Section, what will the next edition of Beirut Art Fair bring to a region witnessing great competitions in art market? Taking into consideration the escalating level of fairs like established Art Dubai & strongly emerging Abu Dhabi Art… 

Pascal Odille: We are still attached to our subject and identity of Beirut Art Fair  which is the most dedicated art fair to MENASA: Middel East, North Africs & South Asia, and we don’t want to change it which galleries are required to show minimun of 6 works representing ME.NA.SA art.

Just like last year, we will host a dedicated pavillion for south east asia: indonesia, Malasiya, Philipense shown for the first time in the region; as art there is the “IT” subject at the moment, and although the mediums are different but there are many  similarities between middle eastern and south east asia art, which makes us confidenct of this move.

Courtesy to: Beirut Art Fair, 2012
Courtesy to: Beirut Art Fair, 2012

Since you brought up the subject of Middle East & Far East art and how they are related to each other, how do you view the similarity between two different regions & cultures?!

Pascal Odille: Thats a good question! In the Middle East; you can recognize Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi art because they all maintain same identity in body of work they produce, from sculptures to paintings, there is something special that makes it recognizable. Whereas in countries like Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia we can not see this difference anymore as their work is more and more tending to be global and merge with international flavors. The same can be witnessed in Far East and as I said the only difference is meduim they use.

It seems there will be a wider mixure of everything from around the globe and also Beirut where perhaps everyday a new talent is born but they don’t seem to find their way into fairs… I was chatting with a young Lebanese artist before seeing you and brought this subject up, how can an artist find his way to art fairs if they were not represented by a gallery?! 

Pascal Odille: That is a big problem and it is complicated especially in a country bursting with talents even from younger generations in all forms of art… You see an art fair must guarentee security to collectors and for that all artists must be represented by galleries. Moreover, there is something we should and especially artists must understand is: participating gallery should promote the artist who he can’t do it by himself, because you can not create and promote yourself and work, it is impossible.

Yet… I do understand the situation for emerging artists, that is why this year we worked and encourage independent and young artists to take part of intiatives orginazed with or under BAF ‘s umberella; like JABAL exhibition launched last May by FRANSA BANK that revealed 25 fresh talents not only from Beirut but also other Arab countries. Such intiatives give an oppertunity for galleries and artists to know each other and talents discovered, perhaps be lucky and make it to an art fair.  

I always tend to ask about the standards… What you look at when selecting artworks for BAF?

Pascal Odille: First thing we avoid artists who are represented by two – three  galleries because we want to have variety, fair exposure and oppertunity to all.

I see what you mean because sometimes you walk in an art fair and you feel its just too much …

Pascal Odille: I agree with you that’s why we stick to identity of our fair, a boutique fair that does not compose too much. We discuss with galleries the concept or theme to create harmony between all galleries and at the same time maintain confrontation between all exihibitors. We want visitors collectors and artists to feel comfortable and not distracted

At the end of our short chat, Pascal shared with me an exclusive scoop about BAF! In November 2014 the orginazors of Beirut Art Fair will handle Signafore Art Fair, where they will switch roles and bring this part of the world to Far East, an oppertunity to middle eastren galleries to be exposed in a dynamically booming art market! He assured that it won’t contradict with BAF, looking forward to see what will galleries from MENA will present… With a quote from Pascal Odille I conclude this article

We believe in national identity in all emerging countries and markets who overcome their differences, focus on similarities through the language of culture and art.


One Comment Add yours

  1. inaya says:

    a very nice and very chill interview with both sides laying it out as it is,,loved it

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