Born seven years ago, the fair’s participants are the Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian galleries and their artists. Nevertheless, some of the 14 million people from the Lebanese diaspora around the world grant a very large attendance (19 countries were represented this year). Despite fierce competition for leadership in this new, large, regional art market, Beirut claims its long tradition of creative competency while Dubai favours its financial network. No doubt both are valid.
Beirut Art Fair retains its collectors by offering a contextual and friendly environment. This year, it increased it cultural offerings by showcasing Lebanon Modern and Revealing, on top of which were the Byblos Photography Prize and Beirut Art Week’s itinerary through the city. Another intelligent move on the part of Laure d’Hautevillle, the fair’s director, was the election of a committee comprised of three major local collectors: Basel Dalloul, with a pan-Arab collection of 3500 pieces; Abraham Karabajakian, who with his partner Roger Akoury very much focus on modern and contemporary Lebanese art; and Tarek Nahas, standing in front of a pertinent worldwide photography collection.
Last but not least, the Lebanese take great pride in their heritage; within the past two years several new projects have materialised: the Sursock Museum opened in Beirut, dedicated to modern and contemporary Lebanese painting; the Aïshti Foundation invested in Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye’s building whereby a shopping centre has been combined with an exhibition space featuring an interesting international contemporary art collection; and the Dar El-Nimer Foundation sprang up, as well, to celebrate Palestinian art and culture. In parallel, brand new galleries – such as Marfa Projects and Saleh Barakat Gallery – have developed a very good programme, and their spaces are on par with those of the New York protagonists. The happy, creative, and cosmopolitan atmosphere of Beirut is in full swing.