Modern Art, Mountain High
Modern Art, Mountain High
The Modern and Contemporary Art Museum in picturesque Alita is playing a pivotal role by preserving the past and filling the voids for the next generation, as co-founder Cesar Nammour explains
When the art historian Cesar Nammour put out a request for documents about contemporary Lebanese art as part of a bid to begin a long-planned archiving and preservation project, it never occurred to him that the response would be on quite such a large scale.
Nammour, who has been a well-known personality on Lebanon’s art scene since the 1950s, explains that having produced 25 books about local artists, he and his partner, Gabriela Schaub, decided they wanted to set up a library with a view to collating literature on this fascinating subject and making it more widely available.
He recalls that following their appeal, the two of them were inundated with books and other documents that they put in boxes to begin working through. “I realised that they were far too interesting to leave stored away and deserved to be available to view and use,” he says.
The project became a reality in 2010, with the opening of the RectoVerso library in Monot Street, Beirut. A treasure trove of more than 1400 titles on art in Lebanon, complete with database, the library quickly became the go-to destination for art lovers and experts.
And, three years later, the next phase of Nammour’s dream was realised, with the opening of the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (MACAM).
Operated by a not-for-profit society that was co-founded by Nammour and Schaub, the museum is located in a reconverted factory compound in picturesque Alita that was donated to MACAM.
Nammour explains that his key aim, when setting up the museum, had been “filling the gaps” caused by years of war. “We noticed when documenting the art of the 1980s that none of the installations from that period still existed,” he says. “We put word out that we had a dedicated factory in Alita to preserve installations after they were dismantled at the end of an exhibition.”
In just one year, the number of installations received had surpassed Nammour’s expectations, leaving him in no doubt of the demand for a venue dedicated to modern and contemporary Lebanese art.
Overlooking both the Mediterranean Sea and the Adonis Valley, the museum is truly one of a kind, boasting breathtaking views and expansive exhibition space. Nammour explains that MACAM today puts on a variety of themed exhibitions and also houses a permanent show of 500 pieces of modern and installation art by 85 local artists. Titled ‘PANORAMA OF SCULPTURE IN LEBANON’, the permanent exhibition features works of wood, metal and stone, dating from the early 1920s to the present day. Pieces by Nada Sehnaoui and the late Mario Saba are among those on show.
Nammour says that the reaction of first-time visitors to the museum is often: “Wow!” “Because we’re up in the mountains in a small village, visitors simply don’t expect to find 4000 square metres of open space housing so much art and artefacts,” he explains.
He is convinced that the ambience inspires both artists and visitors. “We are surrounded by nature in all its glory and history at its richest,” he says. “In fact, we hold many activities outdoors. We are firm believers that art and nature are closely linked. ‘Respire in nature, inspire in art’ is, in fact, our motto.”
Nammour is particularly keen to introduce a new audience to the wealth of art created in Lebanon and ensure a legacy is in place for future generations. “The war generation knows very little about art of the previous generations,” he says. “Artworks have been endangered and some lost, because they were not documented or preserved.”
The museum pays tribute to a prominent Lebanese artist every year with a retrospective exhibition. Featured artists to date include: Zaven Hadichian (works in bronze, 2013); Youssef Basbous (works in wood, 2014); and Boulos Richa (works in iron, 2015).
Competitions are also organised in parallel on an annual basis. Nammour explains that following on from the Age of Bronze, Wood, Iron and Recycling, 2017 will be the Age of Ceramics.
“We are now fostering creativity in this ancient art and will be honoring Lebanon’s first ceramist, Dorothy Salhab Kazemi, who died in 1990, in a retrospective exhibition. We also plan to build a kiln,” Nammour adds. A somewhat apt initiative, perhaps, for a space that in years gone by made multi-layered craft paper bags for cement and hydrated lime.
For more info on MACAM, visit its website at: www.macamlebanon.org