Preserving the power of positivity

Fadi Basbous, director of the Alfred Basbous Foundation, reflects on a year in which he hopes the region’s Modernists have inspired the next wave of artists, providing them with the strength to persevere. 

As has proved to be true for so many of us in 2020, the slower tempo of lockdown provided Fadi Basbous, Director of the Basbous Foundation, and his team with an opportunity to focus on a major project that had until then remained on the backburner. 

The task in question, Fadi explained, was readying the vast archive of work by his father and the namesake of the foundation, the Lebanese pioneer of modernist sculpture, Alfred Basbous, for cataloguing in digital format. 

Alfred Basbous with Sir Henry Moore. London 1971.
Courtesy of Alfred Basbous Foundation archive

“Lockdown allowed us more time to dig deep into the archives and really peruse the material,” he said. “Before the pandemic arrived, we were too busy with external commitments to focus on this important project. In fact, I can honestly say we’ve made more progress with it in the past six months than in the past five years!”

While 2020 has inevitably been quieter than previous years, the foundation’s calendar certainly hasn’t been empty. A milestone collective exhibition at Galerie Tanit titled ‘A Glimpse into the Past’, featuring works by Basbous and some of the region’s other best-known contemporary and modernist artists, was a key focal point, running from May 27 to July 17 and providing a rare and welcome opportunity for audiences to see a fine selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures up close. 

Fadi explained that with the new generation of Lebanese artists struggling to accommodate the twin challenges of a pandemic and a revolution, the timing felt right for a collective of this nature. “Aside from the practical advantages of a show featuring the work of Lebanon’s modernists, it was also about providing the new generation of artists with some positivity - a glimpse of their culture heritage and legacy, while encouraging them to persevere in difficult times,” he said. 

Significantly, the exhibition came to a close only a couple of weeks before the huge explosion that rocked Beirut, leaving more than 200 dead, thousands injured and causing catastrophic damage across the city. “Luckily we had moved the pieces from the show one week before and put them in a warehouse where they were safe, but devastatingly, the gallery was very badly damaged,” Fadi explained. 

With the pandemic yet to abate and Lebanon’s myriad problems far from resolved, Fadi acknowledged that digital platforms such as ArtScoops are playing a key part in keeping the art scene going through the crisis. “Technology has proved to be crucial to counter the recent disruptions, with virtual platforms really coming into their own of late,” he said. “We’ve been delighted to cooperate with ArtScoops, which is doing an excellent job at what is undoubtedly a difficult time for the industry and will, I’m sure, continue to play a part in the future in complementing physical shows and events.” 

Alfred Basbous with René Collamarini. Paris 1961.
Courtesy of Alfred Basbous Foundation archive

Meantime, he and his team have been working hard to keep the Alfred Basbous Museum in the artist’s home village of Rachana, going. A UNESCO protected site, the space houses a permanent collection of Basbous’s work, alongside pieces by 78 other renowned artists, and a studio. It is also the headquarters of the foundation, which was established in 2004 with the aim of ensuring the Basbous legacy is maintained through a variety of initiatives that range from international exhibitions to the distribution of grants to arts organisations and research. 

One of Lebanon’s most famous and talented artists, Basbous earned global recognition for his intriguing sculptures, which meld his heritage with the traditions of modern sculptors such as Jean Arp, August Rodin, Henry Moore and Constantin Brancusi, while also looking back to Greek mythology and ancient Phoenician forms. Basbous remained faithful to his love for the aesthetic principles of line, shape, movement and material, expressing form in its purest, simplest sense, devoid of embellishments and angles, while working mostly with marble and bronze. Today his work is showcased in many private and public collections, including the Rodin in Paris, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan, while his sculptures grace many outdoor spaces locally and globally. His pieces are regular fixtures in sales at the most prestigious auction houses, including Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Christie’s and the world’s leading art fairs. 

Like Lebanon’s contemporary artists, Basbous worked through many crises, including years of war, and yet his art remained constantly aesthetically pleasing rather than reflective of the horrors surrounding him. Fadi believes this chosen approach was inextricably entwined with his father’s philosophy that art should bring stability to humanity. “My father never lost faith in the power of positivity or the importance of appreciating beauty which he could relay through his art,” he said. “As far as the art scene today is concerned, I believe it’s doing its best to preserve the legacy of our heritage. The challenges are huge, but hopefully these dark days will pass and the new generation will have something to feel positive about.” 

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