when it comes to modern art, beirut has an impressive track record that often surprises those unfamiliar with this dynamic city. its origins and concept may have come from elsewhere, but over time the interest, appreciation, and also creation, have arguably taken root here like nowhere else in the middle east. last year, the eagerly anticipated reopening of sursock museum – an influential institution that has shaped and defined the lebanese capital's art scene from the early 1960s until the disruptive civil war – and the inauguration of aïshti foundation, an imposing monolithic structure that's home to the region's largest privately owned modern art collection, have both given much needed impetus to cultural life in the city.
however, beirut's art scene continues to evolve, and also sees stellar small-scale initiatives that deserve global attention. as the owner of agial art gallery and with a plethora of curatorial projects under his belt, saleh barakat is a prominent player in the local art scene, and certainly one who aims to set new boundaries. in celebration of his gallery's 25th anniversary, barakat decided to launch a second exhibition space, aptly called saleh barakat gallery, and picked the former premises of a storied cinema theatre in the swanky kantari neighbourhood. at 900 sqm. [9,688 sq.ft.] spread over two floors, it's an exceptionally large space that has proven to lend itself well to art exhibits, especially after the stellar makeover by by local architecture practice l.e.ft.
although the entrance is on street level, the actual exhibition space is well below ground, and can be reached by newly installed staircase that also connects a mezzanine floor with offices on its winding way down. much of the building's original architectural elements has been retained in honour of its history, but are paired with new elements to create a distinctly modern environment. the ceiling of the theatre has been renovated to highlight its steel catwalks, transforming it into a repository for the gallery lighting, both ambient and accent lighting. a new electric chain hois is fore fronted in the ceiling of the ground floor to carry the art work crates down to the main gallery space.
storage aisles on either side of the main gallery space have been turned into intimate art galleries, and in the lower basement a sizeable archive gallery was also created for private client meetings. similarly to its sister establishment, saleh barakat gallery predominantly aims to exhibit homegrown talent. its inaugural show has recently closed, but the venue is currently in preparation of the next art showcase which is due to open coming fall. location: minkara building, rue justinien [kantari].
© l.e.ft / photography: ieva saudargaite