The duo reorienting the art world

BEIRUT: “We’re interested in refuting strict categories of center-periphery ... in creating dialogue between art institutions and artistic practitioners from different places,” Sam Bardaouil says.

“We have to open up the foundation to reflect the global nature of what’s happening in contemporary art today. For us, the Middle East, India, Africa, South America were very important next steps.”

“What we’re hoping to do in the mid- to long term is to make it an index of best practices of patronage, of people that we feel have the biggest impact,” Till Fellrath adds.

“What a patron means in Lebanon is very different from what a patron can do in Germany, where you have a lot of state funding ... The models we’re highlighting are really quite diverse – ranging from art schools to individual patronage to residency programs to building and supporting public institutions and collections.”

Bardaouil and Fellrath, aka Art Reoriented, have curated critically lauded art exhibitions all over the world. Habitues of Lebanon’s modern and contemporary art scene, they’ve helmed such shows as Akram Zaatari’s installation at the Lebanese pavilion of the 2013 Venice Art Biennial and, in 2013-14, “The Human Condition,” the sweeping Paul Guiragossian retrospective staged at the (now defunct) Beirut Exhibition Center.

When Art Reoriented returned to Beirut recently it was not as curators but as co-chairs of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation, a position they assumed about two years ago. Montblanc’s reception at Askhal Alwan was held to present the foundation’s annual Arts Patronage Award to Lebanese-born, Swiss-based collectors Philippe and Zahia (Zaza) Jabre.

Launched in 1992, MCF describes its mission as being “to promote innovative thinking through supporting the arts worldwide.” The foundation’s patronage prize disburses 250,000 euros annually, awarding 15,000 euros to each of 17 figures recognized for their support of the arts.

By Montblanc’s reckoning, in the past 26 years the foundation has honored nearly 300 patrons in 17 countries with a sum approaching five million euros.

It’s no coincidence that the Montblanc Prize was first awarded to Lebanese citizens during Bardaouil and Fellrath’s chairmanship and, as they informed The Daily Star, it’s not the only way they’d like to move the foundation forward.

Increasing the geographical breadth of the German-based foundation has been a priority for Bardaouil and Fellrath. Among the new territories they’ve taken Montblanc is Bangladesh, presenting the MCF’s 2017 patronage award to Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani, sponsors of the Dhaka Art Summit. The Samdanis received their award in Dubai, marking the first time a Montblanc prize was presented in the Middle East.

Art Reoriented has also diversified how foundation largesse reaches artists. Complementing Montblanc’s patronage award, Bardaouil and Fellrath have founded a program of young artists’ commissions. In 2018, artists from Nigeria, the United States and France received commissions.

Nigerian-born ruby onyinyechi amanze’s new project will be staged at the Sao Paulo Biennale in the fall of 2018. Mercedes Dorame’s commission will debut at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum in 2018.

Also in the in the fall of 2018, new work by Emmanuelle Laine will be unveiled at the HENI Project Space of London’s Hayward Gallery. After their exhibition debut, the commissioned artworks will join the foundation’s contemporary art collection in Hamburg.

“If you look at most other cultural foundations associated with luxury brands,” Bardaouil says, “they end up opening a mega-museum, putting their collection on display in one place” as a means of finding legitimacy.

“We felt that we’d like to go out and use the resources that are put in our hands to facilitate things happening where they are already happening,” he adds.

“I think there’s a responsibility to support and enable artists to work,” Fellrath rejoins. “This commissioning program will allow us to build a collection in a different way, while connecting and supporting a lot of artists and organizations elsewhere.”

“We’re still meeting the objectives of our mandate,” Bardaouil nods, “but we’re doing it in a way that can reflect positively on many other components and players in the art world ecosystem.

“Similarly when we go out to support a patron in Beirut, it’s not about giving the Jabres 15,000 euros ... Through them, the money goes to one of the [artistic or educational] organizations they support. The impact multiplies and you highlight an example you wants others to follow.

“The ripples are felt in Beirut, or Dhaka, wherever we are.”

Art Reoriented have also shored up the consultative process that determines which patrons the foundation will recognize.

The Montblanc Foundation chairs don’t enjoy complete impunity when choosing laureates. Each year they consult a body of fifty international nominators – artist collaborators Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige were among those who nominated the Jabres for the 2018 patronage prize.

As Fellrath notes, one of the reasons Art Reoriented may have been chosen to chair the foundation is the curators’ diverse network of artists, practitioners, curators and patrons.

This professional network was formalized at the Venice Biennale in May 2017 to form “The Curatorium.” Rotating every two years, this body is responsible for nominating and choosing candidates for the patronage award and for aiding in Montblanc art collection acquisitions.

Curatorium members for the 2018 art patronage award were Palais de Tokyo’s Jean de Loisy, Tate St Ives artistic director Anne Barlow, Franklin Sirmans, director of Perez Art Museum Miami, Kim Sun-jung, chief curator of the Gwangju Biennale and Pinacoteca de Sao Paolo director Jochen Volz.

“I think it’s a way of making the foundation more legitimate,” Bardaouil muses, “so it’s not all celebrities. It’s experienced people from the industry who are having an impact on who gets awarded.”

Over the long term, Fellrath and Bardaouil would like to consolidate the Montblanc Foundation’s importance as an artist resource.

“After two or three more years ... it would be great if one of the first names that come to mind among young artists – artists with a big project they’re struggling to fund – is the Montblanc Foundation.

“I know Montblanc is genuinely excited about supporting big projects,” Bardaouil says. “That’s perhaps one of the things I’d like to see the foundation achieve.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2018, on page 16.




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