Lebanon’s virtual museum makes art more accessible
Beirut - The collection of modern art in Lebanon has become more accessible to art lovers sitting comfortably at computer screens in their living rooms or cybercafé.
The Lebanese Ministry of Culture has launched the National Virtual Museum of Modern Art (NVMMA), featuring some 500 works by contemporary and older artists.
The project was created in collaboration with experts from the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts and Balamand University.
“The Ministry of Culture has been undertaking a number of projects to further promote the Lebanese fine arts and culture. Developing the National Museum of Modern Art Virtual website goes in line with that objective,” Minister of Culture Raymond Araiji said.
He said the Ministry of Culture has a huge art collection, part of which was displayed at the presidential palace and at the government seat in the Grand Serail.
“But a significant number of the paintings and sculptures remained undisplayed, which the ministry deemed that they should be shown to the public. To do so, meant building a museum, which in turn necessitates a costly infrastructure. That is how the idea of a virtual museum saw the light,” Araiji said.
After downloading the free onsite programme needed to navigate the virtual museum, visitors can survey electronic reproductions of more than 500 artworks from the ministry’s 1,800-work collection in addition to archival footage and interviews from the artists whose works appear in the permanent collection. Currently offered in Arabic, English and French, the website is to soon include a Spanish version.
Araiji highlighted the museum’s potential to make the art accessible on an international scale. “Not only would that grant the public the opportunity to have access to these otherwise inaccessible collections but also helps establish a national inventory of Lebanese contemporary art,” he said.
“On the other hand, the Lebanese diaspora can also visit the website and gain insight into the evolution of the Lebanese fine arts movement and its journey,” Araiji added.
The project team leader, Saleh Barakat, owner of Agial Art Gallery, explained the content of the website.
“The contemporary art scene is present and operating. What is missing is the historical part. For those who say ‘Why are you focusing on the older people?’, it’s because the older people are not here anymore,” Barakat said.
“We are defending and preserving this memory because nobody else would have done it. Every contemporary artist has a website but who is defending Khalil Saleeby, Cesar Gemayel and Khalil Zgaib?”
A crucial first step, as Barakat asserted, was making an inventory.
“The government collection was bought directly from the artists, which makes the authentication reference fantastic. The first part of the process was really to go throughout the inventory and archive every single piece. Now we know what we have, everything has an image and a label,” he said.
Barakat said artworks acquired before 1975 have been displayed as a first part of the project. “After 1975 [outbreak of the 15-year civil war], there was no proper system of acquisition,” he said. “They started buying again after 1992 but the pieces needed to be filtered and revisited.”
Apart from the permanent collection, the virtual museum is to offer temporary exhibitions, one featuring private collections of artworks and another dedicated to showcasing the works of promising talents.
While no plans have been announced to erect actual National Museum space to house the collection, its virtual counterpart seems a step towards offering these works a chance to be seen across the world.
“The initiative is a great opportunity for a private-public partnership. It is part of a buzz that is trying to make Lebanon an interesting incubator for art,” Barakat said.
Michele El-mir, daughter of painter Michel El-mir, said she was delightfully surprised to see her father’s works among the museum’s permanent collection.
“I am very happy to know that my father will have the chance to continue his road to fame and be known among people of all generations all those years after his death. The virtual museum is a great idea and it is a real pleasure to walk through.”
To visit the National Virtual Museum of Modern Art please go to http://www.artmodernemv.gov.lb/