Lebanon’s virtual museum makes art more accessible

Friday 11/09/2015
Virtual Tours

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/