The Middle East Institute (MEI) and The Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) were pleased to host a panel conversation on the changing social and cultural significance of museums in Lebanon, and more broadly in the Middle East, as they seek to move beyond their traditional role as authorities in the arts to become more relevant to the cultural and socio-economic concerns of communities at a local, regional, and international level.
The event featured Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Taline Boladian, member of APEAL,The Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon (founding entity of BeMA), and Peggy Loar, president of International Museum Planning Consultants, for a discussion about the future of museums in the Middle East. NPR Art Desk Reporter Neda Ulaby moderated the conversation.
In an era of ongoing deep sectarian and socioeconomic divides in the region, the Middle East’s museums are busy navigating a path from their traditional role as “mirror museums” of the West or archaeological centers to a new goal: to bring people together and engage in difficult conversations.
The Middle East Institute co-hosted a panel with the Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) in April to discuss where Middle Eastern museums are hoping to go, as well as what challenges they might face along the way. NPR Art Desk Reporter Neda Ulaby moderated a conversation between Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Taline Boladian, member of the Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon (APEAL), and Peggy Loar, president of International Museum Planning Consultants.
Lowry opened the discussion by noting that museums — especially for contemporary art — are one of the few platforms “still available for something like a civic discourse to occur, where opposing, often competing, and contradictory ideas and positions can be put on the table, discussed, debated and examined.”
He added that the Middle East is undergoing a series of “seismic shifts” on its cultural stage, notably including a move away from the region’s traditional cultural centers, such as Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad. Instead, art and artists are gravitating toward countries including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as a result of the Gulf’s reputation as a center of wealth and a “safe haven” for artists.
Loar described Lebanon and Qatar as the “yin and yang” of Middle Eastern art hubs: one steeped in a “a long, long history of culture and the arts and design,” the other more in line with the Gulf’s focus on the future.
In light of these trends, Boladian noted that BeMA is “committed to fostering a strong civil society in Lebanon” and working to heal the deep scars that the country’s civil war left thirty years ago. To buck the Eurocentric outlook of many of the region’s museums, BeMA is divided into two parts. One is the traditional collection, while the other is devoted to cultural programs, thereby transforming the museum from a “cultural authority” to a “cultural mediator.”
Museums in the Gulf have had similar difficulties in trying to strike a balance between traditional and modern, national and global. Loar detailed the controversy that emerged over the National Museum of Qatar, as some Qataris did not want an enormous museum because they did not believe it “represented them.” Others, meanwhile, hoped it could become the focal point of Qatar’s intense pride in its history.
In contrast to the National Museum of Qatar are museums like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which draws crowds who feel a certain pride in having “extraordinary works of art” from France hanging in their country, according to Lowry. On the other end of the spectrum is the Sharjah Art Foundation, which he noted “provides a much more regionally focused opportunity for artists and those engaged in culture to meet on a regular basis to see edgy works of art.”
But even as Middle Eastern museums have shifted their focus inward to celebrate the region’s own artists, Loar emphasized that these spaces are also trying to “globalize the local and localized the global.” Not only do curators want to bring art from around the world to places like Qatar, but they also want to export the country’s own artistic achievements and increase international understanding of Qatari culture.
These efforts, however, can sometimes land in the crosshairs of politics. In response to a question about the ethics of supporting art in countries like Saudi Arabia in the wake of political events like the murder of Jamal Khasoggi, Lowry pointed out that Saudi artists must go through an “onerous” process to have their art approved for exhibition. As a result, many artists instead exhibit their art through an underground network “where the contemporary art history is being written.”
He concluded by dismissing “Golden Age theory” and highlighting that “the power and prestige of one part of the world will give way to new power and prestige in yet a different part of the world. This is just an extremely interesting moment to be engaged with this region and to try to watch it unfold in real time.”
Event summary by Nathalie Bussemaker
Kate Seelye [00:00:00] My name is Kate Seelye, I am vice president of the Middle East Institute and it's my deep pleasure to welcome you to today's panel about the changing role of museums in the Middle East. And it's an important topic given the growing prominence of museums in the region and the questions that they face about the role and function, among them how they can be more relevant to the communities that they serve and how they can better engage in important local regional and global conversations. We're very excited to be hosting today's panel with the visionaries behind the Beirut Museum of Art also known as BeMA. BeMA is a museum in the planning dedicated to highlighting modern and contemporary art from Lebanon and the region. And we hope that today's panel is just the first of what will be many more joint efforts to support and promote our shared work in the arts. So thank you very much to BeMA's leadership especially to Rita Nammour founding member of BeMA for reaching out to MEI to invite us to help organize this panel today. Rita I should also note heads APEAL. She is the president for the Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon which has been working to raise money for BeMA. Rita I know and hope to be here today. She had to stay behind in Beirut for personal reasons but she is here in spirit and she sent in her place, Claude Audi who we are very honored to welcome here today. And just suffice it to say that really is a great honor for MEI to be part of supporting your wonderful initiative. I also want to thank our illustrious panelists today who have made quite a trek to join us. We have Taline Boladian who's come from Beirut. Peggy Loar all the way from Napa Valley. Glenn Lowry from New York City and of course Neda Ulaby from here in Washington. Thank you all so much for your presence. Your being here speaks so much to your belief in the need to support the arts of the Middle East and the institutions that support the artists.
Kate Seelye [00:02:00] BeMA I should note is set to open in 2023. The recently selected architect is Amale Andraos who is the dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture. She was one of several Lebanese considered for this honor which is only fitting because are so many wonderful Lebanese architects to consider. So congratulations to BeMA for getting to this place in this long journey and I can safely say that everyone in this room would welcome an invitation to your opening. And I'm very happy to share everyone's e-mails today.
Kate Seelye [00:02:34] Now here at MEI we too have an opening coming up. It's not quite as grand as a museum opening. It's a bit more modest but we do share many of BeMA's goals. And in September 2014 we're going to be opening in our newly renovated building right around the corner on N Street. Our very first art gallery dedicated to the exhibition and promotion of contemporary Middle Eastern art, photography and video. And it will also serve as a much needed hub in this town for a dialogue around the importance of the arts in the region and the need to better engage artists in a discussion about the future of the region. Now we are going to be opening with a show called "Arabicity" in English. Also "Ourouba" in Arabic it means the state of being Arab. It's being curated by a very prominent London based curator, Rose Issa, and it will explore the aesthetic conceptual and socio political concerns of the Arab world, for the past 20 years as reflected through the work of about 18 wonderful artists and it's going to be accompanied by a book of the same name Arabicity being published by Saki Press in London. So stay tuned for our updates we'll be sending out invitations to the opening very soon. I also let's see what other. Oh I also want to note that none of this would be possible not this panel nor the opening of this art gallery without the incredible support of our colleague my colleague Lyne Sneige, the Director of our arts and culture program, so please can we give Lyne a round of applause.
Kate Seelye [00:04:08] And just a few housekeeping notes today's panel is being live streamed. If you'd like to tweet you can tweet using the Twitter handle MEIArtsCulture. Do we have a hashtag today. I'm not sure. But in any case a tweeted MEIArtsCulture and now let me turn this panel over to the amazing Neda Ulaby who's NPR's award winning arts correspondent for the past 20 years. She's covered the overlapping worlds of art music television and new media. She was the host of the Emmy award winning public television series Arab American Stories produced by PBS. Neda, thank you so much for hosting today's talk. I know we're in excellent hands so over to you.
Neda Ulaby [00:04:50] Thank you. Thanks everyone so much for being here. It's great to be back at MEI especially with such a particularly fabulous panel as we have here today. You have programs you can read you know who these people are but indulge me while I introduce them to you very very quickly. To my left, we only have one of the foremost champions of contemporary art in the world right now. Glenn Lowry the sixth director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His accomplishments there include hugely enlarging and enriching the collections. He added a new curatorial department of media and performance art. He established an initiative called contemporary and modern art percetions in a globla age. And that brings together research and ideas from art experts from all over the world. Early in his career and I think this is relevant he worked at the Smithsonian as an assistant curator doing Islamic and near Eastern art at the Sackler and Freer galleries. So welcomeback to Washington D.C. To my far right, we have Taline Boladian. She is one of the movers and shakers behind BeMA the Beirut Museum of Art set to open in 2023 and from what I understand it is set to open in 2023, this is a real thing. She was an assistant vice president at Christie's and her expertise in art ranges from a 19th century European painting to the most cutting edge contemporary Middle Eastern art and to my right we have Peggy Loar who is the president of International Museum Planning Consultants. She has run more art institutions and museums than you can shake a stick at. She was the interim vice president for the Global Arts and Culture and director of the Asia Society. She temporarily ran the Corcoran Gallery right here in D.C. at that moment when it was merged with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington. She is a founding director of the new National Museum of Qatar. We've just returned from so I think we're all going to look forward to hearing about that and she also ran the Institute of Museum Services at UNESCO's International Committee of museums. So this is somebody else who pretty much knows everything there is to know about the topic at hand which is basically what we're going to be talking about today: how museums have been grappling with a problem of how to transcend their traditional roles as educators as preservers and protectors of cultural heritage and how museums, particularly in the Middle East can be more relevant to their communities.
Neda Ulaby [00:07:36] How can they be more inclusive. How can they address issues related to wealth inequality, human rights freedom of expression, justice and tolerance and how museums can perform this work in a part of the world that's been split apart by decades of strife and turmoil and in a country like Lebanon, a highly sectarian environment that stems from a civil war because ugly history remains unaddressed at the national level. I'm also hoping that part of our conversation can involve actual middle eastern artists and whose work these museums are intended to promote and provide a platform for on a global stage. So to begin, Glenn I'm hoping that we can talk about why museums should right now provide a place where the terrorism social fabric can be addressed and how are museums able to balance art and civil life in the Middle East and what kind of challenges they're facing.
Glenn Lowry [00:08:32] How many hours do we have.
Neda Ulaby [00:08:34] We got all day.
Glenn Lowry [00:08:35] First of all, what what a pleasure it is not a to put a face to that wonderful voice of yours to say to Peggy who we both realize we've known each other for something like 45 years when we were but children at the Smithsonian together and tell him I'm such a great admirer of what you and BeMA is doing so it's nice to meet you as well and to Claudia, nice to see you again. You know I think what is interesting about museums, especially museums of modern and contemporary art at this point, whether they're in North America, Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere is that they are one of the few platforms that is still available for something like a civic discourse to occur, where opposing, often competing and contradictory ideas and positions can be put on the table, discussed, debated and examined. And the reason for that of course is that's what contemporary artists do.
Glenn Lowry [00:09:37] They are among the few voices that have a legitimate place in the process of dissent, of actually thinking about issues we don't want to deal with and finding a way to compel us to talk about them. So I think of the museum as a space that is a platform for ideas and debate, particularly around contentious problems and of course the moment you think about what that means in the Middle East. You have to contend with not only the issues of civil wars, social and political unrest, that you mentioned but many other almost seismic shifts that are occurring and I just want to put two on the table that we might come back to. One is that there is at least from a cultural perspective a fairly substantial shift that's occurring away from traditional centers of culture; Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus. One can argue Beirut. As well to new centers of power and culture largely located in the Gulf and especially in Qatar and the UAE. It's a function of, I think at least two factors: one is wealth. Art does have a tendency to go where the money is, but more importantly it's also a function of the disruptions that have occurred in those countries that have been heartlands of culture between civil war, social unrest the lingering effects of the so-called Arab Spring all of that has destabilised one part of the Middle East and in a way to the benefit of a different part of the Middle East, which is why the UAE in particular has become so interesting; it's not just that it's been able to support a broad range of cultural institutions; it has also become now home to artists from around the region whether from Saudi Arabia Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Syria Iraq. It's a kind of and I put that in quotation marks "safe haven" at the moment and that means that these issues I was talking about before that forced museums to compel museums into being a platform are all the more urgent in places like the UAE, where actually questions of dissent and disagreement especially around political issues, are acute. So, shifting shifting a kind of cultural pattern is one direction. The other one, which I think opens up a direction with Qatar and Beirut to a degree is this tension between what has been seen as an, here I'm really referencing the work of a Franco-Iranian scholar Alexandre Kazerouni: traditional museums, of which there have been many in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East, they tend to be archeological or ethnographic in nature, they are generally in historic buildings and their staff is often locally trained and locally educated with these new, what he calls "mirror museums," I would simply call them "European-based institutions," these large scale extremely affluent, well positioned major monuments like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and I think one can argue like many of the new museums that have developed in Qatar as well, where you have often an internationally trained staff, you have access to resources far beyond those that are distributed to more traditional museums, and he calls them mirror museums because he sees them as reflecting back to the Middle East an image of Europe, or at least a Eurocentric thinking. There is a tension between these two different polarities. That has not yet been reconciled. I think what we're going to witness play out over the next decade is the degree to which, either new spaces are created that address these tensions, or both types of institutions move closer to each other in a pedagogical level. So there's a lot that's going on right now that makes the region extremely exciting.
Neda Ulaby [00:14:21] And Taline, where does BeMA fit into all of this. How are you going to address these tensions. How are you going to keep it from being a "mirror museum" and make it something that truly reflects Beirut and yet holds a tone on an international stage. Tell tell us about the museum how it began its mission, your goals.
Taline Boladian [00:14:39] So actually drawing on the keywords that Glenn was talking about. It's appropriate that our mission is actually committed to fostering a strong civil society in Lebanon. I think that's what we're looking at and we're thinking about these large themes that art has the power to change. And so the mission of the museum really is to foster a strong civil society and act as a unifying platform which is bringing together diverse communities and providing this safe space or safe haven for dialogue and free exchange of ideas. And we've kind of divided the museum into two parts that are obviously interconnected and one is kind of that traditional museum idea. So that's with the museum's collection. And the other part is the social programs and they've both been given equal weight. And in doing so through the museum collection we're hoping to bring the work and voices of the artists into civil society, providing the public with the opportunity to interact with art. Obviously that's an educational component. And for those of you that don't know, Beirut doesn't or Lebanon doesn't have a ton of museums. In fact they have more galleries than museums and that's traditionally where you would go to learn or see art. So you can imagine the type of art. Also you know when you're asking an artist to create something that just might hang on a wall a meter by meter. It's a different type of art than you might see in a museum maybe a video installation or photography or sound installation. And then presenting and engaging with artists output that is inclusive of and representative of all factions of society. So for BeMA we are thinking of the museum as a cultural mediator, rather than a cultural authority and presenting rather than dictating and in fact actually BeMA in Greek means platform, so that's another way that it echoes that same vision. And so the question of how are we transcending this traditional role as educators and preservers is an interesting question because it kind of assumes that we've already done that part and in fact it is our aim to go above and beyond. But we don't have a museum frequenting society. The schools don't teach art the way they do in the West. People aren't saying hey let's go with our kids to the museum, they're going to the movies they're going to malls instead.
Taline Boladian [00:17:24] And as I said before you have commercial galleries. So apart from kind of showcasing and building upon that the 'why' we have set up these missions and goals as such that I was just discussing is important because our mission is not just idealistic, it's kind of a necessity, if we don't behave inclusively if we don't teach and foster the love for the arts in our schools, if we don't give these artists and uncommercial voice, if we don't make a safe space for the community, then we won't have an audienc once the museum opens. So to this end and to give equal importance to the programs and the outreach that we're doing, which is the second component I was mentioning, BeMA has been doing outreach from the beginning. As you know we don't have a building yet and it's kind of been five years that we've been discussing the museum, but from the get go we started with outreach programs. And this is obviously to boost cultural activity, incentivizing adults and children to participate, making art accessible by collaborating. The end goal I think is to spread global awareness about Lebanese art. And I have some examples on the screen of some of our programs. One is the Lebanese public school arts residency program. We started in 2017, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, and the goal is obviously to provide the youth from different social and geographic backgrounds with the opportunity needed to acquire new skills and broaden their horizons. It's a six to eight week program and the students are led by local artists once to twice a week. Different forms of art. You have anything from silk screen here. I think it's puppetry. Yeah puppetry, video, film, photography and they share a common theme and this year's theme is actually shaping common spaces. And then they come up with a collective piece at the end. The Ministry of Culture was so impressed with this program actually that it signed a deal with us for ten more years adding three more schools every year. So that's a big deal for us. And it's also a big deal because the public schools have a lot of languages to teach and a lot of subjects to go after, so to make space and room for the Arts is also a big deal.
Taline Boladian [00:20:21] You also have artist residency programs, here we have one in Jazeen, which is about two hours from Beirut and this was neat because first of all it's about decentralizing art. Most of the art world takes place in Beirut, but we know it's not only about Beirut; there's Lebanon. So we chose different locations and BeMA, apart from supporting obviously students and teaching and educating we also want to support the artists themselves, so this was also a platform for them to create art in a non-commercial way. And the artists went and they set up shop in Jazeen and they interacted with the community. They asked for their help. There were workshops, there were lectures. It was really amazing, there were walks and hikes organised so you can see everybody really engaged here. B
Taline Boladian [00:21:26] And the artists were really struck by the amount of people that attended every day. And it's really hard, I suppose to understand contemporary art. Everybody knows that in this room, it's something you have to read about, to learn about, it's almost an acquired taste, but this is one step closer to understanding when you see the artists creating and when you're involved in the process, it's bringing you that much closer, so it's it's a small step towards towards understanding. And then obviously we have exhibitions that we support and we put together a lot of exhibitions and here are some of the images.
Taline Boladian [00:22:07] So I think that's one way we are moving forward and we are trying to begin. We are trying to be true to our mission from the get go, before we even have a mission and we are trying to go above and beyond just educating. But again I think we need to work on that traditional role first in Lebanon as well.
Neda Ulaby [00:22:30] Peggy, I'm really interested in your response, both to what Glenn had to say about your museums and the role of these big flashy Gulf museums, like the one that you helped launch, and also what you've learned from starting the National Museum of Qatar. What advice do you have for Taline.
Peggy Loar [00:22:50] Well first of all I think the project is very special and has great spirit and you embody that spirit. So I'm very excited for you and I think you're gonna have a lot of fun. Working off some of Glenn's comments, particularly the one on polarization, Boy did you nail what I did over there, because what what happened is, even though my world has been art and contemporary art and the history of art, I also have a background in cultural anthropology, which was so essential for the role that I played at the National Museum because those smaller traditional museums that you refer to, I inherited one but didn't know it until I landed there. The first National Museum of Qatar was done in 1972 and it was a small museum in the old palace and it lasted for probably about 20 years and then the funding dried up. I inherited a staff of about 65 people that were on the payroll but only about 14 actually were there. However, those that were there, and many who came back were incredibly helpful in in telling me who the community was; the older community, the cultural community of the past, and what their vision was for this new institution, which was so vast, it was very hard for them to visualize and to know how big it was. And those early conversations were tremendously useful.
Peggy Loar [00:24:15] But I think that the idea of a museum in dialogue such as you're eager to do, and again that supports what Glenn has said, these institutions are in a very unique place for having these discussions. We've talked about that at museums for a long time, that we just have to remain neutral, that we can't talk to ourselves. We have to bring the community, and we have to bring differing points of view in and I want to give you a little snippet of something that actually happened to me in Qatar that was so interesting about that kind of dialogue. I'd agreed to be a juror for the graduate thesis project for architecture students at Carnegie Mellon, which was the foundation at Qatar foundation out of education city. And in those days the demographics of those classes were about 15 percent Qatari, because that is the demographic of Qataris in relation to the rest of the population that's there working in Qatar and the other students were from the Philippines, from India you know from Lebanon, from everywhere. But this particular student was from Sri Lanka, and he presented an architectural program that was absolutely beautiful. It was mostly glass, it was beautifully designed and then he talked about the concept once, and it was for a shopping mall. One side of it was for the luxury brands and for people who had access to resources who could purchase those brands and that side of the equation had a very interesting entrance for the Rolls Royces and the Bentleys. The other side of the mall was very different. And it was designed for the buses who would bring the workers, who were building the museums and the cultural organizations. What was unique about the project is that there was a glass wall down the middle and people were supposed to see each other in their rooms. And we learned that this young man had been turned away from some of the malls because he was not Qatari or he was not invited that particular evening or that day because some of the days were set aside. And there was a young Qatari woman in the class, who took great umbrage at this and was quite vociferous about what that all meant. And I don't need to go into the details but it was a lively conversation. I'm not even sure there was a resolution to the conversation. But it's an example of the kind of political activity that happens, the kind of cultural creative activity that happens in the dialogue that can happen as a result of it. So I encourage you to engage in that, this happened to be on architecture not on art but I think artists are the people that can have this dialogue, can bring it up.
Peggy Loar [00:26:50] And one more thing about museums there in addition to the artists, the lively and contemporary artists, those museums that have other collections, you can find almost in any collection, in any era, something that's controversial; whether it's an object or a scene. And to start with the collection and bring it full circle to contemporary issues, whether they're economic, or political or whatever, is a great way to dialogue with the community and to bring them forward.
Neda Ulaby [00:27:18] What was controversial in the National Museum of Qatar?
Peggy Loar [00:27:24] Many many things. There were many people that didn't want such a big museum. They didn't think it represented them. There were controversies about what the content was going to be about. There were issues that the National Museum should be the focus, not all of the other museums that were being considered; an aquarium, a textile museum, a pearl museum. There are many more I can't even think of. And eventually many of those were put on hold and the focus was put on the National Museum and it became a reality. And it's wonderful. It's really quite wonderful. But there were many controversies, mostly it took place in the realm of discussing content and working with the community. The people that knew, the people that didn't know but had lived their life in Qatar and felt very strongly and emotional about their past long before oil was discovered. And those conversations brought us forward and we had to work through all that with all of the outside experts and other experts who had written the literature in the early days, people from India and the Brits who were there and when the Ottoman Empire was there many of the records and the research was scattered throughout the world. We had to find it all.
Neda Ulaby [00:28:37] Glenn how did in your travels and in your work in the Gulf, how do museums balance between being glamorous international global tourist nations and serving local communities, building local art scenes and engaging in politics and controversy?
Glenn Lowry [00:28:57] Well I think what's interesting is what's rapidly emerging certainly in the UAE and you can make the argument more broadly in the Gulf, is an eco-system that has one in place like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is capable because of its resources and its association with French museums of bringing extraordinary works of art to the Middle East and providing a space for Emeratis in particular to experience at least a certain reading of universal culture. I mean you can't help it because my mother's French but even that doesn't stop me from saying when you see you know David's Napoleon on a white horse on access as sort of your primary idea of what culture can bring, not remembering that Napoleon was virtually on his way to trying to conquer the Middle East in a failed attempt, there is a certain irony that's embedded in that museum that charges it with potential and problems. Right. And it becomes one model of what a museum can be, but it's a model that starts with a very powerful ideological present and despite whatever claims to universality it has. But it is playing an important role. I think this is a critical thing that I've come to really respect having visited a half a dozen times. It is visited extensively by Emiratis, albeit of a certain class. But there is a pride in what it represents. That we can have something that's as good as. OK.
Glenn Lowry [00:30:37] On the other end you have a place like the Sharjah Art Foundation which is much more granular much more if you wish, connected to artists-centric Spaces. The sheikh or whoever runs it, and provides a much more regionally focused opportunity for Artists and those engaged in culture to meet on a regular basis to see edgy works of art that often push the boundaries of what could be shown in a more High profile space. And then in between those poles are what's are a whole host of new places that are springing up, like Bayt 15 which is a kind of artists collaborative in the UAE, or these salons that are being run underground in Saudi Arabia. Artists are looking for locations where they can come together with their peers and address the kind of critical social and political issues that cannot be, at the moment, fully expressed in the more highly visible places. And of course in the UAE you then also have a host of art galleries that provide another form of expression for the Arts. And I think you have to look at the whole thing fused together, it's very easy to see it as distributed; Sharjah has the art foundation, Dubai has the art galleries, Abu Dhabi has a Louvre Abu Dhabi and whatever other museums it will create, and then sprinkled underground are these places like Bayt 15 that that operate somewhat below the radar screen, whereas in Beirut you have it all in one place.
Glenn Lowry [00:32:30] I Alwan which is one of the most successful artists centric artist run spaces probably anywhere in the Middle East, if not beyond that, plus the source sock museum, which already exists, plus about happening as we speak BeMA, you have this opportunity for this cosmopolitan concentration and I think that's the opportunity that Beirut has. It's different than lots of other places, to bring this eco system fully into focus and if BeMA can actually be a catalyst to not only its own success but also enabling these other kinds of organizations to thrive in a more vibrant eco system of opportunity, then what's already present in Beirut, one of the most intense artist communities in the Middle East, can expand into an even more intense museum public that deals on a regular basis with these kinds of issues. So I see the gulf as representing one set of possibilities, but it's very distributed. And Beirut representing another set of possibilities in a highly concentrated way.
Neda Ulaby [00:33:47] This is a question for all three of you; how can it become a catalyst like that. What are concrete things that BeMA can do to create that kind of artistic and intellectual space in the Middle East.
Taline Boladian [00:33:59] Well first of all as they say in Arabic inshallah. I think a lot of this obviously depends on collaboration. But that's the obvious answer. As you said we do have the artists, we do have the spaces, we do have the bed the residency programs, a lot of new ones cropping up. We have a new one called Bar, and I think the ideal environment is where we share the information, and we share our experiences, and we compliment each other in terms of our collections in terms of our programming, and even in terms of our openings and dates and events.
Taline Boladian [00:34:41] One thing that actually BeMA has done to take the initiative for this is, I'm just coming actually from Houston where we launched BeMA which is the online platform for the collection. It's actually available to the public. So if you go to Rice University's Web site and you look up BeMA, you'll see the entire collection of what we have so far; 3000 pieces online, free and available to the public. And the idea actually of this platform, is not just making it available, but that it's kind of a research-platform, where you can upload information. So we are looking to any and all researchers museums writers to kind of fill in the blanks where we don't have them.
Taline Boladian [00:35:32] And we're hoping for more initiatives like this I would say.
Peggy Loar [00:35:36] You know this sort of plays to to an idea we worked on at the National Museum, which I think might also be an extension of what you just described. We created a position that we jokingly referred to as "C 3", which was curator of cultural change and it worked for the National Museum because change was happening so rapidly both in terms of the content we were dealing with, the modern history of Qatar, and it was envisioned to be a an incredible oral history program, whereby we would invite people in from the community and you could do this with the community or with artists, and record their stories and that could either be used in the exhibition galleries or it could be part of an archive for future research. And you know, in this way, Qataris were really writing their own future, writing their own history rather. And it was a very popular program, is a very popular program. We had earlier oral histories with the leaders of some of the tribes, the major early tribes, the very people who had been there in the very very early days but, this was a different kind of a program.
Peggy Loar [00:36:39] This was about contemporary culture and the young people and how they see their world changing, whether it has to do with technology, religion, family, luxury, what all of the things they're dealing with in the Middle East right now.
Glenn Lowry [00:36:52] I think you know one of the things that BeMA has as an opportunity, is not only creating networks within Lebanon and particularly within the ecosystem of Beirut, but also with sister institutions in the region. When I look at the examples that I think have worked extremely well, one of the achievements of the Sharjah Art Foundation is the way in which it has embraced projects in Istanbul or in Beirut or in Algiers. And what I think is essential is this kind of Networked infrastructure where you find like-minded partners and can benefit from each other and rather than seeing culture as competition, it's really culture as network. The opportunity is enormous because. Beirut is such a phenomenally interesting city and Lebanon such a remarkable country. You know the idea of resilience is embedded in the notion of how everyone has found some equipoise despite incredible difficulties. And I think BeMA has the opportunity to be a very important node in a network of local and trans regional institutions. It sets itself up to do that.
Neda Ulaby [00:38:26] And in a country not known for a lot of like-mindedness. How do you create it? How do you find those partners and establish those relationships? Who are the people you're working with? Do you have a relationship with folks in the Gulf for example.?
Taline Boladian [00:38:40] I think we are beginning those relationships. We are forging those relationships. We are. I think when we talk about wanting to be an international player on the museum scene, we're obliged to do that. And I think it could happen through a myriad of ways. One is through the collection. I think we're looking not only to have obviously a Lebanese collection, but a collection which then can tie threads to other nationalities, communities. So if we see somebody that has a parallel between a Lebanese artist and for example somebody living in Zimbabwe, we're happy to host that exhibition. So the art front in that way, we are continually sponsoring initiatives that are global as well. We've been the commissioner. Appeal has been the commissioner for the Venice Biennale once and in the last two rounds we have also supported those exhibitions. We have a restoration initiative. And I think I have an image. If someone takes me back to those slides. Anyway we have a restoration project where these pieces, these three thousand pieces that are going to be on an indefinite loan through the Ministry of Culture need to be restored. Because this is the condition of them and if you see that image on the top right that's probably worth I don't know eighty thousand dollars and an image on the bottom, another fifty thousand dollars. This is the state of the collection.
Taline Boladian [00:40:24] And what we've set up is not only a restoration project but we have done an exchange with the University of student good to bring in students to work on the restoration program. And then in turn teach the university students in Lebanon as well so we're working with three Lebanese universities to do that. So we are trying to forge these relationships through different programs but obviously we have a long way to go.
Neda Ulaby [00:40:52] Peggy you have a video that I think many of us are excited about seeing about your own work, but before we watch it, what is one thing you've learned from your experience starting this museum that you could share with Taline?
Peggy Loar [00:41:06] Probably that if you knew what you were going to get into you would never do the project.
Taline Boladian [00:41:13] You're going to send me back home.
Peggy Loar [00:41:14] I know you're going to have a lot of fun. I mean it's just so important to to cast a very broad net and to do it early. And I think that you'll be fine and you have all the right instincts and you're doing all the right things and we all know that those of us who know Lebanon a bit you know know that it's been a kind of a desperate scene but with the kind of connectivity with the galleries and design is a big big initiative there. And I think you're going to capture it all and bring everybody together and I look forward to it. My work is, was very similar to what you're going to be facing, so call me.
Neda Ulaby [00:41:52] I think many of us in this room are thrilled to learn about the museum. You do have a video right.
Peggy Loar [00:41:57] Yes. And if I could just say there's music with it which I can talk over the music is wonderful maybe you could turn it down a little. Is it gone it's gone completely OK. Yeah. We're going to switch so I can see what.
Peggy Loar [00:42:14] OK. There. There she is. The National Museum of Qatar and that traditional building in the middle of it is the earlier National Museum that I referred to which was restored beautifully restored and not air conditioned, not temperature humidity controlled, but as it was in the early days and the entire complex is situated right on the Cornish. And you can see that it's based on this concept of the Sand Rose. I don't know if you know what the Sand Rose is. I have a picture of it later. But these disks that comprise this this crystal go penetrate the building so there are no columns in the building and all of these elements really create the interior walls which you cannot really hang art on but there's not a whole lot of art from the early days anyway. These are mostly objects that can be displayed in other ways. This is the entrance here and I had asked the architects to break off a piece of the sand rose and create a security pavilion,, so that we can isolate all of those metal detectors in that region and not go into the main building before you get into the caravan sarai. So you're entering now in the in the area that takes you into the caravan Sarai which is the open courtyard area. Wonderful space for doing programs and projects. And then when you see this open space on the interior of the museum it goes down and over so that you maintain the vista from the old National Museum, the old palace, which is the original palace from the early 20th century out to the sea. And this winds around and shows you what we designed as a food forum because Qatar is very interested in food these days and how it's grown and spices. This is the exterior of the gardens and you'll see a lot of step initiatives there which are all designed to be outdoor classrooms and we could use that about five months out of the year.
Peggy Loar [00:44:05] The project took probably, there was one initial plan in 2006 that was ditched, and in 2007 it became something else. And the idea of the sand rose one might think it's a kind of a kitschy idea to take an element in the universe that already exists and turn it into a piece of architecture. But when the engineering begins and the technology begins and you see how this thing stands up it's really quite remarkable. There was some initial controversy that the Sand Rose was not emblematic of Qatar because it was a generic thing that existed, but in Qatar it's this beautiful sort of a beige peachy color. And if you're in Jordan and Wadi Rum for instance, it's a kind of a burnt sienna red but it's an amazing crystal that grows by the confluence of wind water sand and of course time. And it has turned into a beautiful museum. When you go into the interior galleries you feel more experience than content. This is early concept development. This would be a recommendation for BeMA if you can do one of these fly throughs of the architecture to give people an idea, it is very useful when you're presenting to all kinds of audiences and you can see how those big walls were used for films. These walls are so gigantic and they're billions of pixels. And some of these things, the technology barely existed when we had this idea and we turned to a group in New York to to help get that done because there are objects rather than things mostly to put on the wall you see they're kind of consolidated in the interior.
Peggy Loar [00:45:35] You talked about best practices at one point in museums and there are issues here about conservation, some of these things are in the open spaces, many things are under cases, but some of the Western conservators were not very happy that these things were exposed, some of them. Everything there's a little tension all the way around. This is the jewelry collection which incorporated many of the beautiful pearls, both Gulf pearls and other Pearl objects that were in the royal collection since the pearl museum had been put on hold. So it starts with beginnings and we started actually in geological time in the beginning moved into nature, then moved into archaeology, and moved into life in Qatar and then modern the modern history of Qatar where you see here that the the early oil and the gas initiatives in the early days the economy in Qatar was pearling and fishing. And today of course it's oil and gas. And this again is very generic, it looks very different inside.
Peggy Loar [00:46:38] And the slides I have that follow give you an idea of the contemporary look of the galleries. Here you're going back through the old National Palace and into the main building again. There are two restaurants, two cafes, three stores or shops. And it is the kind of place where you really could spend a lot of time. It's a very big place. It's about three 300.000 square feet, about the size of the Metropolitan I don't know how big moment is at this point. So that's the National Museum. And we're at the end here. This now pans outside and the exterior lighting at night is a really quite dramatic. Not only does it show the desk and illuminate, but the gardens have all these little sparkling LED lights that mimic moonlight coming down. And I think it's going to be a great place to walk around, much as this was controversial in the beginning. Qataris have embraced it. They're proud of it. They're seeing a lot of international scholars come through and friends and they're learning more and more. They are taking issues like the sea which is very important to Qatar in terms of its history and they're moving into contemporary issues like climate change, the problems with the sea, the seas you know that are in great trouble today. And that is an important message to give over to to Qatar. Now I also wanted to mention that the later galleries also are going to involve fashion, all kinds of design, fashion design, graphic design and so on. So that's it in a nutshell.
Neda Ulaby [00:48:21] And what are you doing to engage nontraditional museum audiences.
Peggy Loar [00:48:25] Yes. Well. Those that we didn't gather up in the early days, have seen this immense monument and they said they had about 150.000 People in the first three weeks. So they were having lines and you know it hits you. You'll have that moment it's like when you open it's like this. But but it worked. It worked. It's working, it's working.
Glenn Lowry [00:48:54] You know the story of your Sri Lankan student which is a particularly acute Gulf story is by no means unique to Qatar but in fact the entire region of temporary migrant populations, that can't aspire to citizenship will never have citizenship, they will never even have residency, and how they locate themselves relative to the vast cultural enterprise that's taking place around them. I think it's a fascinating story it's a very different question in Beirut where the problem is fundamentally different and where you have aa more urban centred population I mean there may be issues with Lebanese traveling from outside the city to Beirut but where you don't have whatever it is, 85 percent of the population, being migrant and transitory. And I think it's a great challenge to these, let's call them Gulf institutions so we can embrace everything from Saudi Arabia all the way to Kuwait, because they all pose differing versions of the same problem.
Glenn Lowry [00:50:22] To whom do they speak. How do they locate themselves in some cultural enterprise and to what degree can they embrace the vast majority of the population that in fact has no kind of place within the conversation.
Peggy Loar [00:50:42] That that was the core of early discussions and Sheikha Al Mayassa often says we want to globalize the local and localized the global and that means basically that they want the world to come to Qatar but they also want the world to know about the basic principles and ethics and history and culture of Qatar. So that's one aspect of it, but it's a real challenge big because this is a world that is changing dramatically and the multiculturalism that we're used to in this country, whether we're talking about our museums or other entities, doesn't exist there in that way. The multiculturalism there is the 85 percent of the population that are not nationals and we haven't even talked about nationalism and what that means for some of these museums, but that was very much at the forefront of what I was working with the staff, with the experts, with the architects, with the royal family. And then you get to the issue of politicizeing that museum. Well how do you tell the modern history of Qatar, without looking like it's a propaganda initiative.
Glenn Lowry [00:51:49] You use the word globalize in the world coming to Qatar, but I think it's a similar situation in Abu Dhabi, where the aspirations of the Louvre, National Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, as a as a kind of complex, is as much driven by whatever cultural values are embedded in wanting those institutions as it is by tourism. I read an interesting little article recently about the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi going forward, in part because for all of its success, the Louvre Abu Dhabi hasn't brought the overnight tourism, that had been hoped for. I.e in the competition between Emirates that form part of a whole, the UAE as a whole and individually the Emirates compete with each other. Dubai still was outpacing Abu Dhabi in terms of tourism nights. And so, add another element to this to amp up the attraction. And I think it's very hard to disengage in the Gulf, Tourism from culture, at least when it is expressed at this kind of "mirror museum" that Kazerouni talks about. I don't think that's true at a more grassroots level.
Peggy Loar [00:53:21] Well you know we grappled with that; is it international? Is it is it national? What is the priority audience? Everyone says you've got to know one two three four What are your priorities. And there was no way to define that. It had to be for both; the tourism was big for the economy. The cost of the building was meant for tourism and a destination. At the same time if the content inside that institution didn't mirror the thoughts and the thinking of the local community it was going to fail miserably. It would be dismissed,it would not be a good situation. So we had to be all things to all people which everybody says you can't do, you shouldn't do. But we did.
Neda Ulaby [00:54:07] I want to give Taline the last word before we turn things over to Q and A. Is it your goal to be all things for all people; who is who is BeMA for and you're struggling with a completely different set of concerns. You don't have the same migrant population, but you've got a massive refugee crisis. You've got a fragile economy. Political deadlock. Why does Beirut need BeMA. Why does it need an art museum like yours right now?
Taline Boladian [00:54:32] So I think yes we would like to be just like you; all things for all people. I mean that's I think the goal everybody wants to share their culture. They want the world to see their culture. You want to work well on a local level, you want to educate on the local level, but then you want to become an international player as well. But I think the question of why now is really interesting, one because sometimes I'm a charity auctioneer as well and I work with cancer autism recycling all these things that need so much money and funding and attention. And often times we're asked the question why the arts when you have so many big projects and so many big NGOs that are vying for your money how to how to compete with that. And I think there are two kind of ways of looking at this; one is a very defensive way and one is a very offensive way and in the defensive way it speaks to exactly what you're talking about. We have kind of a humanitarian crisis. We have the Syrian refugees spilling into Lebanon; one point five million into a community of four point five million. So you can understand that this is creating new social divides, anti immigration sentiments. But I think that also creates even more of a sense of urgency to create a program like this to be in the arts, because it's the cultural institutions that inspire people to come together. They have a huge role to play in terms of fostering tolerance and the second is that we are at a critical point in our in our art because as I showed you the pieces that the Ministry of Culture has loaned to us are in a state that is actually quite miserable unfortunately. If you know anything about Beirut's weather; it's humid, it's sandy, it's dusty, it's sunny, it's wonderful for tanning; not wonderful for paintings. And these pieces have gone into storage and out of storage and we don't have art handlers every time they go in and out of storage so you can imagine the damage that's being done to the collection. And I I was fortunate enough also to work on this collection and to do an inventory of it. And when we saw the state of the collection as I showed you on screen, it's kind of in this state where if we don't restore it right now, if we don't save it right now, if we don't put it somewhere to hang, or give it a proper storage facility, it's totally going to disintegrate. There are termites eating them there. There's mold all over the place. So I think we either lose this collection altogether, or we give it a home. And those are two two points for why now. And on the flip side I think on a positive note, s lot of museums face modern day present day challenges. You have the changes in medium so you have digital works, video installations, interactive appropriation art, and how tough is it for a museum that's existed forever, to change its gallery space to host something like this. I remember a few years back I visited the MOMA and there was a Richard Serra installation, it was outside, MOMA's garden is not huge. And I remember the lady who was a security guard outside and she was telling me they had to come and reinforce the ground and then they brought in the cranes to bring in Richard Serra, by the way is big lead metal installation. So the MOMA I'm sure had days or months of work before they got to include this installation in their in their collection. So we get to think about the space from scratch and I think that's a huge benefit so that we can incorporate insane installations and video art and appropriation art and whatever else you can think of that's not even yet out there. And so that's an amazing opportunity. And two is that we get to think about the museum as a living museum. And the other day my mother had forwarded me an advertisement from a museum which I will not name, saying there's yoga in this room in the museum, come every Monday at 9:00 for yoga, and I was just thinking what are they doing. Why is there yoga in the museum. And it's maybe for meditation purposes, but also I think it's a gimmick to get people into the museum right. So again we get to rethink the idea of the museum as a living community space and we don't have to think about how do we get people through the doors of this museum that existed in the 19th century and now we have to evolve with the times, we get to think about what to do. BeMA is going to put in a performing arts center. There's going to be artists workshops so you can actually watch the artists create. There's gonna be woodworking atelliers as well to see how to create, it should be an interactive museum and that's what we're moving towards.
Taline Boladian [01:00:20] And I think I want to finish with. Sorry. Go back to the slides. If you don't mind somebody. I'm just gonna show you a visual of what the museum also is going to look like if you haven't seen it yet. It was on the other PowerPoint and basically the Architect is calling it an inside out museum and I think that's also really interesting as well. You'll get to see the skin of the museum. So this is one image of it. And this is kind of the museum. The skin peeled out. It's boxy looking, but it has all of these balconies and you can actually emulate the museum from the exterior. You don't have to go in and then back out. And this is first of all speaks to Beirut's wonderful weather but also it means that we can put the sculptures, the paintings, the installations outside and whoever is walking by in this area has a chance to experience the art and the intersection that this museum is being built on is already a very very busy intersection.
Taline Boladian [01:01:31] It faces the National History Museum which is also really beautiful. And then you have USC which is the University from whom the grounds have been given to us. So you have a lot of students, you have embassies. So it's a really wonderful place and people will be able to see the work from the outside. So again speaking to the new way of attracting people's attention bringing them in pulling them in into the arts.
Neda Ulaby [01:02:04] Let's turn things over to you. Yes. Questions.
Audience Member [01:02:47] The issue seems so different in Lebanon and Qatar and I'd love comments on that.
Peggy Loar [01:02:54] It's definitely yin and yang. There's no question about it. I mean Lebanon is very sophisticated. It has a long long history of culture and the Arts and Design in the last couple of decades. The situation in Qatar, is we haven't even talked about what's happening there with art and an artist and exhibitions and new museums. There's another projects starting up called "The Art mill" which is the old flour mill, which will be about contemporary art. It's taken off but it's doing it in a very different way than some of the other museums perhaps in Dubai where you go to the Guggenheim you go to the National Gallery and in Great Britain Qatar is bringing individuals over. And those people were trained and now they're they're integrating it into their lives. The question is still how they integrate the other people who are not the Nationals, but you have a different challenge and in a way you're going to be guided by so many people who are already there and with you and who believe that by the kind of stitching together you're doing with the other entities that you talked about they're going to be right there with you, your galleries are going to also become their galleries in terms of dialogue and everything that you're trying to do. So yes it's different, but it still helps us describe how different the Middle East is. Saudi Arabia is very different to Dubai, which is doing the Museum of the future. Do you know about that museum of the future? Go to their Web site and look at what they're doing. It's incredible combining technology and biological DNA under the sea creating amorphous jellyfish looking things that are doing desalination programs so that there's enough water to drink into the future. They're doing a lot of this now. These are probably Western ideas but they're doing it. They've got the money to promote it and all of these different things are happening over there. It's pretty amazing. It feels like there's a bit of a shift and they're also doing it because they can. And good for them.
Glenn Lowry [01:04:58] You know I would just add quickly that there are many different registers to the cultural matrix of the Middle East writ large. So while you can look at the very disparate scales economies and populations that the Gulf serves and that Lebanon serves at the Register of Artists, there's an enormous amount of interconnectedness and in fact, The Sharjah Art Biennial, was recently curated by Christine Tohme of Ashkal Alwan in Beirut. So at one register there's a great deal of back and forth, even if at another register it looks like there's no kind of parity or equilibrium and I think this is what is making the region so interesting. These things are all at play simultaneously and a place like BeMA has the opportunity to calibrate and construct its own set of networks as I said earlier locally and trans- regionally.
Taline Boladian [01:06:10] And if I can just add to that, I think that challenge is actually the beauty of the project. If you had everybody with the same norms and the same religion and the same social constructs and education then there would be no point of bringing everybody together to teach one another about the different forms of art and the different values and the different norms. Right. So I think that's something that is is unique to Beirut. But at the same time something that is going to make this fantastic.
Audience Member [01:06:50] Lucky me for being here, today is so fascinating. This is for Peggy. The National Museum of Qatar, can you talk a little bit about the content, because the last time I was in Cairo was years ago when the Islamic Museum opened. There was almost nothing from Qatar in that museum. So your museum is quite large. Do you have enough Qatari things to put in that museum?
Peggy Loar [01:07:21] Well, when you were describing the condition of the objects that you're dealing with, that's what I arrived at, in a very poor state of requiring massive conservation and some of them simply could not be saved. Frank the region has very similar kinds of materials, if you're dealing with bedouin materials for instance. So that was easy. It could have come from Qatar it could have come you know from Saudi Arabia or from Bahrain or somewhere else. So we dealt with that, but we knew from the beginning that the content would have to be not only about collections, it would be about film and music and poetry and all of the other things that comprise the culture of Qatar. So those films are very essential to the experience that you got there. They're beautiful. The light is changing from blue to green. If you're in the C gallery, probably the big bang if you're in the earlier galleries and later on and I had one slide of this, when you're in the tribal wars, the filmmaker Peter Weber did an extraordinary film on a large wall with a cast of thousands. You know horses, camels and this is the kind of thing that you'll see. It's both interactive in terms of information in the galleries and it's experiential. And I think they've got work to do. They've got a lot more content they could be putting into the museum but you're right on. And I think that also is why the building is without all of those walls. We've got somebody on the side.
Audience Member [01:09:05] Thank you so much for this fantastic panel. Cynthia Schneider from Georgetown University. Darlene I think you gave I'm asked this question all the time why are you gave the best answer. That was really really fantastic. I give you a little more ammunition. A Palestinian one said after the Birnbaum orchestra had visited and he said other people bring us food and shelter and medical care and we appreciate that. But you would do that for animals. And you have made us feel human. You're already in great shape. Glenn I have a question for you. We're in Washington and its time to ask a political question. No no not about the election. We were lucky enough to have a fantastic trip to Saudi Arabia together where we saw so many fantastic things and met so many interesting people, that was in December 2017. I struggle all the time whether I would do that, would I accept that invitation today. I doubt it. Maybe I give myself too much credit. But my question to you is what does one do with the artists from Saudi Arabia. Because so many people we met are supported. Some are supported privately but so many are supported by the state or an NGO. But still the money is coming from MBS in one way or form or another. And I wonder how do you continue to support artists. Do you continue to do the partnerships and how do you resolve this?
Glenn Lowry [01:10:51] It's a fascinating question. Leaving aside the politics around MBS and the issues of Jamal Khashoggi's assassination. What I have seen in Saudi since then is a real grassroots effort by local artists to create their own salon, these exist underground. They have their own networks. They are not official. You saw a little bit of that in Ahmed Mater's studio in Jeddah which for years had acted as a kind of quasi official meeting place for more cosmopolitan Artists from the area who needed a place to talk and meet and often work ideas out together. But parallel to that, a number of young Saudis have started their own salons it's been going on since 2011/12. They meet infrequently, but they they provide alternative spaces for artists to connect to work and to show art. One of the things that one always has to remember, even post December 2017, to have an art exhibition in Saudi, if you're a gallery or museum, or even an artist run space, first you have to apply for a license each time you want to do a display, and then you have to apply for approval of every single work of art to be displayed. So it's a very onerous process that makes it almost impossible for anything that we might call politically charged or interesting to be displayed. So artists have taken matters into their own hands and they operate below the radar screen and I'm seeing a lot of that actually not just in Saudi but elsewhere in the UAE and the Middle East and there are a number of initiatives like that in Algiers. There's certainly a number of initiatives that run parallel to that in places like Abu Dhabi and even Dubai and Sharjah. And I think that's. That's where the action is. That's where the contemporary art history is being written.
Neda Ulaby [01:13:10] I guess can I jump in and ask Taline to go back to your mission statement fostering the civil society in Lebanon and talk a little bit about the symbolism of where BeMA sits.
Taline Boladian [01:13:30] As I said it's in it's in the East-West line and so it's also a political point. We have a lot of divides in Lebanon. And they can be religious and it's not just Muslim Christian and within the Muslim community there is another divide and within the Christian community there is another divide. We have a different people coming into the country and living in the country and contributing in the country. You have obviously the Syrians, you have the Palestinians, you have the Armenians. And each community giving their touch. And so this museum, the plot is actually right on the line. So it can be seen by everyone and it can be visited by everyone. And it's it's an important important historical point for Lebanon.
Neda Ulaby [01:14:32] Now in conjunction with all the collective dialogue I actually have a question for Glenn. Because he is of course a scholar of Islamic art before he became so knowledgeable about contemporary art. But, just as there was an Islamic golden age of eight hundred to twelve fifty, do you feel that with the Middle East we're moving into a golden age in the early days it was science and the arts. Do you feel there is this shift that people talk about?
Glenn Lowry [01:15:01] Well I think it's for sure if you look at the concentration of wealth and aspirations not just wealth but wealth and aspiration in the Gulf, and I again I mean the Gulf writ large, this is one of the most interesting places in the world right now. And has been really for several decades. And you know you look at these different cultural models that are being produced whether it is Abu Dhabi and its reliance on branding institutions, or you look at Qatar with its development of its own national institutions, or Sharjah with a very different more artist centric, but really more synthetic cultural policy that has been in existence since 1979. You have these different models at play that cumulatively add up to this extraordinary moment there. How long can it endure? I don't know. But golden moments never endure for as long as we think they did. You know Golden. What is golden age theory is ancient history. It always is you're looking back at the past in a curious kind of way. What I think is so fascinating and I touched on this earlier, is the way in which civil unrest, political unrest and long term economic problems have wracked the traditional centers of power and culture in the Middle East and in the way allowed a region like the Gulf to suddenly become so much more prominent. The oil money was there from the late 60s onward. It's only in the last 15 or 20 years that we've seen this extraordinary infrastructure develop and there's no reason why it won't continue to develop and to flourish in unexpected ways. You know if you're a historian you know that nothing lasts, that the power and prestige of one part of the world will give way to new power and prestige in yet a different part of the world. So, this is just an extremely interesting moment to be engaged with this region and to try to watch it unfold in real time.
Neda Ulaby [01:17:40] Nothing lasts forever including this panel, unfortunately. But you have given us a golden hour and a half, for which I think all of us in this room are extremely grateful. Thank you.
Taline N. Boladian
Co-founder, BAKS/Art Advisory
Taline N. Boladian is the co-founder of BAKS/Art Advisory, a private art consultancy firm specializing in appraisals, art events, publishing and curating. Prior to establishing this firm, Boladian held the title of assistant vice president of 19th century European paintings at Christies, New York; and head of department in Orientalist paintings and modern and contemporary Middle Eastern works of art at Bonhams, New York and Dubai. During her time with the auctioneers, she performed in a wide variety of roles, including research, appraisals, business development and client relations; her efforts resulted in many successful auctions and record-breaking sales for the departments. She also assisted the research and library director of the famed Museo degli Uffizi in Florence and worked in the curatorial departments of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Boladian is currently on the board of Lebanese and American NGOs, serves as a charity auctioneer for several non-profit organizations and regularly gives lectures on collecting and investing in art.
President, International Museum Planning Consultants
Peggy Loar is a museum professional with global experience in museum planning and program development, museum architecture and design, and museum leadership. She currently serves as president of International Museum Planning Consultants, a boutique advisory services firm. Prior to this role, she was the interim vice president for global arts and culture and director of the Asia Society Museum in New York City (2014–2015) and the interim president and director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art & Design in Washington, D.C. where she facilitated the merger of the Corcoran with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University (2013–2014). From 2008 to 2013 she served as the founding director of the new National Museum of Qatar, in Doha, designed by Jean Nouvel, where she brought 30 years of experience in museum planning and management, exhibition design and educational programming to the Qatar Museums Authority. Prior to this, she served as director of the Museum Studio at Voorsanger Architects P.C. in New York City.
Director, Museum of Modern Art
Glenn D. Lowry became the sixth director of The Museum of Modern Art in 1995. He leads a staff of over 750 people and directs an active program of exhibitions, acquisitions, and publications. A strong advocate of contemporary art, he has lectured and written extensively in support of contemporary art and artists and the role of museums in society, among other topics. He is a member of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Board of Trustees, a Trustee of the Association of Art Museum Directors, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a resident member of the American Philosophical Society. He also serves on the board of directors of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, is a member of the Rolex advisory committee and serves on the advisory council of the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. In 2004, the French government honored Lowry with the title of Officier dans L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Born in 1954 in New York City and raised in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Lowry received a B.A. degree (1976) magna cum laude from Williams College, Williamstown, and M.A. (1978) and Ph.D. (1982) degrees in history of art from Harvard University.
Neda Ulaby, moderator
Reporter, Arts desk, NPR
Neda Ulaby has worked as an arts correspondent for National Public Radio for nearly twenty years. Ulaby covers the broad and overlapping worlds of art, music, television, film, new media and literature. She's been recognized with multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including the Emmy award-winning public television series "Arab American Stories." Born in Amman, Jordan, Ulaby is based in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.