In the 1990s an art movement developed in Britain that was fresh, unpretentious and accessible to all, a “democratization” of art spearheaded by the Young British Artists, or YBAs. This avant-garde pushed boundaries and the art market, gaining international acclaim. But the YBAs' work has been conspicuously absent from the Middle East. There have been no exhibitions on the work of the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin or Marc Quinn.
Curators Francesca Amfitheatrof and Charles-Henri Lobkowicz came to Beirut in June to scout out a location to exhibit contemporary British art, one YBA at a time. “We are open to the idea of bringing an artist every six months, and for it to be unexpected; not a 9-11pm show, then goodbye. But a really alive exhibit, with crazy parties and musicians,” said Amfitheatrof, who has been the curator for other YBA leaders like Hirst and Emin, as well as Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
The first artist to come to Beirut will be Marc Quinn, best known internationally for his painted bronze and gold sculptures of model Kate Moss in various yoga poses.
“We always wanted to bring something here to Beirut, to show contemporary art and to start with one of the greatest English artists,” said Lobkowicz. “We will bring around 15 pieces, of new work, his Flower Paintings and sculptures. I also want the gold Kate Moss, but the work has not been decided upon yet.”
One of Britain's most successful artists, Quinn's work has endured the financial turmoil, going up in value by some 20 percent. Of the three solid gold Kate Moss sculptures produced, two have been sold for $2 million a piece, while the third could be on sale in Beirut in late September. The sculptures of Moss, described by Quinn as a “mirror of ourselves, a knotted Venus of our age,” are now extremely limited, with the curator duo having the last bronze sculpture available of the model in a yoga position with her legs behind her head.
“Marc is the right artist to show, he is cool, sexy, and fun. Not ultra conceptual, dry or abstract, his work is a bit visceral, that hit's you in the tummy. We want the show to be happy and a little sexy, while being overall rather sensual,” said Amfitheatrof.
Quinn's flower paintings are bright, luscious still-life depictions of hand-picked flowers frozen in ice to capture a perfect bloom's temporal beauty, a romanticism in stopping time. Hyper-realistic, the paintings exude joy. “Everyone that owns a flower painting is happy, it gives them energy, and we want to bring that here,” added Amfitheatrof.
Quinn's other artistic expression in stopping time are his large, round iris canvases that portray the extraordinary colors of the human eye, the only part of the body that doesn't age and the window to the soul. Quinn will bring with him to Beirut a special NASA-designed camera to capture the irises of the exhibition's first 10 customers, which will then be turned into paintings.
“All Quinn's work is about immortality; it is this perfect, idealist world,” said Lobkowicz.