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PARIS: When French-born Laure d’Hauteville launched the Beirut Art Fair in 2010 it was because she had fallen in love with Lebanon and Middle East art.

She was determined to contribute to the Mediterranean country that had become her second home.

Due to the catastrophic port explosion on Aug. 4 last year and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Beirut Art Fair was unable to take place.

Esther Woerdehoff, MENART Fair 2021. (Supplied)

Instead, d’Hauteville decided to use the French capital as a base for her new art fair, MENART, until Lebanon had managed to rebuild itself.

The fair took place from May 27 to 30 at Cornette de Saint Cyr on Paris’ upmarket Avenue Hoche and saw galleries positioned in different rooms across three floors of the private residence and auction house.

Marking the first international contemporary art fair dedicated to artists from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region after months of COVID-19 lockdowns, MENART opened the artistic season in Paris with a reception for more than 2,500 visitors, of which around 90 percent were French.

Athr Gallery, MENART Fair 2021. (Supplied)

The 22 participating galleries hailed from throughout the Middle East and included Athr Gallery from Jeddah, Tunis and Dubai-based Elmarsa Gallery, Beirut’s Galerie Tanit, Saleh Barakat Gallery and Mark Hachem, Mono Gallery from Riyadh, Wadi Finan Art Gallery from Amman, New York and Dubai-based Leila Heller Gallery, Tehran and New York-based Shirin Art Gallery, Nathalie Obadia from Paris, and Galleria Continua from Italy.

“The fair took visitors on an oriental journey, with artistic stops made from Morocco to Yemen. This market is new for Europeans who are not used to viewing art from the MENA region,” d’Hauteville told Arab News.

She said the fair’s artistic director, Joanna Chevalier, and herself were on site to explain to visitors the various facets of the works on display.

Ayn Gallery, MENART Fair 2021. (Supplied)

Sale prices ranged between 5,000 euros ($6,092) and 18,000 euros with the highest reaching 40,000 euros. Out of the 22 galleries, 16 reported sales. The fair has a virtual component enabling galleries to sell their works online via Artsy until June 16.

“It was a well-organized boutique fair with a great turnout of institutional groups and collectors; our booth was always busy,” Lebanese art expert Saleh Barakat told Arab News.

“The works by Arab artists are still new, so people here are still discovering them. We sold a few works but not a lot but it’s of no surprise given that France is still a new market for Middle Eastern art.”

By Lara Sedbon x Durazzo Projects, MENART Fair 2021. (Supplied)

While Lebanese galleries admit the fair did not replace the Beirut Art Fair, it had “opened new doors.”

Individuals from 27 major international institutions were in attendance, including representatives from the Cartier Foundation, LVMH, Jeu de Paume Museum, Center Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo, the Arab World Institute, the Institute of Islamic Culture, the French Ministry of Culture and Foreign Affairs, and the French agency for the development of AlUla.

“The show was lovely and very diverse,” said Naila Kettaneh-Kunigk, owner of Galerie Tanit in Beirut, which sold two works by Lebanese artists Ghassan Zard and Chafa Ghaddar, each for around 8,000 euros. Galerie Nathalie Obadia sold a work by Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil and a piece by Iranian painter Hoda Kashiha.

Galerie Cheriff Tabet, MENART Fair 2021. (Supplied)

French collector Jean-Marc Decrop, who bought a work by Zard, told Arab News: “What was remarkable was the attendance. It is one of the few fairs that has opened this year. There’s a great appetite now among collectors to discover art from new places.”

While d’Hauteville hopes to restage the Beirut Art Fair, possibly in 2023, when the situation in Lebanon improves, for the time being she is building a base for Middle Eastern art, with a special focus on supporting artists and galleries from Lebanon.

Never short on innovative ways forward, the next edition of MENART will take place in Brussels, with dates to be announced, and will feature displays from the Middle East, notably by designers such as Lebanon’s Nada Debs.

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