At the reception earlier in January for the opening of CUAG’s winter exhibitions, I entered the gallery from the second floor. On one side, to the right, is the exhibition Art on a Green Line curated by Johnny Alam, and to the left, the Making and Marketing Art History in 18th-Century France curated by W. McAllister Johnson.
I was pulled to the right amidst the artwork of at least five artists, all in a tiny corner overlooking Akram Zaatari’s Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright, a looped 12 minute video playing on the large two story wall. The video is part of the Akram Zaatari: All is Well exhibition curated by Vicky Moufawad-Paul. I walked through all three exhibitions that day, leaving somewhat confused.
Finally, I mustered the courage and attended the panel discussion at the gallery on the last Saturday of February to hear Alam and Moufawed-Paul, along with artist Jayce Salloum and moderator Zainab Amery. The discussion was informative and enlightening. I learned a lot about recent Lebanese history, art, identity and memory. Amery’s moderating of the panel was stellar, her questions bang on!
And I had another look around the gallery at the exhibitions and things did make a bit more sense, at least the two that dealt with Lebanon’s “War Generation”. Perhaps the most striking piece was “On Humanitarian Aid (1980-2015)”, a blanket draped like flag on the second floor as part of Alam’s exhibition. In fact, the blanket belongs to Alam’s family having received it during the 1975-90 wars in Lebanon. As Alam writes, this piece “questions the true nature of humanitarian aid and expresses my ambivalence towards a material object of war and nostalgia”, a theme that ties into the panel discussion and what Alam talked about, that people did not want to remember, the problems in Lebanon have not been solved leaving open wounds.
Other than the fact that the subjects of the three exhibitions are related to fields of study at Carleton, there didn’t seem a connection between them, at least not between Making and Marketing Art History in 18th-Century France and the other two.
Looking at the artwork of Art History I was reminded of last year’s Gustave Doré exhibition at the National Gallery. Seems Peter Simpson may have had the same notion. I asked W. McAllister Johnson at the reception if he thought Doré would have been influenced or inspired by the “universally accessible fine art prints [that] shaped French culture and art history”, but the curator said no, Doré wasn’t. I’m not so sure, but I’m not the expert.
If all this sounds jumbled and confused, it’s not you. One piece of advice. When you go to see the winter exhibitions at CUAG, walk in the main (1st floor) entrance to the gallery.
Akram Zaatari: All Is Well is on until March 29 while Art on a Green Line and Making and Marketing Art History in 18th-Century France close April 14, 2015.