Je suis inculte! The Salon d’Automne and the National Canon
Je suis inculte ! (I am uncultivated!) revisits the legacy of the annual juried Salon d’Automne in Beirut from the Sursock Museum’s inauguration in 1961—the year the private villa of Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock became the first, and only, public museum of modern and contemporary art in Beirut—until the present day. The salon has played an authoritative role in the formation of a national artistic canon; it served as an appropriate exhibition model for a newly independent nation, as an academy capable of training young artists, and as a tastemaker for audiences. As a public institution, it also reflected the crises of the state, most conspicuously during the Lebanese Civil War. Yet against a triumphalist national narrative that highlights the museum’s prewar glory, wartime downfall, and postwar “renaissance,” a more persistent crisis looms large. In the museum’s archive, traces of antagonism, unsettled debates, and dissent disrupt the national myths at work in the history of the Salon d’Automne.
Commissioned in 2021 for the occasion of the Sursock Museum’s 60th anniversary, the exhibition follows the seminal debates that have shaped the museum’s history. It takes its cue from Jalal Khoury’s fabled 1964 Magazine article, “Je suis inculte !”, whose acerbic protest of the museum’s elitist bias toward abstraction anticipated crises to come.
A coda to the exhibition departs from the salon to propose a shift for the museum’s acquisition and study of modern art, spotlighting a large body of surrealist artwork by Georges D. Corm on long-term loan to the museum.
Highlighted artworks from the permanent collection include paintings by Georges Sabbagh and Omar Onsi, once owned by Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock, as well as salon prize-winners by Shafic Abboud, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Paul Guiragossian, Aref El Rayess, Simone Fattal, and Lara Tabet; works by once prominent artists, such as Mohammad Sakr, and others, like Issam Sabaa, whose only connection to the museum rested in the salon archives’ pile of rejections.
Curated by: Natasha Gasparian and Ziad Kiblawi
Exhibition design: Jacques Aboukhaled and Mind the gap
Exhibition graphics: Mind the gap
Lighting: Joe Nacouzzi
With thanks to the lenders, Zeina Arida, Andrea Comair, Octavian Esanu, Angela Harutyunyan, Nadia von Maltzahn, Sarah Rogers and Kirsten Scheid.