Event Details

Contextualising the Art Salon in the Arab Region

International Conference in Beirut, 27-28 October 2017


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The Orient-Institut Beirut and the Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum are organizing a symposium on 27 and 28 October 2017 that aims to contextualize the art salon in the Arab region. The symposium, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, brings together researchers and curators, artists and critics to discuss the emergence of the art salon in the region in the colonial and post-colonial context, reflect on knowledge circulations between Europe and the Middle East, and analyse the function of the art salon in relation to collecting practices and the public. To disseminate the research findings, a publication will be prepared to be published in time for the Sursock Museum’s next Salon d’Automne at the end of 2018.


Salons, art academies’ official exhibitions, started in France under Louis XIV. The academies of art in Paris and London and their annual salons soon became the most powerful institutions in the European art world of the time, patronizing art and directing public taste. Only in the nineteenth century did artists start to oppose the monopoly of the academy, resulting in the creation of new exhibition forums or independent salons, such as the Salon des Refusés, the Salon d’Automne or the Salon des Indépendants in France. In the Arab region, a School of Fine Arts was established in Cairo in 1908 by Prince Yussuf Kamal, who believed that the fine arts could be a means for Egypt to engage with modernity. Graduates of the first group of students of the school soon became successful in Europe’s art establishment. The French salons provided institutional models for Cairo’s annual Art Salon. Several salons have sprung up in the region in the late nineteenth and twentieth century, including the Salon Tunisien in Tunis established in 1894, the annual exhibition the “Friends of Art” started in Baghdad in the 1940s, and the Salon d’Automne of the Sursock Museum in Beirut that was launched in the 1960s. Institutional forms of art clearly migrated from Europe to the Middle East in the late colonial and early post-colonial context, while artists, both European and Middle-Eastern, circulated between the two regions. The salon often defined the criteria of art production and public taste, while creating new societal practices. The social impact of the salon also lay in its ability to convey specific values, attitudes and aspirations. At the same time, the values and attitudes promoted by the salon were often rejected by avant-garde movements who defied the conceived conservatism of the salon and the art academy.


This symposium and publication project follow up from three panel discussions held in 2016 and 2017 and are the first comprehensive forum to explore the role of the art salon in the Arab region. It examines how the salon had an impact on the formation of public taste and debates on art in the Arab region, and looks at knowledge transfers and cultural interactions between Europe and the Middle East, as well as the afterlife of the salon. 


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Friday, 27 October 2017, Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) 


9:30-10:00           Registration


10:00-10:10         Welcome Notes: Birgit Schäbler (Director, OIB)


10:10-10:30         Nadia von Maltzahn (Research Associate, OIB): Introduction




Alain Messaoudi (Lecturer of Modern History, Université de Nantes)

Les Salons Annuels de Beaux-Arts en Tunisie entre 1894 et 1934 (presented in French)


Nancy Demerdash-Fatemi (Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History, Wells College)

The Aesthetics of Tastemaking in (and out of) the Algerian Salon


Panel Discussion and Q&A

Moderated by Nadia von Maltzahn


COFFEE BREAK (11:30-12:00)


Maria-Mirka Palioura (Art Historian, Finopoulos Collection – Benaki Museum)

Archival Testimony for the Early Years of the Cairo Salon (1891-1904)


Dina Ramadan (Assistant Professor of Arabic, Bard College)

Society of the Lovers of the Fine Arts and the Formation of an Egyptian Artistic Awareness


Panel Discussion and Q&A

Moderated by Hala Auji, American University of Beirut


LUNCH (13:00 -14:30)




Monique Bellan (Research Associate, OIB)

The Poetics and Politics of Display: The Egyptian Avant-Garde defying the Salon


Amin Alsaden (PhD Candidate, Harvard University)

Alternative Salons: Cultivating Art and Architecture in the Domestic Spaces of Post-WWII Baghdad


Nada Shabout (Professor of Art History, University of North Texas)

Art Salons and the Baghdad Avant-Garde


Panel Discussion and Q&A

Moderated by Nayla Tamraz, Director, MA programme in Art criticism and Curating, Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut



Saturday, 28 October 2017, Sursock Museum


10:00-10:10        Welcome Notes: Zeina Arida (Director, Sursock Museum)


10.10-11.30         PANEL 3: CIRCULATIONS


Camilla Murgia (Visiting Lecturer in History of Art, University of Geneva)

Patterns for Glory: The Reward System in Northern African Salons


Catherine Cornet (Adjunct Professor, American University of Rome)

From Egypt to Europe and Back: Artistic Circulation within Egyptian State Patronage Structures


Panel Discussion and Q&A

Moderated by Kristine Khouri (Independent Researcher)


11.30-12.15         TOUR AND PRESENTATION 

of the Sursock Museum Library and Archives and the current display with Rowina Bou-Harb (Library and Archive Officer, Sursock Museum)


LUNCH BREAK (12:15-13:30)


13:30-14:00         The 249th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy  

Eileen Cooper (Artist, OBE Royal Academician, past Keeper of the Royal Academy)

in conversation with Nadia von Maltzahn




Yasmine Chemali (Head of Collections, Sursock Museum)

Sursock Museum’s Permanent Collection Through the Gaze of the Salon d’Automne


Ghalya Saadawi (Independent)

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Salon, Anti-Salon, Contemporary Art


Panel Discussion and Q&A

Moderated by Gregory Buchakjian, Assistant Professor, Université de Balamand - Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts


COFFEE BREAK at the Sursock Museum Resto (15:00-15:30)


15:30-17:00         ROUNDTABLE: Interrogating the Open-Call Exhibition Format

Moderated by Zeina Arida


Marie Muracciole (Director, Beirut Art Center)

Amar A. Zahr (Founder & Director, Beirut Art Residency)

Abed Al Kadiri (Artist, Former Director of CAPKuwait)

Nora Razian (formerly Head of Programs and Exhibitions at the Sursock Museum)