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New grey gallery has colorful artistic start.

Summary: "Chroma," the debut exhibition of the Work in Progress contemporary art gallery, is a rainbow of works from nine international emerging artists.

BEIRUT: "Chroma," the debut exhibition of the Work in Progress contemporary art gallery, is a rainbow of works from nine international emerging artists. Surrounded by whimsical colors, viewers are brought back to earth by the gallery's location, an abandoned floor of the Starco building, its concrete walls, peppered with holes and littered with red spray paint, hint at past attempts at renovation.Farida El Solh, the founder of WIP and curator of "Chroma," expressed her wish for Lebanese art to play a role in making the present times brighter.

"I think that, especially in the Middle East today, art is so depressing. It's always about the war," Solh told The Daily Star. "I respect these artists and I respect these galleries, but I think that art is really about something you love ... When you put a piece in your home, even if it's nicely executed, it has to be something you can look at every day and smile."

When selecting the gallery's location and curating the show, Solh said, her objectives were accessibility and fun. "I just didn't want a [white cube-style] gallery. That was a big no for me."

Equating white walls with both financial and educational exclusivity, she wanted to create a different environment where everyone would feel welcome. "I think that art should be much more fun. I think it should be accessible for everyone, and it shouldn't be intimidating."

The bright hues of each piece hanging in "Chroma" are intensified by the grey, dilapidated quality of their setting, and the grey concrete space's sheer scale nearly balances the colorful art.

The exhibition embraces this dichotomy. You must explore the space to find the art, like one lively painting by the Los Angeles-based artist Ammon Rost - tucked away in the white-tiled remnants of an old bathroom, reached by ducking through a gaping hole in the enclosing wall.

Pointing out a bold geometric work of Eric Shaw, Solh described how rebar protruding from the wall had dictated where she could place the painting, explaining, "We respected the space and the limits of the space."

Although unified by a penchant for color, the exhibited artists vary in style and work with a wide range of materials.

Penguins, frogs and monkeys are only a few of the animals that poke out from Pablo Dona's "Zoo," a tribute to childhood nostalgia in the form of a semi sphere made entirely of Japanese animal puzzle erasers.

According to Solh, "Everyone that comes here just smiles when they see [Dona's piece]." Mounted a few steps away is Dona's "Flower," constructed from the same brand of colorful erasers, but in the form of ice cream cones and cakes instead of animals.

Patric Sandri's series evokes the works of James Turrell in the artist's use of light and color to play with perception. White-painted wood constructions have discreetly placed pops of color which reflect off the white background to project through transparent cotton coverings.

The "Work in Progress" in the gallery's name speaks to both the evolution of artists and of art consumers, a nod to the fact that everyone starts somewhere. In addition to highlighting emerging artists, Solh feels that for those who want to start an art collection, her exhibition is "an opportunity for them to start asking questions, understanding, coming in and discovering new artists that are within their price range."

Aged 23 and freshly graduated with a bachelor of architecture from New York's Pratt Institute, Solh herself seems to fit this demographic. That a millennial is at the helm of this space is unsurprising, as the whole show cries out for an Instagram post.

A work by Maxwell McMaster called "Floppy" depicts a cloud-embellished floppy disk, which Solh admits strikes a chord only with visitors slightly older than herself.

Standing in front of Alina Birkner's "Untitled [Blue and Yellow]," Solh whips out her phone, explaining that you can better see the full extent of the colors through the lens of an iPhone.

"Chroma" is up at Work in Progress, Starco Center, through June 5. During Ramadan the gallery will open in the evenings only.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:May 6, 2019
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