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Painting in the company of Antonio Vivaldi.

Summary: The Tate Modern, one of the U.K.'s most renowned museums of modern art, is currently showing a retrospective of works by Catalan artist Joan Mir?.

JOUNIEH: The Tate Modern, one of the U.K.'s most renowned museums of modern art, is currently showing a retrospective of works by Catalan artist Joan Mir?. Produced over a 40-odd-year career, Mir?'s work was, in part, an act of defiance to Franco's regime. It was also inspired by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and it was this work that earned him much of his critical acclaim.

Mir?'s 1940-1 "Constellation" series, full of birds, fish and stars, was directly influenced by the composer's work. Though the nature of the relationship is obscure (even invisible if one isn't aware of it), its existence has vitalized the critical praise of the series.

The link between the visual arts and music is highly individual and difficult to classify or define. Naturally, a collection of artists with similar styles and training, all listening to the same piece of music, will not produce the same work. That's the theory.

This theory was put to the test Wednesday evening at Jounieh's Kulturzentrum, where the Association Libano-Allemande pour la Promotion de la Culture hosted its own exploration of the relationship between music and visual art -- and, in effect, performance.

For two hours, 23 artists -- spanning students, amateurs and professionals -- collectively painted to musical accompaniment. In this case Antonio Vivaldi's oft-re-heated chestnut "The Four Seasons" provided the soundtrack.

Conceived by the Kulturzentrum's Lotti Adaimi, a German violinist and artist, the initiative is now in its fifth year. The musical accompaniment varies year to year but it's always "classical." Kulturzentrum coordinator Astrid Fischer Khalife explained that this "is because, nowadays, people aren't so used to [classical music]. So it prompts them into something new."

The Kulturzentrum's motive in pairing music to visual art differs somewhat from that of Mir?. Although the event speaks to aesthetic experimentation, the center's objective is to promote artistic enterprise across society. The event is open to all.

"We wanted to do something modern," Khalife explained. "We do it to get people to come into contact with music and painting, and of course to have a young audience."

The students for this year's event came from two North Lebanon universities. The Lebanese University's Tripoli campus sent 13 students of art, interior design and graphic art. Koura's American University of Culture and Education was represented by three young artists.

AUCE's Hiba Darwishe emphasized what "a great opportunity" this was for the students. Clearly it had excited her students, another 17 of whom came along to support their delegation.

The event is concerned with creating social ties as much as artistic ones. In previous years, for instance, the evening was arranged to coincide with Easter and the music reflected that theme. This year, all religious echoes were deliberately removed because, as Khalife said: "We want everyone to participate."

At the end of the evening the best three paintings were chosen by eminent Lebanese art critics Cesar Nammour and Joseph Tarrab -- both of whom have been judging the event since it was launched five years ago. Both are equally admiring of the center's ambitions.

"Creating spaces of encounter in Lebanon is very important," remarked Nammour, who also lectures at AUB, specializing in Lebanese art history post-1950. He said he felt an "obligation to bridge the gap between my generation and now."

Artists now, he fears, have much less knowledge of what has come before and in particular of their Lebanese heritage. He feels the success of the event lies in its power to unite people of all ages and backgrounds.

"Vivaldi's masterpiece is fantastic," he said. "And it's about what it can do, what is actually happening here. We are bringing amateur artists and students to compete and to be in one atmosphere. This is a beautiful atmosphere. To bring music to individual art and to the plastic arts, it's fantastic. What's being done here is outstanding.

"Tonight is bringing [people] from different cultures and different schools together in one place with one goal."

Nammour said the jurors' criteria is specifically aesthetic, involving an examination of "the work's concept, technical realisation and aspects of aesthetic language."

While the evening succeeded in bringing communities together, both Nammour and Tarrab agreed that the paintings on the whole did not correspond to Vivaldi's music. In fact, the majority of entrants had decided what they would paint before they began.

In spite of this, some works did depict similar scenes.

A nude woman with voluminous breasts cropped up twice -- both times painted in swirls of color. Other candidates chose abstract compositions.

Though the connection between art and music was limited, the quality of the work -- especially considering how quickly it was produced -- was evident. What Vivaldi-ness was lacking in the work was made good by the liveliness with which the competitors worked.

Not a single dot of unpainted canvas was visible after the two-hour session.

Professional live artist Darine Semaan took third prize. Second place went to Sara Abou Mrad. Maral Der Boghossian won first prize with her four small rectangular canvas depictions, which, with their evocation of four seasons, especially appealed to the judges.

Even more enjoyable than the work was the energy the 23 artists exhibited in making it. Mir? might be pleased.

Copyright 2011, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Apr 15, 2011
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