CfP MESA 2016 panel: “The Art Salon in the Middle East: Migration of Institutional Patronage and its Challenges”

We invite paper proposals for participation in a panel on The Art Salon in the Middle East: Migration of Institutional Patronage and its Challenges that we are submitting to MESA for this year’s annual meeting in Boston, MA, 17-20 November 2016.

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 Middle East, a School of Fine Arts was established in Cairo in 1908 by Prince Youssuf 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, as shown by Mahmoud Moukhtar’s participation in the 1913 Salon de Paris, the first of many participations. Other Middle Eastern artists who were recognized in France include the Egyptian-born Georges Hanna Sabbagh, who participated in several of the alternative salons in Paris in the 1920s and early 30s before exhibiting in the 1935 Cairo Salon, the Iraqi Khalid al Jadir who joined the Salon de Paris, or the Lebanese Georges Daoud Corm, who participated in the 1966 Salon de Printemps in Paris. In the Middle East, several salons have sprung up in the 20th century, including the annual Cairo Salon of the “Society of Fine Art Lovers” presided by politician and art collector Muhammad Mahmoud Khalil, the annual exhibition the “Friends of Art” started in Baghdad in the 1940s, the Salon d’Automne of the Sursock Museum in Beirut that was launched in the 1960s, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s Young Artists’ Salon that was introduced in 1989 and triggered debates about what constituted Egyptian art, to name but a few examples.

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. This panel aims to explore the role of the art salon in the Middle East, examining to what extent it had an impact on the formation of public taste and debates on art in the Middle East, as well as to look at knowledge transfer and cultural interactions between Europe and the Middle East. What did the participation of Middle Eastern artists in European salons signify for the artists’ reception and identity? In the Middle East, was the art salon considered just an import from Europe, a fringe phenomenon lacking the historical development of institutional patronage and competing with other more rooted exhibition forms, or did it have a real role to play? Who initiated salons in the region? Was the rejection of the salon a driving force for the historical avant-garde in the region? Were there any alternative or informal forums, which defied the aesthetic and political values of the salons? What role did salons in the Middle East play in the development of art criticism in the region? Finally, how are state, art market and salons related? These are some of the question the panel addresses.

Confirmed papers:

  1. Nada Shabout (University of North Texas): Title TBC
  2. Monique Bellan (Orient-Institut Beirut): Talking About Art and life: The Egyptian historical avant-garde defying the salon
  3. Nadia von Maltzahn (Orient-Institut Beirut): Salon d’Automne at the Sursock Museum: A case study

We welcome further paper proposals, in particular related to the following topics (and preferably on countries not yet covered in the three papers above):

  • The history of the salon in the Middle East, in particular relating to knowledge transfer between Europe and the Middle East in the colonial and post-colonial era
  • Participation of Middle Eastern artists in European salons
  • Case studies of salons and exhibition practices in the region
  • The role of the salon in the development of art criticism

Please send an abstract (300 words) to Monique Bellan ( and Nadia von Maltzahn ( by 24 January 2016.

A first panel session on this topic will take place at this year’s SeSaMo conference in Catania in March, in which Nadia Radwan (University of Bern), Morad Montazami (Tate Modern), Wendy Shaw (Free University Berlin), Catherine Cornet (EHESS Paris/University of Rome II), Monique Bellan (Orient-Institut Beirut) and Nadia von Maltzahn (Orient-Institut Beirut) will present papers, discussed by Eva-Maria Troelenberg (Max-Planck Institut Florence). It is envisaged to disseminate the research findings in an edited volume following the two conferences.

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