The gallerist, the letter and the garden

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros

The gallerist, the letter and the garden

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros

  • Period
  • 09.02 — 16.03.2019

  • Opening
  • 09.02 — 2PM

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The exhibition is conceived like a garden where each part, or plot, is delimitated by one carpet. Separated by bare areas of concrete, they are bordered by an unexpected pathway.


In The gallerist, the letter and the garden, the exhibition is treated as a malleable material which Charbel-joseph H. Boutros uses to elaborate some of the artworks. He amplifies the exhibition’s usual structure into an all-encompassing organic body, whose limbs, or elements, are active and participate in fabricating art. Atypical relationships are established between artworks, artist, gallery, gallerist and visitors; they follow new patterns and altogether constitute the ever-evolving ambitious and complex exhibition scheme. A myriad of surreal situations result from the provoked interferences and are invited to coexist in a delicate manner. Boutros narrates and orchestrates these seemingly disparate scenarios. Catwalk, an immaculate elevated pathway, dedicated solely to the gallerist and her staff, creates an uncanny spectacle, among the gallery’s usual crowd. Geography and Abstraction translates gallerist Jaqueline Martins’ weight into an equivalent concrete cylinder; placed under the first carpet to be seen in the exhibition, her supple body is duplicated into a static abstract sculpture which remains at rest while she simultaneously travels on Catwalk. The exhibition between us singles out two random visitors, the first and the last to enter the gallery; each one’s name is to be carved on awaiting marble slabs, comparable to the exhibition’s starting and closing dates. The ephemeral event’s occurrence is contained somewhere between the two millenary stones, which form an improbable installation, composed of both visible and invisible parts.


The gallerist and her team access the exhibition space solely using a designated walkway; they hence perform relentlessly throughout the duration of the exhibition as they migrate on the meandering runway; espousing part of the gallery’s periphery, Catwalk stretches an embracing arm around the exhibition. The pedestal can be understood merely as a structuring spatial element, but its operation mode is equivocal: it sacralizes its users by raising them above everything and everyone else, giving them a better overview; still, it establishes a distance between them and the visitors wandering around the exhibition – or garden – below, which only them have the privilege of experiencing directly. The slightly overwhelming structure can be assimilated to a horizontal watchtower, and can generate controversial feelings of protection or domination. The perception of the gallerist and the members of her staff shift constantly: they transmute from guards to models to dancers, maybe even to preachers… The partition played is of course but a game proposed by the artist, whose rules the gallerist and visitors could undoubtedly choose to ignore. Questions of faith and trust, recurrent in Boutros’ work, surface once again, leaving the performance’s success up to the players will.


The pathway is also a conducting line navigating alongside the other grounds of the exhibition; effectively, The gallerist, the letter and the garden is articulated on and underneath five “stages” with distinctive levels: the hard and cold concrete floor – on which are placed the two (cold),metallic containers full of mixed water and tears of I stood in the middle of the strait of Gibraltar and dropped my left tear in the Atlantic Ocean and my right tear in the Mediterranean sea –, the three soft and comfortable carpets – which offer the visitors a break from the strictly urban context of the gallery, transposing them at the same time to the wintery atmosphere of the geographical area the artist has left to install the show –, and the pathway itself. These floors of different natures are like soils of different composition, prepared for each one of the installations. The carpets, more specifically, are instilled with specific intentions: the first one celebrates the gallery, which nurtures and diffuses art, the second one celebrates a love letter – the first one the artist received from his girlfriend –, and the third one celebrates a garden, the one the artist’s late father cultivated. The exhibition unfolds like an autobiographical tale around these three fundamental topics: art, love and end, interweaving the intimate and the emotional with broader universal threads such as historical, political and geographical ones.


If The gallerist, the letter and the garden establishes distinctions and honours specific people, it equally celebrates random ones, as is the case in the aforementioned work The exhibition between us: a monument to two strangers, which associates the planned event to these arbitrary presences, making chance something to be remembered. With this homage come along several others: on the second carpet, we watch on a laptop’s screen the film Under the shadow of your fingers, which shows the hands of a woman typing. They are none other than the artist girlfriend’s, re-typing 6 years later the first love letter she ever sent to him. The words form virtually, remaining indecipherable to the public. The e-mail has also been printed and is displayed covered in wax to preserve its support and protect its content. Eventually, in the heat of the city, the unstable material could melt, just like in similarly coated works in the exhibition such as Night Cartography #3 and Untitled until now. The wax used is always from stolen bits of votive candles, full of believers’ wishes and will; here, it acts magically on the love letter, for the exchanged promises to be fulfilled and last eternally. The homage continues in the present exhibition text; written by the same fingers, this time it contains the artist’s promises to the public. 


Finally, one of the strongest tributes in The gallerist, the letter and the garden lays in the work The soil of modernity, which displays in a cabinet soil brought from Brasilia to the artist  He has not gone in person to the city – the embodiment of last century’s modernist theories. Nor will he ever go, in a desire to maintain the predominance of utopia over reality. Once the exhibition is over, the soil will be transported to Lebanon and scattered in the previously cited garden, situated in the Lebanese mountain and bequeathed by the artist’s father to his family. The soil of the fantasised city will merge with that of a Lebanese village garden – perhaps intensifying its fertility or influencing its nature –, becoming definitively indistinguishable from it and forming an integral part of the fruits, vegetables and flowers that grow in it. The homage goes out to the modernist town, but more prominently to the artist’s father, whose garden the soil will nurture. In Life, variation #2, a geometric concrete block holds a gap in the organic shape of a fruit. In the hollow cavity are placed seeds from the very fruit that was used to mold the container. They have survived the absent fruit and can potentially sprout, allowing its shape to reconstitute… these precious relics contain one more promise, that of persistence through the creative act.


— Stéphanie Saadé




Stéphanie Saadé (b. 1983, Lebanon) is an artist based between Beirut, Paris and Amsterdam.


Charbel-joseph H. Boutros (b. 1981, Lebanon). Lives and works between Beirut, Paris and Amsterdam. In his work invisibility is charged with intimate, geographical and historical layers;  finding poetic lines that extend beyond the realm of existing speculations and realities. Being born in the middle of the Lebanese war, his art is not engaged in an explicit political and historical reflection, but is more accurately haunted by the said political and historical reflection. H. Boutros was a resident at the Pavillon, Palais de Tokyo, Paris and a researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie, the Netherlands. His work has been shown internationally at venues such as: Centre Pompidou-Metz (France), Palais de Tokyo (Paris),  S.M.A.K Museum (Belgium), 12th Istanbul Biennial, CCS Bard College (New York),  Barjeel Art Foundation (Sharjah), Beirut Art Center (Lebanon), 3rd Bahia Biennial, Brasil. In March he’ll be part of “Luogo e Segni”, an important group show to be held at Punta della Dogana - Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Italy. 

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