BEIRUT: The death of César Nammour marks the loss of a great advocate of Lebanese art. A statement from MACAM, the museum he co-founded with Gabriela Schaub, announced that Nammour had passed away peacefully on Friday, May 7. He was 84.
César Nammour was born in Rabieh June 24, 1937, and took degrees in business administration at the American Universities of Beirut (1961) and Washington (1964). He reckoned his long engagement with Lebanese cultural production began in 1959, and over the decades he cultivated a restless career as arts writer, gallerist, collector, publisher, historian, patron, and museum founder.
His enthusiastic presence has been a fixture at gallery openings around Beirut for decades.
Over 20 years he was involved in three gallery projects, co-founding Beirut’s Contact Art Gallery in 1972 and two spaces in Zouk Mosbeh – Galerie Les Cimaises, in 1987, and Art and Culture, in 1993. In his efforts to institutionalize the country’s art sector, Nammour helped co-found the Contemporary Art Society, in 1997, and Lebanese Association of Art Critics, in 1998.
Over the years he devoted his writing, exhibitions, lectures and teaching to the appreciation and promotion of the country’s artists. He was most passionate about sculpture and several publications are devoted to the artists of the Basbous family.
“When he worked with artists, he was totally engaged,” gallerist Naila Kettaneh Kunigk recalled of Nammour. “He documented everything and his museum was enormous gift to contemporary installations in Lebanon.
“His loss is an enormous sorrow for me,” she added. “I had such a friendship with him. He lent me artworks but never wanted to sell anything. A true art lover, yes.”
“He was extremely engaged, looking at every aspect of the artists’ work,” gallerist Andree Sfeir-Semler told the paper. “He’s the first person in Lebanon to pursue art without an interest in making profit from it.
“It’s rare in our country to have this kind of engagement – pursuing a goal with no other motive in mind,” she added. “I think his archive is very important. I respect very much the way he remained engaged with art in very difficult times, without his ego getting in the way. It’s also rare to find people willing to work on a project without ego.”
Nammour established Fine Arts Publishing and, in 2009, he and Schaub co-founded RectoVerso Library. Their Festival of Lebanese Art Books followed in 2010, later rebranded as the Beirut Art Book Fair and Monnot Street Book Market. Though RectoVerso is a bookseller, its principal function is that of library (in the English-language sense). Most of its 800-plus titles (monographs, exhibition catalogues, magazines and reference books) are from Nammour’s personal collection, available for perusal but not for sale.
Nammour and Schaub co-founded the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum in Alita, a hamlet in the hills above Jbeil, in 2012. Situated in a pair of factories, the museum has a permanent exhibition of over 400 sculptures and installations by 60-odd artists and periodically stages temporary exhibitions and competitions targeting emerging artists.
“Fine Arts Publishing published many, many books on Lebanese art at a point in time when nobody else was interested in publishing, including a seminal book on sculpture in Lebanon,” said gallerist Saleh Barakat. “He also did amazing books on Helen Khal. He really took care of her.
“He assembled a very big library and created MACAM, opening the door for many artists to put their installations and sculptures and keep them safe in his space … He managed to institutionalize it, creating a nonprofit foundation that will survive him.
“He was a very great patron. Spending a lot of his time, energy and money to do things for Lebanon and Lebanese art. That is real patronage.”
It its statement, the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum declared Nammour’s legacy will live on and that they will celebrate his life by keeping the institution alive. In this regard, the museum will reopen to the public Friday, May 28 and host a celebration of its founder’s birthday, June 24, 2021.