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Beirut.com 21 Dec 2014

Hadi Maktabi Gallery Opens in Beirut

Hadi Maktabi Gallery, a veritable treasure chest of rare carpets, antiques and art works, opened in Beirut on December 11.

For over a hundred years, the name Maktabi has guaranteed fine, quality carpets. Dr. Hadi Maktabi, whose great-grandfather founded the carpet empire in Beirut, has taken the family tradition to new heights by opening a specialized Rare Carpets and Antiques Gallery, which he refers to as a “cabinet of curiosities.”

The gallery opening was held in the presence of many VIP guests including the Ambassador of Switzerland to Lebanon François Barras, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Lebanon Hester Somsen, the Australian Chargé d’Affaires David Windsor, the Defense Attaché Embassy of Brazil in Lebanon Cláudio Grilli and his wife, and former Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Hussein Derar as well as friends and media representatives.

“It has been shown that specialization is much more effective than having a showroom of everything together,” Maktabi explained. “What we have here is roughly a ratio of 90% antique rugs dating from the 17th to the early 20th century, while the other 10% are contemporary silk carpets made by master artists nowadays. It’s a gallery for precious and old objects and lovely and rare present-day ones, all of which are showcased and introduced as works of art rather than functional items. What we are displaying are items that are very hard to find.”

The stylish gallery, situated at Tabaris, specializing in the arts of the Islamic world, indeed boasts an eclectic and highly exclusive array of primarily fine antique Persian carpets. However, Maktabi’s stock includes a rich selection of Armenian, Caucasian, Anatolian, and a few Central Asian artifacts, notably from the former Soviet Union’s Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Maktabi stocks carpets and other objects from Mughal India and also has a selection of antique textiles such as gowns, caftans, dresses, bed spreads, old prayer rugs, purses, “jehaz” (trousseau), and mirror cases. These were mostly made as dowry elements for a young girl to take to her bridal home.

The gallery furthermore has precious examples of Asian Art beyond what is Islamic or Indian: metal work, wood work, porcelain, ceramics, and painting, all to a large extent showcasing the mastery of Islamic Art. “We have a good number of carpets that were in the former royal collections of the Ottoman dynasty, the Persian royal family, and the Afghani royal family,” Maktabi points out.

Set in an elegant, enticing modern space, conceived by renowned architects Batimat in collaboration with Maktabi himself, the wooden floors and lava stone walls, pair well with the large carpets on display, allowing the rich colors of the rugs showcased to come out.

Maktabi, who holds a PhD in Islamic Art from Oxford University and has specialized in the field of Persian rugs, has been lecturing at AUB for seven years. He regularly participates in academic conferences and has authored numerous publications on the artistic and economic history of the Persian carpet industry. He is passionate about the objects his gallery holds. He knows the background of each carpet: the religious and political history, the social, human, and ethnographic specificities, as well as the chemical components of dye materials, the knots, the fibers: cotton, wool, silk, etc. “You feel it, you experience it,” Maktabi says of his prized carpets. “I’m always on the lookout for what is rare and unusual,” he underlines.

To the gallery owner, each carpet effectively is like a poem, a text in a language the gallery owner masters. The concept or idea behind the Hadi Maktabi Gallery is that of an art gallery rather than a commercial showroom. “You have a few high-end dealers in New York, London who do that but in this part of the world, in this region, there is no gallery dedicated to these rare objects as such. Many places have a few old objects but they mostly carry other commercial stock,” Maktabi expounds. A little known fact is that Beirut is one of the three largest market places for Caucasian rugs, in addition to New York and Hamburg and has for a long time been the regional gateway for fine carpets coming from that region.

The gallery will also be holding regular exhibitions, as well as hosting lecture series.