Just under three years ago, Beirut’s Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum was wrecked after several thousand tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Beirut Port on August 4, 2020. Parts of the early-20th-century townhouse were completely destroyed, artworks were damaged, and the Lebanese capital’s oldest independent cultural establishment, the center of Beirut’s cultural scene in the 1960s, was forced to close. Now, thanks to a lengthy reconstruction and funding from various international organizations, it will reopen its doors on May 26 and recommence its programming.
While the reconstruction was taking place, the museum resumed a few activities, such as art festivals and artists’ talks, but its exhibition spaces have been closed since the explosion. Its reopening, as Lebanon continues to battle several nationwide crises is a feat in itself, symbolizing the city’s resilience and belief in the power of art and culture even — perhaps particularly — during moments of intense hardship.
Restoration of the museum included the replacement of all windows — including its iconic stained glass; the repair of all doors, elevators, drop ceilings, and skylights; the repair and cleaning of the electro-mechanical system; and the restoration of the traditional wooden panels on the museum’s historical floor. It wasn’t just the building that was damaged in the blast either. Around 50 artworks have also been restored, including two paintings— “Untitled (Consolation)” by Paul Guiragossian and a portrait by Kees Van Dongen of Nicolas Sursock, the Lebanese art collector who died in 1952 and bequeathed his private villa to the city to be used as a museum — that were restored by the team at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
“We are more than just a museum,” We represent the memory of Beirut. The situation is still very difficult in Lebanon, but there is a positive energy in the museum now. With so many having left the country, what we stand for is the memory of a city and a country.”