Prominent Lebanese banker, Raymond Audi, has made cultural heritage a priority in the coastalcity of Sidon
For many, Raymond Audi is known as the financier and businessman who presides over Lebanon’s largest bank as chairman of Bank Audi. Originally a family business, the bank’s roots stretch back to 1830. So, it was perhaps always expected that Audi would join the family trade. In the atrium of the Bank Audi Plaza – the bank’s headquarters set inside an impressive glass-fronted building in Beirut’s Central District – breaking the spotless modernist interior is a large colorful sculpture, Jean Dubuffet’s Tour Dentellière. Contemporary artwork lines the walls of the entire interior with works by European artists such as Édouard Vuillard and Paul Delvaux and Lebanese notables Lamia Joreige and Chaouki Chamoun. It’s just part of the bank’s extensive art collection, revealing an alternate side to the Lebanese banker, as one of the country’s most prominent art collectors. Audi sits in his pristine office on the top floor of the Bank Audi Plaza, surrounded by framed photos of his family. When he speaks, he’s warm and approachable and appears much younger than his 81 years. “[The collection] started when we re-located to Switzerland during the war and understood we could spare part of our income collecting European art pieces,” he says. “In the 1980s when we started seeing [the country] coming back to normal we wanted to help the Lebanese who had suffered a lot during the war and so thought why not collect Lebanese art pieces.”
Following Lebanon’s civil war, when the Audi family returned to their home in Sidon, they discovered a heritage building in a sad state of destruction. Seven families had moved into the basement and the upper residence had been turned into a public school.