Ray­mond Audi

Lebanon Traveler - - A DAY WITH -

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.

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