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The current group show at SoHo’s Pomegranate Gallery is the first American glimpse of contemporary art from war-torn Iraq. It paints a picture of a national school in formation, and offers a subtle essay on the many things that art can mean in dire times.

Pomegranate, which has only recently opened, claims the distinction of being the first U.S. space dedicated to contemporary art from the Middle East. The setup is a little unusual. A large coffee bar occupies the front of the space, and the gallery is filled with tables where people can chat and have lunch. Gallery director Oded Halahmy, a sculptor who is an Iraqi Jew by birth, says he wanted an atmosphere that recreates the social vibe of cultural spaces in the Middle East. In any case, the works in the current show are considerably more interesting than what might typically hang on café walls.

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