Dif­fer­ent stripe

Tony and El­ham Salamé’s art-filled Beirut pen­t­house

Wallpaper - - March -

There’s a Daniel Buren on the wall. Ac­tu­ally, there’s a sin­gle Daniel Buren oc­cu­py­ing two fac­ing walls and another in the swim­ming pool, but we’ll get to that. Re­mark­ably, though, what is most no­tice­able as you walk into Tony and El­ham Salamé’s 30th-floor pen­t­house is the view. Tightly packed Beirut tends to­wards claus­tro­pho­bia, but here the sweep of city, sea and moun­tains is stun­ning.

The cen­tre­piece of the apart­ment is a for­mal liv­ing room with a triple-height hall­way, a space to en­ter­tain. The real fam­ily home, in­ti­mate and do­mes­tic, oc­cu­pies the floors above. Ty­ing both parts to­gether is the cou­ple’s art, a col­lec­tion of some of the heav­i­est-hit­ters in con­tem­po­rary art. There’s a ten­nis court-sized Richard Prince above the sofa, a strik­ing black-and­white Christo­pher Wool be­hind the dining ta­ble, Arte Povera by Piero Manzoni in the TV room, and vin­tage fur­ni­ture, in­clud­ing pieces by Jean Royère and his col­league Nadim Ma­j­dalani, a Le­banese ar­chi­tect.

The art spills into ev­ery area of the house, in­clud­ing the children’s rooms, tak­ing in Gün­ther Förg, Urs Fis­cher and Laura Owens, a Joe Bradley in­stal­la­tion, a Tracey Emin neon, an il­lu­mi­nated Jorge Pardo sculp­ture, and a risqué Rob Pruitt sofa. ‘The kids chose what they wanted,’ El­ham says, point­ing at a piece from Richard Prince’s 2014 New Por­traits show that hangs in her el­dest’s bed­room. ‘My son sent the woman in that piece a mes­sage on In­sta­gram. She was a bit shocked when he told her she was hang­ing on his wall.’ The woman in ques­tion was Ken­dall Jen­ner.

The pen­t­house con­tains a frac­tion of the 2,500 works (by over 150 artists) that the cou­ple own.

When not on loan, the re­main­der sits in two mas­sive ware­houses, or is dis­played at their pri­vate foun­da­tion. Opened in 2015 in Jal el Dib, north of Beirut, the Aïshti Foun­da­tion oc­cu­pies part of the 35,000 sq m David Ad­jaye-de­signed seafront com­plex that also houses a branch of the re­gional lux­ury re­tail chain that made the Salamés’ for­tune.

This is where Buren resur­faces. Once the third part of the work is in­stalled at the Aïshti, the three parts will ef­fec­tively form a sin­gle in­stal­la­tion, spread over 7km. And as only those with pen­t­house ac­cess will be able to see them si­mul­ta­ne­ously (the brass tele­scope in the liv­ing room can be trained on the Buren across the bay), it’s some­thing of an ex­clu­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Salamés’ rise to mega­col­lec­tor sta­tus hap­pened swiftly, their col­lec­tion es­sen­tially tak­ing shape dur­ing a decade or so of what they call a spree of ‘im­pul­sive’ buy­ing. Urged by their friend Dino Fac­chini, founder of the By­b­los fash­ion la­bel, to fo­cus on ‘se­ri­ous’ con­tem­po­rary art, they sought out the ad­vice of Mas­si­m­il­iano Gioni, cur­rently artis­tic di­rec­tor of New York’s New Mu­seum, and art dealer and cu­ra­tor Jef­frey Deitch. To­gether, Gioni and Deitch helped turn the couples’ im­pulses into more co­he­sive col­lect­ing, shift­ing their fo­cus onto new art.

Their spir­ited ur­gency re­mained, though. The Salamés be­came known for buy­ing en­tire shows,

lock, stock, and after sev­eral spec­tac­u­lar rounds of buy­ing – one Art Basel preview net­ted 22 ma­jor works by the likes of Kathryn An­drews, Tauba Auerbach and John Arm­leder – their sta­tus as col­lec­tors so­lid­i­fied.

‘Busi­ness was good,’ Tony says, re­fer­ring to his re­tail em­pire. ‘Maybe I was rash, but if we’d bought more slowly, we’d never have met the kind of artists we did. I acted fast. I usu­ally do. I’m known for try­ing to do these big, crazy projects.’ Like the mas­sive Zaha Ha­did-de­signed re­tail and life­style com­plex rising in Beirut’s souks. Or sup­port­ing exhibitions at the New Mu­seum, MOMA and the Whit­ney. Or the Foun­da­tion. ‘Some­times, these things wake me up at night.’

Ev­ery­thing that Tony and El­ham do is driven by their con­vic­tion that Beirut should be the re­gion’s cul­tural hub. Though with less fi­nan­cial mus­cle than the neigh­bour­ing Gulf petromonar­chies cur­rently pour­ing their all into art, Le­banon has gen­uine free­dom of artis­tic ex­pres­sion, mak­ing exhibitions here more con­ver­sa­tion than mono­logue.

Since the cou­ple first be­gan ex­hibit­ing through the Metropoli­tan Art So­ci­ety, a now-de­funct pre­cur­sor to the Aïshti Foun­da­tion, Beirut has trans­formed. The city’s pre­em­i­nent pre-war art mu­seum, the Sur­sock, has been re­vived, while new ar­rivals such as the Beirut Art Cen­ter and the open­ing of dozens of new gal­leries, as well as events such as the Beirut Art Fair and Ashkal Al­wan’s Home Works art fo­rum, have added cul­tural pulling power.

While the Foun­da­tion’s col­lec­tion does take in con­tem­po­rary Le­banese art – no­tably Walid Raad, Mona Ha­toum, Ziad An­tar, Rayyane Ta­bet and Fouad Elk­oury – its fo­cus on (mostly) 21st-cen­tury Western art sets it apart. And raises eye­brows. For Tony Salamé, the crit­ics miss the point. ‘We wanted a di­a­logue, to bring what was hap­pen­ing in New York and Paris here. Not ev­ery­one can af­ford to get on a plane and see for them­selves. The Foun­da­tion is a cul­tural win­dow, so ev­ery­one can get a taste.’∂ aishti­foun­da­tion.com

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above, lawrence weiner’s UN­DER THE TOP, 2012, and a two-part daniel buren Piece, 2016, In the Salamés’ liv­ing room. there’s another buren Piece In the Swim­ming Pool

above, art­works in the liv­ing room in­clude urs Fis­cher’s Mashed, 2012 (be­hind arm­chairs), richard prince’s Un­ti­tled, 2007 (be­hind sofa), and sol le­witt’s Pyra­mid#7, 1985 (Far right). de­sign pieces in­clude a paul evans ‘cityscape’ cof­fee ta­ble and a mem­phis rug

left, Joe bradley’s


and Foot (ichthus), 2010, hangs above a ‘Z-chair’ by Zaha ha­did

clock­wise from top, Gary Hume’s Frag­ment of a rain­bow, 2011, on a stair­case to the up­per floors; roe ethridge’s gisele on the phone, 2013; and preview, 1988, by allen rup­pers­berg, both in the liv­ing quar­ters of the salamés’ daugh­ter tasha

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