An abundant array of art dealers, curators, artists and international guests gathered in Beirut last Sunday to celebrate the opening of the Aïshti Foundation, a luxury shopping mall coupled with an art space founded by the luxury retail mogul Tony Salamé.
The opening showed just what a voracious collector Salamé is, mainly of contemporary art, although when he started his buying spree 15 years ago he acquired Italian modernism by artists such as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri and Michelangelo Pistoletto. A tree by Giuseppe Penone stands outside the building, designed by David Adjaye, in an area that will become a sculpture park and includes a jogging path. And more exhibition space is planned, as Salamé is negotiating to buy adjoining gas storage tankers on the seafront — which he could use for performance, much like Tate Modern’s tanks.
Among the 2,000 guests at the splashy inauguration were gallerists Sadie Coles, Jay Jopling, Continua’s Lorenzo Fiaschi, Thomas Dane, Thaddaeus Ropac, Emmanuel Perrotin and many others, along with fair directors Matthew Slotover (Frieze), Marc Spiegler (Basel) and Antonia Carver (Art Dubai) as well as Simon and Michaela de Pury. All were no doubt thrilled to visit the chock-full warehouse where Salamé stores his 2,500-strong art collection, each crate carefully labelled with the name of the gallery and contents — some visitors were even spotted surreptitiously taking notes.
Holding a more modest inauguration in Beirut at the same time as the Aïshti festivities was Joumana Asseily, who has founded a gallery called Marfa’ in the port district — “Marfa” means “port” in Arabic. Asseily was already involved in other Beirut non-profit art organisations such as Ashkal Alwan and the Beirut Art Centre.
Her gallery is in the customs area that is, as she says, “raw and industrial, but close to everything”. The space consists of two former garages and will show mainly conceptual art. The first exhibition, by the Lebanese Vartan Avakian, consists of photographs and objects made from silver and dust collected in the Barakat Building, a devastated landmark narrowly saved from destruction and destined to become a museum of the city’s history. “Of course Beirut is a fragile place to be,” says Asseily. “But this doesn’t stop us — the very fragility drives us on, and there is a growing interest in contemporary art here.” Prices for Avakian’s work range from $3,500 to $5,500.
The market for Old Masters, faced with dealers near retirement and a weakening client base, is continuing to evolve. In London, the once august Colnaghi, bought by the Munich dealer Konrad Bernheimer in 2002, has merged with the Spanish specialists Coll & Cortés. The partnership will move to Bury Street, in St James’s, next year.
In a joint message to clients sent on Friday, Konrad Bernheimer, Nicolás Cortés and Jorge Coll announced the merger, saying: “We look forward to a bright future in the 21st century, and to presenting our inaugural exhibitions both at Tefaf in March 2016, and at our new home in St James’s later next year.” The London company will be called Colnaghi, while Coll & Cortés will keep its name in Madrid.
With the change, Katrin Bellinger, who sold Old Master drawings under the Colnaghi umbrella in its current Bond Street premises, is ceasing her activity. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s will hold a 539-lot sale of gallery stock from London and Munich, along with personal objects from the Bernheimer family, in London on November 24-25; also being sold is Bernheimer’s 11th-century Bavarian castle Marquartstein, being handled by Sotheby’s International Reality.
Christie’s autumn Dubai sale, held on October 20, seemed to confirm that the market there is in decline; hardly surprising considering the unrest in the region, even if the United Arab Emirates remains peaceful and indeed a haven for money and residents from surrounding countries. But the tally of $7.2m raised for modern and contemporary art is a sharp fall from the $12.5m made for the same session last year. According to the firm’s local head Michael Jeha, the top lots performed well, with Mahmoud Saïd’s “La Négresse aux Bracelets” (1926) almost doubling estimate at $665,000, but the mid- and lower-range material had a harder time. Even so, Christie’s found buyers for 75 per cent of the sale.
London’s noted secondary market dealer Pilar Ordovas is showing sculptures by the Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida in a show entitled “Rhythm-Time-Silence” that opened on Friday. Held in a pop-up space at 488 Madison Avenue, revamped by architect Tom Croft, the show is the first for 26 years in New York for Chillida, who died in 2002, and who is far less known in the US than in Europe. The location was problematic to find, says Ordovas, as the eight monumental works in Corten steel, granite and alabaster are very heavy; not all are for sale, but prices range from $3m to $12m for those that are. Show continues until December 19.
And finally: Art Review’s Power 100 for this year fails to mention Brett Gorvy, Christie’s US-based powerhouse chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art. Indeed, the magazine doesn’t list any auction house person at all, not even Loic Gouzer, the wunderkind who put together Christie’s record-breaking “Looking Forward to the Past” sale last year. But flick back to last year’s Art Review Power 100 and this is what was promised, à propos Gorvy: “You’re going to have to move jobs before you’ll be off this list.” Well, whoops!
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Photographs: Guillaume Ziccarelli/Aïshti Foundation; Zabalagao-Leku, DACS 2015