Big Art Challenges Collectors

BASEL -- For collectors returning from Art Basel, one question looms large: Where do you put that 16-foot-tall and 29.5-foot-wide painting that comes with six pink chairs?

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are finding it difficult to fit the new breed of contemporary large works into their homes.

Tony and Elham Salame, who purchased the pink-chair work by Swiss artist John Armleder, with an asking price of 400,000 euros ($446,000) to 500,000 euros, said they’ll put it in their private museum.

The Salames, Beirut-based fashion retailers, are among wealthy collectors who snapped up gargantuan paintings, sculptures, and other show-stopping installations at the art fair’s Unlimited section, which is dedicated to large-scale pieces that in the past often didn’t find buyers.

This year, they contributed to strong sales at the fair, which was attended by a record 98,000 visitors.

“When Unlimited started in 2000, people thought these works were destined for public museums,” said Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s director. “Now there are more people who have either very large living arrangements, private museums or are buying the works for public institutions.”

The projects included Ai Weiwei’s tower of 760 bicycles, shown here, and a giant spinning saucer by Julius von Bismarck, who sat inside his creation and spun for hours.

The Salames said they are building a private museum in Beirut to exhibit their collection, which includes about 2,000 artworks. The building is designed by architect David Adjaye and is scheduled to open in October.

Showcase Art

A growing number of global collectors in recent years have built private museums to showcase their art, some with viewing times for the public.

Dasha Zhukova, partner of Russian billionaire art collector Roman Abramovich, opened the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow earlier this month. Billionaire Eli Broad is opening a private museum in Los Angeles in September.

The first exhibition at the Salame's Aishti Foundation in Beirut will be curated by Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the New Museum in New York, said Tony Salame.

Jeffrey Deitch, the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, is an adviser, Salame said.

Salame said he and his wife also bought another Unlimited project, a group of 24 dyed canvases by 31-year-old Los Angeles artist Sam Falls, for about $200,000.

Ranging in color from yellow to black, the 5.5-foot-tall (1.7 meters) canvases spent a year exposed to the outdoor elements as part of their making, said Hannah Hoffman, whose gallery co-presented the installation. Together, the group took over more than 120 feet of wall space.

Plastic Bags

Unlimited was the first section of Art Basel to open June 15 to invited guests, and the aisles were packed and the champagne flowed -- everyone drinking in the gargantuan works.

Billionaire money manager Steven A. Cohen stopped by David Zwirner’s booth to examine 11 sculptures by Franz West. Hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb snapped photographs of an installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou of colorful plastic bags tied around tree branches like leaves.

An installation by Saudi artist Maha Malluh was an instant hit, selling on opening night to a private museum in the Netherlands, according to Galerie Krinzinger, which presented the 2014 work. The asking price was 190,000 euros.

The piece was comprised of old aluminum pots from various flea markets in Saudi Arabia. They were attached to a wall that was 20-feet-tall and 52-feet-wide.

“We were overwhelmed,” said director Ursula Krinzinger. “We could have sold it to museums and collectors around the world.”

One Room

Fergus McCaffrey gallery displayed Marcia Hafif’s group of 106 paintings of various shades of grey. The asking price for the works -- painted in the 1970s and never exhibited as a group --was $1.75 million, said gallery owner Fergus McCaffrey.

“I’ve never seen it like this, all in one room,” Hafif said, standing in the middle of the 3,800-square-foot booth. “Which is really how they should be.”

Hafif’s installation wasn’t sold by the end of the fair. McCaffrey said he was negotiating a joint acquisition by a consortium of museums. Fair organizers also couldn’t provide details on whether Ai Weiwei’s bike tower or Von Bismarck’s spinning saucer were purchased or were on reserve.

The section’s true value is exposure, dealers said.

“There’s no other way to bring installations of that magnitude to the attention of such a sophisticated audience,” dealer Hoffman said.