New private art museums

Contemporary art lovers in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are choosing to share their significant collections by opening galleries in cities where theirs is often the only one

The Falckenberg Collection exhibited at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, with Hoegarden by Nicole Eisenman in the centre
The Falckenberg Collection exhibited at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, with Hoegarden by Nicole Eisenman in the centre | Image: Hennig Rogge/Deichtorhallen Hamburg

As conversation-stopping assertions go, the revelation that more art was sold during the boom of the 1980s than in all previous centuries combined takes some beating. So says German art collector, industrialist and close observer of the market Harald Falckenberg. It may not be an absolutely provable fact, he concedes, but there is plentiful evidence to support it. Until the mid-1980s the major auction houses scarcely dealt in art by living artists (all other sectors of the market are finite by their very nature). But Sotheby’s historic 1986 sale of Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills for $385,000 marked a turning point. In 2009, it sold for $43.8m, evidence that postwar and contemporary art has become, by some distance, the largest sector of a still burgeoning market, accounting for 48 per cent of €51bn-worth of art that changed hands last year, according to TEFAF’s Art Market Report 2015. No wonder collectors are running out of space to display what they own.

Harald Falckenberg
Harald Falckenberg | Image: Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

Faced with this dilemma, the owners are presented with various solutions. They can buy another house, move to a larger one or build a gallery extension. As Kathleen Coumou, senior vice-president at Christie’s International Real Estate in New York, has noticed, “Increasingly I’m seeing collectors’ homes that have been designed to incorporate dedicated galleries, spaces with a lot of light – often skylights – and comprehensive security systems, specifically intended to display their  collection […], usually in a separate area or wing, or it might be a long hallway leading from the living quarters to the bedroom quarters, with art hung on either side.”


Alternatively, they can store it in vaults, though flood damage to several New York galleries, caused by Hurricane Sandy three years ago, generated insurance claims for loss and damage that underwriters estimated at $500m, according to Reuters. And, in 2004, a fire at Momart, the Royal Warrant holder for fine-art storage in London, destroyed millions of pounds worth of work by many of the pioneers of BritArt. So, secure storage is not always as secure as all that.

Ramin Salsali
Ramin Salsali | Image: Getty Images for IWC

Or they can, as Falckenberg has done, help establish an art museum. Since 2011 he has showcased some of his contemporary artworks at renowned exhibition house Deichtorhallen Hamburg as a collection called Sammlung Falckenberg/Deichtorhallen Hamburg. Falckenberg had originally established his own exhibition premises in 1997, which moved to the former Phoenix tyre factory in Hamburg in 2001. His collection includes more than 2,000 pieces by mostly German and American artists, among them John Baldessari, Thomas Hirschhorn, Martin Kippenberger and Richard Prince.

The Salsali Private Museum, during the 2014 exhibition of Iranian artist Amir Hossein Zanjani
The Salsali Private Museum, during the 2014 exhibition of Iranian artist Amir Hossein Zanjani

Not that his reasons are exclusively to do with a desire to share what he has with a wider public. “The most important aim of a collector is to have good works, quality works,” he told me when we met at Art15 earlier this year, perhaps the most significant London art fair after Frieze, as well as the setting for a conference for founders of private museums. “Access to the best art is a matter of who you know. And artists want theirs to be seen, so they are more likely to sell to collectors who will show it, not squirrel it away. That means you must have good personal contacts with them, their galleries and dealers,” he continued. “Artists today are very powerful, especially ones like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst – who opened Newport Street Gallery, his own private gallery in Vauxhall, south London, last month, drawing from his collection by other artists, among them Francis Bacon, Picasso, Warhol and, as it happens, Koons.” (“Collectors have a responsibility not to let their works gather dust in some forgotten warehouse,” Hirst once said, still stung perhaps by the loss of much of his own in the Momart fire.) “If I didn’t have the museum, a lot of artists probably wouldn’t be interested [in selling to me]. They wouldn’t give me their best pieces,” Falckenberg continued, adding, “This way I’m not buying them for myself. I don’t feel I really own them. In any case I have a certain responsibility to Germany.”

Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani at the Samdani Art Foundation centre – their Dhaka home – with works by Ai Weiwei, Pushpamala N and Clare Arni
Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani at the Samdani Art Foundation centre – their Dhaka home – with works by Ai Weiwei, Pushpamala N and Clare Arni | Image: Manir Mrittik

Of course, just about every major gallery in Europe and the US began as a collection, often of contemporary art by an altruistic individual, and several collectors in the west continue to share their art with the public. Charles Saatchi (Saatchi Gallery), Frank Cohen (Dairy Art Centre), Poju and Anita Zabludowicz (Zabludowicz Collection) and David Roberts (David Roberts Art Foundation) have all, for instance, established galleries in London. Over the past decade, however, it has become a growing trend in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America as increasing numbers of collectors open museums in cities where their gallery is often the only one.

Budi and Michelle Tek 
Budi and Michelle Tek  | Image: Getty Images

Take Ramin Salsali, a consultant in the petrochemical industry with interests in real-estate development, who was motivated to open the Salsali Private Museum in Dubai because he felt his adopted home needed a gallery and he saw it as his duty, as someone grateful for his good fortune, “to think how [he could] give a little bit back”. Born in Tehran in 1964, Salsali spent more than 25 years in Germany, where at 21 he encountered the artist Kiddy Citny – “he was the most free spirit I’d ever met” – and began to buy art, more than 1,000 works to date, mostly by Middle Eastern artists. But having settled in Dubai – “a lot of Iranians came here, as well as Syrians and Iraqis, because of its closeness to their own countries” – he missed the culture he’d known in Munich. “Dubai has many things – beaches, shopping, top hotels, some of the world’s best restaurants, great architecture – but a lot of my European friends wouldn’t come here because of the lack of culture, so I felt it was losing out. Dubai needed a cultural identity, and I felt an obligation to open a museum.”

Tek’s Yuz Museum Shanghai
Tek’s Yuz Museum Shanghai | Image: Yuz Museum, Shanghai

The result, he believes, has been something of a “catalyst”, inspiring other Emiratis to collect art but also encouraging the cultural renaissance that the United Arab Emirates are beginning to enjoy. Many years in the planning, with work now well under way, the Louvre is to have a satellite in Saadiyat in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, where the largest-yet Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, is expected to open in 2017.

The Powers Art Center in Colorado, with ceramics by Japanese artist Takashi Nakazato in the middle
The Powers Art Center in Colorado, with ceramics by Japanese artist Takashi Nakazato in the middle | Image: Hiroyasu Sakaguchi AtoZ

But more than that, Salsali adds, it is terrific fun. “Spending money on art is one thing, but spending it on a project that brings people together is much more satisfying. It gives twice, three times the pleasure of just owning and looking at a work of art. Art is not for keeping bunkered away. There’s nothing better in life than letting people see what you have.”

John Powers
John Powers

When Budi Tek, the Shanghai-based Chinese-Indonesian agricultural magnate, opened his first museum, it was “very much a private space for friends to come together”. Not just to see his substantial and significant collection – which runs from Ai Weiwei to Zhang Chunya, by way of every major Chinese contemporary artist of our age, not to mention a number of notable Europeans, among them Georg Baselitz, Maurizio Cattelan and Anselm Kiefer – but “for wine tasting. Over the years, though, we found we were doing something very interesting that was actually needed by society and [that gave me a great sense of] fulfilment.”

Dasha Zhukova
Dasha Zhukova | Image: Getty Images

His first publicly accessible gallery, the Yuz Museum, was opened in Jakarta in 2008 by the former president of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, “who is my friend”, becoming, he adds proudly, “the first private museum in Jakarta to be accredited by the government”. Last year a second museum followed in Shanghai, housed in a former aircraft hangar in what is known as the West Bund Cultural Corridor. A third, the Budi Desa art park, is currently in development in Bali to which the Jakarta museum will be transferring. “It’s at the design stage, but hopefully we’ll start construction at the end of the year and finish it in two years”, says Tek. He warms to his theme: “As a collector, I am greedy. I want to collect more and more, but I like to share. There’s a difference between sharing a good dinner and wine with friends, and sharing art with the whole population”.Not least the kudos and recognition it brings: “You would not be interviewing me if I hadn’t done this; you would not be interested.” Quite so. “It’s what makes me excited; it’s what makes me satisfied.” It is also, he adds, what he’ll be remembered for.

The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow
The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow | Image: Getty Images

It is a good point. What, for example, is Henry Tate best known for: building a sugar refinery and acquiring the patent for a machine that made sugar cubes, or endowing a gallery to display his huge art collection, thereby creating what has become perhaps the best-known brand in fine art?


Just as Tek sits on the Asia-Pacific acquisitions committee at the Tate, Bangladeshi industrialist Rajeeb Samdani, whose company Golden Harvest has interests in agriculture, aviation, commodities, food, logistics and technology, co-chairs its south Asian acquisitions committee. He and his wife Nadia are building an arts centre and sculpture park on a 100-acre property within sight of the Assam Hills in Sylhet. It promises to rival Inhotim, the stellar arts complex part-founded by mining magnate Bernardo de Mello Paz in a remote region of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, a place of pilgrimage for art aficionados. Many of the works, says Samdani, will be site-specific installations, not least because Bangladesh’s import duties can be as much as 122 per cent, and having pieces created in-situ circumvents the need to import them.

Since the Samdanis established their eponymous foundation in 2011, it has been possible to view works from their 2,000-plus collection, by European, US and in particular south Asian artists, by appointment at their six-storey home in Dhaka, which they treat as a gallery in as much as they reselect and rehang the art they live with every 18 months. Even their children have favourites – their 11-year-old daughter favours British artist Julian Opie, while her elder sister prefers the French street artist Mr Brainwash. Indeed, the Samdanis regularly invite students from high schools and art colleges to visit because “there is no dedicated contemporary art museum in Bangladesh”.

In the meantime they have established a research and exhibition platform, the Dhaka Art Summit, the third of which will take place next February. This, says Nadia, is “a huge pop-up museum held over four days” that brings together 200 artists from across south Asia and is also a forum for ideas and meetings. Cross-cultural exchange is another passion. The Samdanis point proudly to a work in their collection by the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, which they bought at the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea last year and have now lent to an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

This is essentially what Dasha Zhukova, the collector, philanthropist and wife of Roman Abramovich, is aiming to achieve with her Moscow museum Garage. Its main mission, she said at the opening of its Rem Koolhaas-designed home in June, “is education [and] bringing different cultures from all around the world to share their ideas”.

The objective is also shared by Gina Diez Barroso, CEO of the huge Mexican real-estate development and design company Grupo Diarq. Diez Barroso opened a gallery in Mexico City on September 29 on the 30,000sq m campus of Centro (with which it shares its name), the first independent university in Mexico City to specialise in creative industries, which she founded. “Until 2013, when the Museo Jumex opened, Mexico didn’t have a museum of contemporary art. I wanted to create one that would include not only art but design that has changed and shaped the world” – exhibits such as an original 1961 Mini Cooper – “because Sir Alec Issigonis’s design has “become such an icon”. Mexicans, she adds, “really want to learn about art. People camped outside the [Yayoi] Kusama show [at the Museo Tamayo] last winter to be sure of seeing it.” This was her way of creating something for which there was both a demand and that would “leave a legacy”.

Perhaps posterity is ultimately the driving factor behind the foundation of a museum, for one’s loved ones if not for oneself, because as long as there’s a sufficient endowment that will allow it to endure, founding a museum is a tried-and-tested way of guaranteeing that one’s name is not forgotten.

Kimiko Powers, widow of American attorney and art collector John Powers, was inspired to build and endow the Powers Art Center, which opened in Colorado last summer as a memorial to him. “He loved art,” she told me by phone from Tokyo. “And he devoted the latter part of his life to it,” amassing a vast collection of postwar American art by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol, for whom she sat several times. “I wanted to create something for his descendants, to help his grandson and all the people who come after him to look back on their ancestor.”

Surrounded by a dramatic mountain landscape, the austere yet serene red-sandstone gallery, designed by Hiroshi Nanamori, also contains 130 or so works by Jasper Johns (whose own Foundation for Contemporary Arts in New York opened a gallery space, The Other Room, in the Meatpacking District in May this year), along with a smaller collection of pots by the Japanese ceramicist Takashi Nakazato. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful or more fitting monument to love.

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