This month sees the long-awaited opening of Tony Salamé’s Aïshti Foundation in Beirut, in a brand new building designed by David Adjaye. The Lebanese retail magnate and art collector started out buying stamps and carpets when he was a law student in Beirut. In the early 2000s, he turned to Arte Povera, which led to a keen passion for post-war and contemporary art. Salamé has since amassed more than 2,000 works by 150 different artists, with an emphasis on Abstract Minimalism. ‘Without question, Tony has been one of the most influential collectors of new art during the past ten years,’ says art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who introduced Salamé to the foundation concept years ago by taking him to see the Deste Foundation in Athens, predicting one day he would create his own. When Salamé took the plunge, Beirut was the obvious location, a city without an important contemporary art museum until now.

Salamé has poured more than $100m into the Aïshti Foundation’s new building, located in a once-industrial seaside neighbourhood called Jal el-Dib, ten minutes north of Beirut. In 2012, he was introduced to Adjaye by fellow collector Adam Lindemann, who had hired the British architect to do his house in Manhattan. Rather than have separate buildings for art and retail, Adjaye designed one hybrid complex devoted to lifestyle, wellness and culture. He envisioned the foundation sharing floor space with boutiques, restaurants, a spa and a sky bar. This fitted in perfectly with Salamé’s desire to make his collection accessible to all. Adjaye also suggested reclaiming the waterfront, creating jetties that extend out into the sea, along with a boardwalk that wends past an outdoor sculpture park. The building itself looks like a large, slightly rotated box. Its seaside facade tilts up, away from the ground, to create an open view to the water, while the side facing the highway serves as an acoustic baffle. Inspired by the mashrabiya latticework common to traditional Arabic buildings, Adjaye created a two-layered facade: a basic concrete box with windows, enveloped by a red, patterned exoskeleton that provides shade and protection from the heat. Adjaye’s original plan was to make the outer skin from Italian ceramic tiles, but so many broke during shipment he opted for aluminium, coated with a red sheen to look like ceramic.

The building measures 32,000 sq m, of which the foundation takes up about a third. The inaugural show, New Skin, is conceived around the themes of surface and texture, and features some 150 artworks from Salamé’s archive, including avant-garde Italians such as Enrico Castellani, rising stars such as Camille Henrot, and established contemporary artists including Glenn Ligon.

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