Lebanese entrepreneur Tony Salamé, alongside his wife Elham, has been cultivating a remarkable collection of contemporary art for over a decade. This artistic journey culminated in 2015 with the inauguration of a 40,000-square-foot exhibition space at the Aïshti Foundation in Jal el-Dib, Lebanon, a short drive along the Mediterranean Coast from downtown Beirut.
Lebanese entrepreneur Tony Salamé, alongside his wife Elham, has been cultivating a remarkable collection of contemporary art for over a decade. This artistic journey culminated in 2015 with the inauguration of a 40,000-square-foot exhibition space at the Aïshti Foundation in Jal el-Dib, Lebanon, a short drive along the Mediterranean Coast from downtown Beirut. This architectural marvel, masterminded by the renowned British architect David Adjaye, stands as a testament to Salamé’s vision and marks a pivotal addition to the Aïshti Seaside, an extension of his flourishing fashion empire.
Tony Salamé’s ascent to success in post-civil-war Beirut is a compelling narrative. Over the past 25 years, he has transformed Aïshti from a single high-end boutique into a regional powerhouse, becoming one of Lebanon’s major employers. This journey was not without its challenges, as he navigated the complexities of enticing luxury brands to operate in a region perceived as politically and economically uncertain.
The Aïshti Foundation’s exhibition space catapulted Salamé into the exclusive realm of fashion moguls turned art collectors, joining the ranks of luminaries such as Prada, Pinalt, and Arnault, who have established museums to showcase their treasured holdings.
Speaking about the project in 2015, David Adjaye revealed, “When Tony asked me how I wanted to do it, I said I’d like to create a hybrid building that seamlessly merges lifestyle, wellness, and culture. Beirut, a city that has grappled with conflict for over three decades, has still found ways to embrace an enriching life.”
The Salamé collection boasts more than 2,000 works by approximately 150 artists, reflecting their preference for deep engagement with artists’ oeuvres. Among the distinguished artists featured in their collection are Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Glenn Ligon, Urs Fischer, Rudolf Stingel, Wade Guyton, Mona Hatoum, Walid Raad, and Fouad Elkhoury. Massimiliano Gioni, the artistic director of New York’s New Museum and the curator of Aïshti Foundation’s inaugural exhibition, remarked, “Tony Salamé’s passion for art is genuinely unwavering, bordering on sheer, brilliant obsession.”
A noteworthy aspect of the foundation’s collection is the inclusion of outdoor sculptures—a rare sight in the city. David Adjaye emphasized, “This sets a precedent; Beirut has had limited public sculpture due to security concerns.” Importantly, the foundation’s primary exhibition spaces remained unscathed during the major explosion that shook the Lebanese capital in the summer of 2020, despite significant destruction in other parts of the city.
Tony Salamé has also been instrumental in bringing international contemporary art to Beirut. His foundation has provided essential support for exhibitions featuring artists like Giuseppe Penone and Gerhard Richter at the Beirut Art Center. In 2013, he transformed an old villa in the heart of Beirut into a hub for gallerists from around the world to host selling exhibitions. Esteemed names like Massimo de Carlo from Milan, Modern Institute from Glasgow, Suzanne Geiss from New York, and Balice Hertling and Kamel Mennour from Paris have all graced Salamé’s Metropolitan Art Society with their exhibitions.