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When he was just out of college, Lio Malca acted on a hunch and purchased a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early 1990s. Over the next several years, Malca continued to collect Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf. As his acquisitions expanded, so did the art market value of those artists’ work. But Malca was bitten by the “collector bug,” and he started following artists like Vik Muniz, Mark Ryden, Holton Rower, and KAWS.
He put on shows in New York, a few internationally, and was always lending. In 2015 he inaugurated a new exhibition space in Ibiza, Spain—La Nave—with a show of work by KAWS, followed by an exhibition last summer of work by Marco Brambilla. Around the same time, he opened the doors to Casa Malca in Tulum, Mexico, which as a boutique hotel plays host to pieces from his own collection and common spaces filled with contemporary works.
Just before the Brambillo show opened in Ibiza, Whitewall spoke with Malca by phone about his early hunch on Basquiat, his insatiable passion for the arts, and his choice to enter into the world of hospitality.
WHITEWALL: This summer and fall, you’ll show Marco Brambilla’s trilogy Megaplex at your exhibition space in Ibiza (June 23–October 9, 2016). Can you tell us about how you’ve put that show together?
LIO MALCA: I’ve wanted to show Marco for the longest time. We’re building a whole theater inside of the space—it’s going to be incredible. The pieces will be screened one after the other, so people can walk in and experience the three in sequence.
Marco is a friend and he’s been very helpful. This has never been shown like this, so he’s very excited about it.
WW: Let’s go back in time a bit. I read that your collection started when you purchased a drawing of Basquiat’s. So how did that happen, and why were you interested in that artist, specifically?
LM: I graduated from college in Boston in 1989. I then wanted to go to New York and I wanted to get involved in art. I started to relate to the artists of my era, the eighties, even though I wasn’t involved or exposed that early. I had seen before the works of Haring and Basquiat, but never really looked at them with the idea of collecting.
I started to research what was available at the auctions and private market. The market was soft in the nineties, and there was a gallerist in Boston who did a show of Basquiat in 1982 in Italy and I reached out to him and he said, “I have two drawings.” I went to visit him and I instantly knew which one I wanted. I bought it, and at that point I marked in my mind, “I don’t think I’ll ever sell this piece. I would only sell it if I can get this amount of money.” It was a crazy number.
And then, I would say maybe in 2000, this collector from Thailand who knew about the piece came with that exact price to me for it. I had made a promise to myself I would sell it for that price, so I sold it. It showed me not only that the expectations that I had of Basquiat were met, but that they had gone even beyond that. But it hurt! I always knew he was very important, that he would go very far.
WW: In that period, you bought a lot more works by Basquiat, and Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. Why focus on those three early on?
LM: I started collecting both Basquiat and Haring at the same time. Those were the two artists I identified the most with, both how they painted and the time in which they painted. I was interested in what they meant in the eighties. How they painted, what they painted, for me made them two of the most important artists of the 20th century.
WW: How did you go from collecting their work to showing their work, like you did in 1997, when you staged an exhibition of Haring, Basquiat, and Scharf during the Whitney’s Haring retrospective?
LM: I knew the show was going to happen at the Whitney. I wanted to show the three artists together because it made a lot of sense to put their work together. I rented a building diagonally from the Whitney and did one floor for each artist. It was an incredible show, and I was offered to show it in Japan, which we did.
WW: How did your collection grow from those three artists?
LM: I looked at the other artists from the eighties. I have a lot of pieces by George Condo and others from that time.
WW: And Vik Muniz?
LM: I met Vik Muniz in 1989. He was showing some of his sculptural works at the apartment of a friend of his. I loved the work and I bought three sculptures. We became friends. I started to say, “Listen, let me see what else you’re doing.” He wanted to buy a camera . . .
WW: So you were involved from early on!
LM: I continued to buy from him then, and we’re good friends. I hold a very large collection of his works. We’re putting together a Lio Malca Collection museum show of his work.
WW: It’s interesting that you’ve always wanted to show the work you collect.
LM: I feel that it is an obligation of a collector or dealer or galleries to expose the work. The fact that you own the pieces doesn’t meant that you keep it for yourself. You have an obligation to make sure it is exposed and allowed to be seen by as many people as possible. That’s why I’m always eager to lend and curate and support exhibitions.
WW: Or perhaps see when they stay at your boutique art-centric hotel, Casa Malca, which opened in Tulum in 2014?
LM: Yes! I first came to Tulum in 2012 in December, and I immediately said, “I have to do something here.” I found the house and by February bought the property. It was an instant reaction. I believe in my gut feeling a lot. When I selected the artists I selected in the nineties, I had no schooling on art or anything. I had the tools to look into who they were, what they are, but I had no schooling in art. Intuitively, I said, “These guys are amazing,” and I did the same thing with the property here.
WW: What did you want to create with Casa Malca?
LM: I have a lot of friends that come to visit and I enjoy hosting. Eventually, some friends expressed to me, “You should open a hotel.” I thought it was a weird idea. But it stayed in my mind all the time. I bought the house with a note in the back of my mind that it was a house that maybe one day would become a hotel.
WW: And why have your art there?
LM: Anything I want to do from now on for the rest of my days, it’s going to involve art. If it doesn’t involve art, I’m not interested. The art world has opened a window on a door, a passage for me that I don’t want to be without.
This article is published in Whitewall’s winter 2017 Luxury Issue.