MAHÓN, Spain – As the total wealth held by billionaires peaks at over $ 10,000 billion, it is also an epic time for luxury tourism.
Just days after Virgin Galactic launched Richard Branson on the interstellar journey, an unlikely art center was inaugurated on Saturday on the Spanish islet of Isla del Rey off Menorca – bringing together contemporary art lovers to celebrate the latest project from Swiss art dealer Hauser & Wirth.
While the tiny island, abandoned in the 1960s after serving as a site for a military hospital, isn’t the kind of place that traditionally attracts wealthy collectors, Hauser & Wirth are determined to change that. The international mega-gallery quickly developed its core business by also offering its clientele the kind of life experience that comes from visiting a secluded and unique place.
Dominated by its 18th-century hospital, the islet stands in the middle of the largest natural port in the Mediterranean, a 15-minute boat ride from Mahón, the capital of Menorca. Hauser & Wirth leased part of the land on the islet to a local volunteer foundation that has been working to restore the hospital for almost two decades.
While seeking approval from local Spanish authorities, the Swiss gallery – founded in 1992 by Iwan Wirth; his wife, Manuela Wirth; and her mother, Ursula Hauser – invited a delegation from Menorca to visit another of their projects, in Somerset, England. With Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the gallery has made the little-known village of Bruton an artistic destination. Opened in 2014, the resort drew more than 110,000 visitors the year before the pandemic, said Chloe Kinsman, spokesperson for Hauser & Wirth.
Developed in the same spirit, Hauser & Wirth Menorca comprises a 16,000 square foot art center surrounded by a landscaped garden by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, dotted with sculptures by artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Eduardo Chillida and Joan Miró, as well as a boutique gallery and a restaurant.
Luis Alejandre, a retired Spanish general who is the chairman of the Isla del Rey volunteer foundation, said Hauser & Wirth has invested around 4 million euros, or roughly $ 4.7 million, in his project.
Hauser & Wirth Menorca was “exactly the kind of project that we have been looking for for a long time,” said Héctor Pons, the mayor of Mahón. This would attract more high-end visitors to the region, he added, noting that Menorca is already a popular destination for yachting.
But Pons also mentioned that Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset project created a local real estate squeeze there and that the gallery’s arrival has already had an effect on the housing market in Menorca. “We have seen a noticeable increase in sales to foreigners looking for second homes,” he said.
However, Swiss dealers have said that they also want the center of Menorca to be adopted by local residents, so that visitors can access it by a special ferry service and entry to the site itself is free. .
The Menorca art center opens its doors a year late, and at a time when the pandemic continues to weigh on tourism. On Monday, the same day Hauser & Wirth opened to the public, Britain reintroduced a quarantine for travelers returning from Menorca and other Spanish Balearic Islands, following a recent increase in Covid cases.
For the private opening last weekend, Hauser & Wirth invited around 500 people. “We would have liked to have celebrated more,” said Iwan Wirth in an interview. “But we don’t want this place to be Ibiza either,” he added. “It won’t be a party island.”
The ‘Big Four’ mega-galleries – Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian, White Cube and Pace – have, over the past decade, opened branded branches in places where wealth is created or spent – whether in Hong Kong or in the Hamptons, Seoul or St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Among these mega-galleries, “Hauser & Wirth has taken the lead in aggressively expanding its program to include distinguished female and black artists,” said Clayton Press, a New Jersey-based collector who also teaches at the University of New Jersey. York.
The center of Menorca opened with an exhibition by Mark Bradford, a prominent black artist from Los Angeles who first exhibited at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Zurich in 2014. For the Menorca exhibition, “Masses et movements ”, Bradford produced a series of paintings and sculptures based on 16th century maps, addressing issues such as migration and the legacy of colonialism.
In an interview, Bradford said he initially turned down Hauser & Wirth’s offer to exhibit in Menorca, particularly when it seemed unlikely he could travel from the United States to oversee the installation of the exhibition.
But he was glad he had changed his mind, he said, after Spain allowed vaccinated Americans to enter the country. In June, he organized a workshop with local art students on Isla del Rey, and the work produced from the session is included in the exhibition.
Bradford’s works had all been pre-sold to institutions ahead of Saturday’s opening, Wirth said in an interview.
“Hauser & Wirth are very good at getting institutions to buy their work, and that’s a big draw for artists,” said Wendy Goldsmith, London-based artistic advisor.
In May, the gallery also exhibited for the first time the British painter of Guyanese origin Frank Bowling, who in October visited the Swiss concession of the Hales Gallery in London. Christina Quarles, Cindy Sherman and Gary Simmons have also joined the Hauser & Wirth team over the past 12 months, said Kinsman, the gallery spokesperson. Hauser & Wirth now represents 93 artists or their estates, she added.
Wirth said his family business stands out from other large galleries because of its decentralized business model. “After the war, American galleries dominated the art world in a New York-centric way, and their locations were outlets,” he said. “Our sites are not points of sale: they are managed and organized locally. “
The Wirths also own a separate hospitality business called Artfarm, which is also growing. In 2019, Artfarm opened the Fife Arms, a hotel in Braemar, Scotland, near the grounds of the British Royal Family’s Balmoral Castle. Artfarm is now considering converting the Audley pub in central London, a protected heritage site, into a restaurant and private club. Press, the New Jersey-based collector, said hotel companies like Artfarm “are probably doing more to build brand recognition for the gallery and its artists than to contribute to its revenue.”
Wirth said Hauser & Wirth sales fell about 30% last year during the pandemic, but he and his wife still have other expansion plans, with Paris and Asia as potential targets. They said they’d rather research their own sites than respond to a myriad of investment proposals, he said.
“We are now approached monthly, or sometimes weekly, by a company or someone who has a building or a mountain hut, or whatever,” Wirth said. “Are we going to double in the next five years? I don’t think so, but there might still be some strategic locations and some surprises.