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Learn how a Colombian collector turned Pablo Escobar's former Mexican hideout into an art-filled hotel

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About a decade ago, Colombian-born, New York-based art collector Lio Malca visited the Mexican resort town of Tulum. What was planned as a quick one-day pass turned into a week, and soon he was looking for beachfront real estate.

Little did he know then that the following year, a prime, once-in-a-lifetime property would hit the market: the former hideout of cartel leader Pablo Escobar.

“The property was truly magical with the most incredible beach frontage I have ever seen,” Malca told Artnet News.

Vue d'installation d'une <i style=Head for Diego by Ravinder Reddy (2009-2010).
Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca.” width=”768″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/09/CM- Reddy-768×1024.jpg 768w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/09/CM-Reddy-225×300.jpg 225w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news- upload/2022/09/CM-Reddy-37×50.jpg 37w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/09/CM-Reddy.jpg 770w” sizes=”(max-width: 768px) 100vw, 768px”/>

Installation view of a Ravinder Reddy’s Direction Diego (2009-2010).
Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca.

The government took it over in the early 2000s and it lay abandoned for years, until Malca arrived.

After buying it, Malca set about transforming the former cartel hideout into Casa Malca, a bustling 71-room hotel with a spa, several restaurants, and plenty of contemporary artwork, all from his own collection. Works on display throughout the property include those of Marina Abramovic, Jean-Michel Basquiat (Malca’s favorite), Marco Brambilla, George Condo, Vik Muñiz, Kenny Scharf and many more.

“I installed works here in the same way as I do in all my houses. It’s a personal approach that comes from walking through spaces and feeling the terrain,” Malca said.

Installation view of Subodh Gupta A Giant Leap of Faith, (2006).  Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca.

Installation view by Kenny Scharf, Scary guy (red) (2013-2018). Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca.

Malca has spent much of the pandemic in Tulum and a year ago launched the Art Lodge in a former fishing lodge. He described it as a “fun art residency” that is open and invitation-based. For example, Scharf did a month-long residency there, which Malca called “the godfather of the Art Lodge”, and has since returned several times. Other artists chose to stay for about a week.

The end product is usually a work or series of works that can be displayed at the nearby Casa Malca, according to the collector’s nephew, Isaac Malca, who has worked closely with his uncle through the growing range of initiatives.

Installation view with Mark Ryden, Rosie's Tea Party, (2005).  Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca.

Installation view with Mark Ryden, Rosie’s Tea (2005). Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca.

The Art Lodge is nestled in the heart of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, and aims to give artists “the opportunity to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city and draw inspiration from the mystical Mayan desert,” Malca said.

The project is sort of an outgrowth of the 2015 project by Malca, a non-profit foundation in Ibiza, Spain called Fundación La Nave Salinas. Based in a former salt warehouse, it showcases contemporary art in its over 5,000 square feet of exhibition space. Artists who have presented work there in recent years include Scharf, Marco Brambilla, Bill Viola, KAWS and Eva Beresin.

Installation view of Fabien Verschaere, Batman (2007). Image courtesy Casa Malca and Lio Malca.

Malca also operates the eponymous gallery Lio Malca in Chelsea, which does not represent artists.

“We show what we love, so we buy a body of work from the artists,” Malca said. This project-based model, he said, “keeps both parties on their toes because we and the artists have to do their best. It’s like when you start a relationship. You are not married, you are dating.

When asked if he plans to continue expanding his art and real estate empire, Malca said, “I’m always looking to discover new artists, new talent, new work and the collection is constantly expanding, so now i am also looking for more wall space. To share with the world”

See more images of Malca’s art properties below.

Installation view of Jitish Kallat Eruda, (2006).  Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca

Installation view of Jitish Kallat Eruda (2006). Image courtesy of Lio Malca and Casa Malca

Installation view of KAWS at Fundación La Nave Salinas in Ibiza.  Image courtesy of Lio Malca.

Installation view of KAWS at Fundación La Nave Salinas in Ibiza. Image courtesy of Lio Malca.

Installation view of Kenny Scharf's work at Fundación La Nave Salinas in Ibiza.  Image courtesy of Lio Malca.

Installation view of Kenny Scharf’s work at Fundación La Nave Salinas in Ibiza. Image courtesy of Lio Malca.

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