Canadian collectors and philanthropists Salah Bashir and Jacob Yerex are auctioning off a selection of famous photographs, prints and paperwork on Artnet.
Bashir and Yerex have both made careers at the forefront of the arts and entertainment industry: Yerex has been an artist and painter in film and television, including a hit series. degrassi, and Bahir as founder Cineplex Magazinethe most widely read magazine in Canada, and as President of Famous Players Media and Cineplex Media, where he manages all cinema advertising for Canada’s largest cinema chains.
This important Canadian collection has been heavily influenced by the work of both entertainment and philanthropic collectors, offering iconic images of famous figures and the work of Canadian and LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-soul) artists. A portion of the proceeds from this sale will benefit The 519 Centre, Toronto, a city agency committed to the health, happiness and full inclusion of LGBTQ2S communities.
Anabel Wald, photography specialist at Artnet Auctions, spoke with Salah Bashir about the sale and his philanthropic work.
Read on to find out more about this stellar private collection and bid before June 29th.
How did your time in the film industry inspire you to create the collection?
It influenced the collection a lot because of the people I was able to meet and interview or make friends with. We have a lot of works by Greg Gorman, with whom we are friends. In Gorman’s work, one can see a strong connection between photography and the film industry. Photos can bring you closer to the celebrity.
We have always exhibited our collection in our offices. Numerous paintings, prints and photographs hang from floor to ceiling, in a salon style, or as some call it,.”Salah style. We love to share the collection and have already held several exhibitions in galleries and museums. Our clients and friends often want to meet at the office for an art tour and all of our colleagues can choose which artwork they would like to see in their workspace. This creates a great working environment.
Can you tell us more about 519? What is its mission and what does this organization mean to you?
Founded in 1975 and opened in 1976, 519 was the perfect place for those looking to go out. [as LGBTQ2S]and need literature, support and advice. 519 also supports refugees coming from other countries and those who cross over. It is a world-famous community center and an integral part of Canadian society.
We joined 519 and spearheaded a fundraising campaign to renovate the center. We donated money and a wing is named after us. We have also worked on many 519 galas with friends in the entertainment community. The first gala was headlined by old friend Eartha Kitt, while others were headlined by K.D. Lang, Andrea Martin, Dianne Carroll, Alan Cumming, Ben Vereen and Patti LuPone.
How do activism and charity fit into your collecting practice?
Activism and philanthropy are part of our lives, which is largely reflected in the collection. We are patrons of artists and support their creativity and activity. We want images of protest and diversity reflecting human struggle and survival on our walls to spark conversation.
What types of work do you gravitate towards? Why photography?
We have longstanding relationships with many artists. It is the process of understanding what the artist is trying to achieve. When you fall in love, you fall in love and you want to collect everything separately, and not just once.
A photograph represents a moment in time. Captured image. Reinforced. Whether it’s the civil rights movement, AIDS protests, celebrations of sexuality and battles won, political, sports or movie icons. I think that the artworks on our walls “talk” to each other. It’s all about human struggle, survival and triumph. This is a holiday.
We got Sam Wagstaff [the late curator and partner of Robert Mapplethorpe] lunch a couple of times to discuss photography, but I never understood. Why couldn’t anyone take a picture? It took months for a painter or sculptor to paint a picture. I read Susan Sontag’s book. About photography and wanted to know more. It took us some time to collect the photos and see the image as a unique moment frozen in time. We didn’t miss the opportunity to see photographs next to Warhol’s, to see how they interact with each other and to understand the importance of the photographic portrait.
What advice would you give to an aspiring collector?
Buy what you like. You are going to live with it and hang it on your walls. Understand what the artist is trying to achieve and the story. Your tastes will change over time. Study, read and follow everything you can. It’s not like buying shares, it’s a much more enjoyable experience and process.
What are your favorite pieces of work on offer in this sale? Why?
Herb Ritz’s portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor is such a powerful portrayal of the icon and her brain tumor surgery scar. Ritz and Taylor had a special friendship, and both were deeply committed to eradicating HIV and AIDS in the late 1980s and 1990s. Keith Haring Artistic attack on AIDSwhich was included in the Artnet Embrace: Celebrating Pride auction is equally important to us as we have been active in fundraising for AIDS awareness, advocacy and research.
What job would you like to buy when you had the opportunity?
Nothing and everything. We are very lucky that we have more things than we could imagine. We miss the many artists we lost during the AIDS epidemic.
You have become widely known for your extensive Warhol collection, which you have generously lent and donated to institutions over the years. How did it happen?
Keith Haring first introduced me to him and his work. The more I knew Andy and his work, the more I admired him. For me, performing in the 80s in New York and Toronto, and then during the AIDS epidemic, Andy personified everything. He was the most famous artist in the world and he was gay. Everyone wanted a piece of Andy, from presidents and royalty to transgender kids in the village, and he gave them access to everyone.
Andy has revolutionized the art world for me, democratized it and made it accessible. When I started to see Andy as a revolutionary, activist and gay icon, my admiration grew and we needed more in our collection. Andy made gay films and graphic art that inspired us even before I knew anyone else was putting homoeroticism in the first place. He played with all of us and made fun of the tabloid press, saying that he was asexual or a virgin, and his lovers were standing by. And reprinted word for word.
It was Andy who said: “If you want to know everything about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films, and here I am. There is nothing behind it.”
The last thing that impresses me about Andy is his generosity. His generosity to all his friends and other artists and directors, as well as to the people around him. I would see it with my own eyes. But perhaps the best way to get to know Andy is to look at the Andy Warhol Foundation. It has provided over $250 million in cash grants to over 1,000 arts organizations and has provided over 52,786 works to over 322 institutions around the world.
One of my favorite works among the famous images in your collection is a painting by Ruth Orkin. American girl in Italy, Florence 1952. Orkin grew up in Hollywood and was heavily influenced by its cliches. Aside from the obvious cinematic connection, what drew you to this character?
We both fell in love right away American girl in Italy. Florence is one of our favorite cities and just to see her walking carelessly through the city with men looking at her conjures up time and space. We’ve read all the stories about whether it was a production, but we prefer to stick to Ninali Craig’s description that they filmed a couple of times almost like a movie scene: “They had fun, and so did I.” It was a carefree ride.
Ninali has lived in Canada since 1978 and then moved to Toronto in 1996. We met her several times at the opera. We lent this piece to a couple of exhibitions in Toronto and one of her friends, children and grandchildren went to see it and told her about it. She was very proud of it and once jokingly said that perhaps it should be renamed Canadian girl in Italy.
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