Casa Malca as a refuge for art lovers


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2018)

We stop on a dusty road in Tulum, Mexico, in front of a high fence of planks and palm leaves. This is actually where the hotel Casa Malca should be, but we cannot find a sign or a driveway. Apparently great value is placed on privacy. Suddenly, the reed fence opens and a security guard lets us enter. We find ourselves in a paradise coconut grove with powder-white sand, you can hear the rush of the Caribbean Sea. This is Casa Malca, an estate around which many rumours are entwined.

Originally alleged to have been built by the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar as a private holiday residence in the 1980s, it was abandoned after his death in 1993. Located on a private stretch of coastline in Tulum, Mexico, it is now a luxurious design hotel and showroom for the owner's private collection, New York gallery owner Lio Malca. He opened Casa Malca in 2015 as an eight-room resort for friends and family. Last year it was expanded to 41 rooms and suites and is filled with contemporary works - including works by Jean Michel Basquiat, Marco Brambilla, George Condo, Keith Haring, Vik Muniz, Kenny Scharf, paintings and a sculpture by Kaws from New York in one of the common areas and many more.

The entrance to the hotel is overwhelming. We’re standing in front of a huge gantry made of rough wooden beams, framed by oversized white valance curtains made from antique wedding gowns. Persian carpets cover the sandy soil. The unusual entrance is complemented by two baroque sofas suspended as swings to the right and left of the entrance. The hotel has an outdoor pool and directly below there is an indoor pool, three excellent beachfront restaurants and a rooftop 360-degree view of Tulum, where regular yoga sessions are held.

All this is the typical Lio Malca style, which manifests itself in a creative and always surprising manner in all rooms. He designed his own hotel and expressed his own lifestyle and passion for art. A gem of art and luxury on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Lio Malca tells us how he created a piece of home here.

Lio, you are an influential art collector and now also a hotel owner. Why a hotel?

I have always liked to entertain friends at home, so when I purchased the property in Tulum I saw the opportunity to share with others the experience and lifestyle of what I call “Casa Malca”.

How did you discover Casa Malca in Mexico?

 I was looking for properties in Tulum since the day I arrived back in December 2012. The universe presented me with different opportunities, but the property where Casa Malca is today was the one that attracted me the most, for its location, the expansion of the white sand ocean front, I could go on and on.

Did you deliberately look for a hotel property that can be equipped with art and thus could also serve as a “gallery” at that time? Or did you see the house and just fall in love with it?

I wanted to do something in Tulum but I was not sure what or where. And when I saw the property I knew that was it. In every project I get involved with, art and culture are the backbone.

Apparently, Casa Malca was once owned by Pablo Escobar. Did the past and the story of the property inspire you?

There has been a lot of talk about the past of the property. Apparently, he was in Yucatan at that time, and there were allegations that he was involved with the property, but that was never proven as far as I know. The property was once seized by the government for many years, then later cleared and returned to the rightful owners. That is when I arrived in Tulum and after due diligence, I was able to purchase the property with a clear title being at the right place, right time and most importantly with awareness.

What is so special for you personally about the property? What exactly did you want to create with Casa Malca?

That such an incredible property is located in the magical Tulum. It was perfect to create an experiential extension of a lifestyle.

Do you think that Tulum is a great place for art, and did the place inspire you in any different way?

I was immediately inspired when I arrived back in 2012 for the first time. In a strange way it reminded me of the feeling I got when I arrived in New York and Ibiza for the first time. These are three very different places in the world, but for me the vibrating energy level that they have is very strong and if it’s channelled correctly they complement and complete a balance of the places that I want to call home. 

Do you think that Tulum is similar to Ibiza in terms of people, culture and trends?

Well, the people that were in Ibiza in the 1970s and come to visit Tulum feel that the environment and energy is very similar as to how it was in Ibiza back then. The hippie communities are known for choosing special places, and they contribute to the magic that happens. But more importantly, Tulum has been special since long before the 1970s. The Mayans, one of the most sophisticated ancient cultures respected for their science, astronomy, agriculture, etc, chose this land to settle as early as 1200 AD. They were special then and are still special today. 

And how would you compare the two destinations when it comes to art?

Ibiza is more developed, but it’s difficult to compare. One of my dreams is to bring a bit of culture to both places, promote artists and artist residents.

What do you think about having an art-centric hotel in Ibiza? Any plans?

I am thinking about it…

How do you choose the art for Casa Malca? What is your intention?

The art pieces at Casa Malca are always a projection of my collection and my lifestyle.

Is Casa Malca like a dynamic exhibition space? Will the artwork be exchanged regularly?

Yes, there is always new work coming and going and also changing from space to space.

What effects does the age of digitalisation have on art?

It’s an evolution like it always has been. At first people had difficulties with accepting photography as an art form, now some have difficulties digesting video, but it’s happening. The implementation of digital media will be just one more way of expression that some will be prepared to accept, and some will not. I think that we have to be open to accepting new forms of art expression without forgetting those that have been the way in the past. I like to say that some of us have operating systems that will accept updates to the new operating systems of the new generations, some will automatically upgrade, some could voluntarily upgrade, while some will not be able to at all.

How did it change you and your life personally?

It changed me so much that if you would have told me that you went to the future and saw that I owned Casa Malca in Tulum, I would’ve have said: “You are crazy. I have no clue what you are talking about. I am based in New York and I’ve never been to Tulum. But maybe you want to share whatever you are having…” The moral of the story: one thing that’s for sure is that the unexpected will be expecting you.

What will be the next big thing in art?

It will most probably involve human interaction, motion, movement, kinetic art, technological advances such as robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, which would allow art pieces, like paintings, screens and sculptures to be generated by algorithms.


Lio Malca has been active in the art scene since 1990 and is an important lender and consultant to Basquiat and Haring exhibitions in different parts of the world. He lives and works in New York City and owns Casa Malca, a private luxury hotel in Tulum that includes works of art from his private collection: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marco Brambilla, George Condo, Keith Haring, et cetera. He also transformed a salt warehouse in Ibiza on the coastal Mediterranean sea into a cultural space called La Nave.

Picture credit © Photos by Casa Malca

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