#BMWLUXURY: Canadian Art Collector Joe Shlesinger on the Importance of Privacy and Pearl Jam on the Road

To celebrate the BMW Concept X7 iPerformance, we ask art collector Joe Shlesinger how he stays comfortable on the road.

The BMW Concept X7 iPerformance is the Bavarian car marque’s most luxurious concept SUV yet – with a spacious, ultra-networked interior melding with a top-of-top-end engine. This concept vehicle is a natural design evolution for BMW, whose brand is synonymous with power, luxury and travel — and its intersection: art. As such, they support art’s most direct of travel, providing the fleets of black cars that shuttle the art industry’s VIPs around fairs from Frieze to TEFAF to Art Basel to Sleek’s local Art Berlin.

To celebrate the presentation of the BMW Concept X7 iPerformance, we conducted interviews with five international blue-chip collectors. These five influential figures divulged their travel luxuries, and the books they took with them on the road. Reading material courtesy of the collectors, backseat courtesy of the BMW Concept X7 iPerformance — the ultimate luxury reading chair.

Joe Shlesinger is an art collector and private equity investor based in Toronto. With his partner Samara Walbohm, Shlesinger owns downtown gallery Scrap Metal. It’s a monumental space in an industrial setting, and inside, the pair have shown work by artists of the calibre of Helen Barff, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tracy Emin, Abbas Akhavan, Ragnar Kjartansson and Fischli & Weiss.

Shlesinger and Samara’s love of art has taken them around the world – not least to their Tuscan second home. Here, Shlesinger – whose first car, funnily enough, was a BMW — discusses his travel luxuries, and the magazine he loves to read on the road.

Some of your first acquisitions were Canadian artists, but your exhibitions are international, with Iranian, British, Icelandic, German artists all included. Do you travel a lot for work?

I don’t know what “a lot” would mean, but I think we probably do. I think we travel to less art fairs than you might expect. We don’t do a lot of that anymore. But we make art part of our travel, as opposed to the sole reason for our travels. We’ll go to the Venice Biennale in the summer. There’s a wonderful gallery very near our home in Italy, so Samara’s there all summer. So art isn’t the sole motivation for travel, but it’s certainly part of the itinerary. 

Where’s your home in Italy?

Just outside of Florence. It’s in Tuscany and we’re right in Chianti. It’s very nice.

What do you read when you’re on the road?

I take a lot of work with me from my day job, so there’s the usual set of required reading. Samara owns two book-stores, and she has an English PhD, so she’ll be reading the latest novel or two. For me, I always like The Economist.

What technological devices, if any, do you always have with you in the backseat?

I am not on the cutting edge of technology, I’ll say that to you up front! I have an old iPod touch that was given to me by somebody I worked very closely with for three to four years. He was the CEO of one of our investing companies. I’ve loaded a bunch of music on it, and that’s what I listen to when I travel – I probably haven’t put new music on that thing for five years. It’s mostly ‘90s alternative rock, and that’s the one thing I always have with me when I’m travelling. It’s never failed me.

Do you have a favourite song or album that you always like to listen to when you’re on the road?

I have a mix list that has a lot of Pearl Jam on it, that’s probably my go-to. A lot of Beatles as well. That would be the one thing.

What do you think about BMW?

Excellence, and perfect design. There’s been some controversial ideas, but they’ve stood the test of time, and been proven to be quite ahead of the time.

What was your first car?

Well, I learned to drive in a 320i, and my first BMW of my own was a series of M5s in the ‘90s. Then, we brought an M3 cab which we kept in Europe in the early 2000s. We took European delivery from the factory in 2001 and drove it from Munich down to Florence, where we have a villa. There’s a funny story about the car – it was left overnight without its emergency brake on, and clearly wasn’t in gear, and rolled off a cliff, narrowly missing our pool. This was a 25-foot fall, but the car in its was still rigid, and the doors still worked: it just required a bit of work on the suspension.

What did you think of BMW Concept X7 iPerformance itself?

It was beautiful from the outside, and the inside. I don’t know what of those features will make it to the production car, but the glass roof was spectacular, the lighting, and the ambience in made the backseat where we sat you’d want to spend some time. Some of the details, like what the shifter was made of – aluminised glass, perhaps? – I thought that was a really beautiful detail. The seats were tremendously comfortable, and even the air-flow in backseat was well thought-out.

What are you favourite immaterial luxuries when you’re travelling?

When I think of European travel, for me for sure it’s time on the plane. In the world today, where we’re bombarded all the time with emails, calls, texts, screens, whatever it is, and the chance to have quiet time on the plane is more and more of a luxury. I think that’s more true in North America, even in short duration travel, than it is going overseas. I see planes getting wired in, and having wifi available, which is something I’ve never done and it’s something that I would hope to never do because it does turn out to be a time when you can sit down, put your feet up, and think a little more creatively, and find time to actually get into a book, or a particular article and just let your thoughts flow. Travelling is really the only time left to do that.

For more information on the BMW Concept X7 iPerformance, click here. 

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