Wet Paint: Art-Storage Closures Throw Deals Into Disarray, Hardcore Bidders Still Show Up at Auction Houses, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip

What photography legend is riding out the crisis with shotguns and Purell? Who is still having auctions this week? Read on for answers.

The UOVO storage facility in New York City. Photo courtesy: UOVO.

Every Thursday afternoon, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected].


Galleries may be shut down for the time being—at least when it comes to their physical spaces—and certainly most collectors are currently focused on making sure their families are safely hunkered down. Most of them aren’t scheming ways to get their hands on, say, a blurry Lucas Arruda landscape right now. (That being said, a Lucas Arruda did sell for $100,000 at the David Zwirner “booth” at the Art Basel Hong Kong Online Viewing Rooms VIP opening Wednesday.) But eventually, collectors will want to reclaim some normalcy and buy art and make some deals—and those who broker those deals will want to, you know, continue doing their job while living in exile or quarantine for what could be weeks and weeks. Or—gulp—months and months. Ideally, advisors and dealers will still be able to take potential buyers to see works in offsite locations so long as they stand six feet apart—or, for greater social distancing, send high-res pictures of the works to self-isolating buyers via PDF.

But one pretty big problem has emerged. Many of the major storage facilities in the New York area, which nearly all galleries and private dealers use as their war chests to hold pricy works, closed this week in accordance with the health guidelines set forth by state officials. In a email sent to a gallery this week (and forwarded to Wet Paint) the art services behemoth UOVO said it would shut down at least until April 1, and admitted that the decision would “of course impact the upcoming transfer and condition check of the works by [an artist the source ask not be named].” It clarified that, with regard to scheduled appointments, “UOVO collect/drop off or installation of property after March 18th will be postponed until a later date.” In addition, Crozier Fine Arts, another storage facility, said it would close its locations Chelsea, Long Island City, and Williamsburg, though they will remain accessible on an appointment-only basis.

An adviser used to working with such facilities said that this would impact potential transactions in a number of ways—even if someone was just trying to sell an artwork over PDF, since dealers often send photographers to the facilities to take high-quality snaps for that purpose. “If you have stuff in storage and you don’t have a great image, that could be an issue,” the source said. Another source acknowledged that it would impact sales if dealers couldn’t get access to their inventory, but noted that, from a health perspective, it was the right call. “The shipping of art is very physical,” the source said, and doesn’t allow for safe social distancing considering the way handlers need to grapple with the work. (This source also pointed out that it would please the UOVO workers, who last October narrowly voted against unionization, and closing demonstrates that company brass is responsibly safeguarding their interests.)

But what if you’re a desperate dealer trying to unload your last KAWS before that market disappears for good? You just might get a lucky break. A spokesperson for UOVO emailed late Thursday to say that they are “accommodating client requests strictly by appointment,” and that “UOVO remains open on a restricted basis in order to comply with guidelines promulgated by emergency management officials, and to ensure the health and safety of the UOVO community.” Let’s hope you’re important enough to make the cut.


NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 9: Atmosphere at Tribeca Ball to benefit New York Academy of Art at New York Academy of Art on April 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

When Wet Paint referred to the Art Production Fund benefit as “the last gala,” it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing, but now… it looks like that may actually be the case! There will be no more galas in the era of self-isolation, that’s for sure. Or, like, we could all wear hazmat suits instead of tuxedos—but what would that mean for all the champagne and canapés? Fortunately, just because we won’t have fancy fundraisers for a while doesn’t mean those who support the arts can’t be generous. And, in fact, when the New York Academy of Art announced that it was canceling its Tribeca Ball, a spokesperson declared that the title sponsor, Van Cleef & Arpels, would still be donating the same amount it would have if the gala were still happening. Come to think of it, galas might be better if everyone had to stand six feet apart. Chin chin!


A view outside Sotheby's in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

A view outside Sotheby’s in New York City. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images.

You might of missed it among the, um, ongoing developments in the city, but Sotheby’s had an auction this week. A real auction! In a salesroom! With an auctioneer! And it actually was a success. Wednesday’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art auction brought in $4.8 million, edging out the $4.7 million high estimate. Not only were 91.1 percent of lots sold, 77 percent of the winning bids came from specialists who were fielding calls in the room—at the Sotheby’s headquarters, on York Avenue, in the middle of the city that has been effectively put on lockdown—and from absentee bids sent to the auctioneer prior to the sale. And while sources said that some people actually did show up to sit in seats with paddles, no one who braved the airborne toxic event to sit at the auction house were among the winning bidders.


Former Knoedler Gallery president and director Ann Freedman has always maintained her innocence.
Courtesy of Patrick McMullan.

This week, disgraced Knoedler Gallery president Ann Freedman—who directed the gallery as it dealt with 10 federal lawsuits over selling millions in forged paintings, and then was forced to closed after 165 years in business—sent out a well-intentioned if slightly incoherent email to her… fans? Does she have those? Anyway, the email started out with a George C. Scott quote, and then went into Freedman’s inimitable prose. “As we ‘shelter-in-place’, we hope for well being ourselves, our loved ones, and those all around the world,” it began [sic throughout]. “While being safely at home, for some of us, we may also feel the extra blessing of being in the true presence of the art on our walls.” True presence, sure, but is the art itself… true?


Do you think William Eggleston is handling the coronavirus fine down in Memphis? Well, let’s check in on America’s greatest living photographer, courtesy his son Winston’s Instagram. (Thanks to writer Nick Pinkerton for the tipoff.)

William Eggleston is the greatest artist to come out of Memphis since Elvis. They even shared a pharmacist, Dr. Nick. Photo courtesy: Instagram.


We could all use a little therapy. Photo courtesy Instagram.

If you though we used to spend too much time staring at screens before, well, you are in in for a wild ride, ladies and gentlemen. Without any—how do you put it—real people to interact with, it’s just the internet, all day, all night. Guess what: You’re even looking at a screen right now. (Busted.) And even though the art world is an exceedingly social place, well, now we have to socialize via phones and zoom meetings and even something called “HouseParty.” Expect pop-up podcasts to run rampant. Jerry Gogosian has already pivoted to that pod life, and will offer some “Unlicensed Art Therapy”—alongside 56 Henry founder Ellie Rines—to anyone who gives her a two-minutes voice recording. Ortuzar Projects director Polina Berlin took to Instagram to start the #workfromhomechallenge, where she asks art-world insiders to send over their best work-from-home “lewks.” (The fashion world has a marvelous Instagram account devoted to such a cause: @wfhfits. It’s a must-follow.) And people are starting to get really into this whole video-conference thing. After chatting with a source, she said that we should grab a “long-distance” dinner, and we should get it on the books soon. Why? “My digital calendar is filling up!” she said.


Issy Wood’s gorgeous painting of something I now do 150 times a day. Photo courtesy: Instagram.

Issy Wood made two lovely new paintings, one of a roll of toilet paper and one of someone washing their hands—“fairly on-the-nose,” Wood admitted—to benefit the Trussell Trust food bank in London … The Romantik Hotel Spielweg, the spectacular Black Forest inn where art-worlders would normally retreat to during Art Basel, is selling some of their Michelin-starred wursts, cheeses, and charcuterie and shipping them around the world, as the restaurant is shut until Easter and the hotel is closed indefinitely—so buy them! … artist Borna Sammak is distraught that his lecture at Columbia has been cancelled …


@STeveMartinToGo stays in these days. Photo courtesy: Twitter.

Chef and philosopher king Fergus Henderson at the Sarah Lucas show at Sadie Coles HQ in London, before the gallery shut its doors March 16 *** Steve Martin tweeting about how he found an old copy of Art in America while in quarantine *** A number of dealers, writers, artists and collectors who escaped to their homes in the Hamptons, the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and other parts of New England, while others rented cars and drove down south… but that’s not really a spotted, is it? (This particular Wet Paint section might need to get an overhaul.)

New Wet Paint offices. Photo courtesy: Nate Freeman.


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