Wet Paint: Top Galleries Send a Blistering Letter to Art Basel Over Hong Kong, Inside Dasha Zhukova’s Wedding, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip

Who is flipping Julie Curtiss paintings for huge profits? Which star artist is taking Anton Kern's apartment? Read on for answers.

Art Basel Hong Kong in calmer times, back in 2018. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

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].



Wet Paint has obtained a scathing letter sent to the directors of Art Basel Hong Kong by two dozen of the fair’s highest-profile participating galleries expressing their disappointment with what they have deemed an inadequate response to the ongoing political turmoil in the city. The letter, sent January 16, was signed by galleries who have been participating in Basel fairs for many decades, including Paula Cooper Gallery, Lisson Gallery, and Galerie Chantal Crousel; top galleries with outposts on multiple continents, such as Lévy Gorvy, Sprüth Magers, and Blum & Poe; and several galleries who have exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong since its inception. 

(L-R) Adeline Ooi, Director Asia for Art Basel and Marc Spiegler, Director of Art Basel, in Central. 06JAN15 (Photo by David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

The letter, addressed to Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler and Adeline Ooi, its director Asia, did not mince words when airing complaints about the state of the fair amid the Hong Kong protests, which have been going on for months. It claims that “many people who normally attend the fair have indicated that they will not attend this year” and that “many of our artists are unwilling to have their work shown at the fair” because participation in a territory under threat of increased Chinese control is not “consistent with their core belief in the freedom of expression.” 

Ultimately, the letter concluded that “it is not a good year to hold this fair.” (If the fair were canceled, it wouldn’t be without precedent, given the cancellation of the first edition of Art Basel Miami Beach two months out due to the attacks of 9/11.) But, recognizing that MCH Group seems hellbent on soldiering on with the proceedings, the galleries asked for a few concessions instead: the ability to reduce booth sizes without penalty; an extension on the deadline to pay until late February; access to reasonable insurance coverage; no late fees for orders of booth materials such as lights and walls; and, most notably, a 50 percent reduction on booth fees across the board. While some sources at the galleries realized the requests were ambitious, they hoped to start a negotiation.

When the fair responded to these requests January 18—in an email that was forwarded to Wet Paint by one of the galleries—Spiegler and Ooi seemed shaken enough to grant some of the requests (and call attention to others they had already made). They extended the late order fee from January 7 to January 31 and noted that they would be willing to work with galleries, as they had in the past, on extending the payment due date. They also defended their VIP outreach, saying RSVPs were “consistent overall” with other editions, including “an increase in VIP registration from Mainland China.” And they noted pointedly that they had, indeed, offered galleries the best insurance available on the market and the chance to reduce their booth size to decrease costs; nine of the outraged signatories had already taken them up on it. Still, they dismissed the 50 percent booth fee reduction as “financially untenable,” especially considering the unforeseen changes that have already had “a significant financial impact for Art Basel.” 

Art Basel declined to comment beyond the letter sent to galleries. The full list of signatories is as follows: 303 Gallery, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Alfonso Artiaco, Blum & Poe, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Paula Cooper Gallery, Pilar Corrias, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Thomas Dane Gallery, Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, François Ghebaly, Greene Naftali, Herald St, Lévy Gorvy, Lisson Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery, Fergus McCaffrey, kamel mennour, Metro Pictures, OMR, Nara Roesler, Lia Rumma, and Sprüth Magers. None have commented on whether they will drop out of the fair.



The last time Dasha Zhukova got married, to the secretive Russian oligarch billionaire Roman Abramovich, they kept it quiet. So quiet, in fact, that she was referred to in the press as his “girlfriend” for years after the I Do’s took place. Well, for her second time down the aisle, Zhukova married a Greek billionaire (quite the departure): Stavros Niarchos. The nuptials took place last Saturday in St. Moritz, the Swiss ski town that the groom’s grandfather, a shipping tycoon with the same name, built up in the 1950s. This time around, the wedding was captured by the slope-side paparazzi. In attendance were celeb friends such as Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Kate HudsonKarlie Kloss, and her husband Joshua Kushner (brother to Jared). There was also a long list of obscure royals even Wet Paint had never heard of. (Sorry, Ekaterina, hereditary princess of the House of Hanover, try harder, I guess!)

Aby Rosen and his son, Charlie Rosen, who has a brief but memorable cameo in the Anna Delvey saga. Look it up. Photo courtesy: Instagram.

And, of course, Zhukova—who is perhaps most famous for starting Moscow’s leading contemporary arts institution, the Garage Museum, and founding the art and fashion magazine of the same name—invited a long list of art-world figures. Among those spotted by our spies at the festivities, which took place at the town hall and then at the Niarchos-owned Kulm Hotel, were collector and photographer Jean Pigozzi, gallerist Eleanor Acquavella, dealer Vito Schnabel, Vanity Fair scribe Bob Colacello, omnipresent Gagosian gadfly Derek Blasberg, and the collector Aby Rosen. The theme was Russia in Switzerland—a nod to Zhukova’s Russian-born parents, and not a knock on her ex-husband, who is famously close with Vladimir Putin. OK, maybe it was a little bit of a knock on dear old Roman. 



Despite this very reporter revealing the identities of the people flipping works by millennial art star Julie Curtiss, people are still flipping Julie Curtisses—and, inevitably, their names are still getting passed around. Perhaps the promise of a mind-blowing 10,000 percent increase in value is just too much to pass up, even if you get outed in the process. That certainly seems to be the case for the owner of The Witch (2017), downtown-centric New York collector and real-estate broker Evan Ruster, who bought the cropped painting of a blue-skinned figure from the Spring/Break art show for an astounding price of just $1,400 the year it was made. Now, he’s flipping it at Sotheby’s, where its high estimate at the contemporary art evening sale in London on February 11 is nearly $100,000. Given that it’s slotted in as the competitive first lot in the sale, the house evidently has a ton of bidding attention already, and sources say the work could easily hit $200,000. Other paintings by Curtiss of this size have gone even higher than that. There’s another Curtiss of similar scale in the Christie’s London day sale, and while the estimate hasn’t been announced yet, sources say there’s no reason it couldn’t top the $250,000 that small paintings are known to fetch on the private secondary market. That work was bought at the Rome gallery T293 in the summer of 2018 for $4,800 by the Naples-based Francesco Taurisano and his family, and they are the ones who have flipped it to Christie’s. To the victor go the spoils.



Speaking of Julie Curtiss: her dealer Anton Kern is on the move—not his gallery, which is still next to the St. Regis, though he did just open a window space in Tribeca. No, Kern is vacating his Chelsea loft, and he’s departing for new digs on the Upper East Side. Keeping things in the art-world family, however, Kern is giving over the apartment to an artist, though it’s not one in his own gallery’s stable. The apartment is being overtaken by Nicolas Party, the young art sensation who will have his first show with global powerhouse Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles in February. The apartment has a long art-world pedigree: Kern himself took it over from fellow art dealer Andrew Kreps.  



A painful memory sent out on Twitter by a famous actress has initiated a new call to investigate the past behavior of the artist Carl Andre. On Sunday, the actress Ellen Barkin—who was in attendance at the criminal trial of Harvey Weinstein in New York on Thursday—claimed in a tweet that the artist once choked her and shoved her against the wall while she was working as a waitress at one of Mickey Ruskin‘s restaurants. “I was a 22 yr old waitress working a party for painter Carl Andre. Andre got angry over his service. Shoving me against a wall, his hands around my neck pulling me up til my feet left the floor. 3 men got him off me.” The tweet quickly went viral, with some fans of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas actress replying that they had looked up Andre and learned for the first time about the 1985 death of his wife, Ana Mendieta, who Andre claimed fell out the window of their apartment during what he claimed was an argument. He was acquitted of murder in 1988. 



Congrats to last week’s pop quiz winner… Matt Shuster! He correctly identified the mystery painting reproduced in last week’s column hanging above Valentino partner Giancarlo Giammetti, heiress Nicky Hilton Rothschild, mid-aughts New York socialite Olivia Palermo in a recent Instagram photo. It was Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Untitled (History of the Black People) (1983). Pop Quiz will return next week.



White Cube and Christie’s vet Sara Kay quietly closed her eponymous gallery in the East Village late last year, two years after it opened in the former location of the legendary Rivington Arms Julian Schnabel will have a show of new work at Pace opening in March, and when Arne Glimcher announced it at a lunch Wednesday, he admitted, of Schnabel, “I love him, and he’s a major force, but he’s often misunderstood” … Deanna Havas—the artist who once showed at spaces such as Klaus von Nichtssagend on the Lower East Side and LUMA Westbau in Zurich but has more recently been known for her habit of liking or promoting alt-right memes on Twitter—announced she is “retiring from public life,” meaning she will stop using social media and no longer make art, though she may at some point make art under another name.



*** UCCA director Philip Tinari at Davos, sitting directly in front of climate change activist Greta Thunberg *** rapper Tyler, the Creator at downtown art-world hangout Lucien *** heavyweight German artist Anselm Kiefer chilling alongside models Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber at the Prada Mode club at Maxim’s in Paris during haute couture week *** New Museum director Lisa Phillips with collectors Phil and Shelley Aarons at the private preview for a “mixed reality” pop-up in the sky room of her museum, which features a new work by Sarah Meyohas *** Takashi Murakami (not to be confused with any other artist) palling around with reggaeton superstar J Balvin in Paris, also for couture week *** video artist Jesper Just celebrating the opening of his solo show at the downtown New York outpost of Perrotin with a bash at the basement of Eldridge Street haunt The Flower Shop ***


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