Wet Paint: Embattled Dealer Accused of Brazen Heist, Frieze NY to Open for Vaccinated Fairgoers, & More Juicy Art World Gossip
Which billionaire Greek shipping heirs have a splashy new L.A. gallery? What rapper is desperately trying to buy a KAWS? Read on for answers.
Every week, 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].
BUSINESS NOT BOOMING
The pandemic year in America has not been especially kind to Robert Blumenthal. Last March, the collector-turned-dealer entered into a legal entanglement with Derek Fordjour, claiming that the in-demand artist—who just last month solidified his blue-chip status by joining David Kordansky Gallery out West in addition to his New York reps, Petzel—owed him $1.45 million after a 2014 deal in which Blumenthal paid $20,000 for 20 works fell apart. Perhaps the then-young artist was grateful for the funds at the time, but those $1,000 Fordjour paintings now go for $250,000, and Blumenthal said he only received 13 of the 20. So, apparently, Fordjour owed him seven more—at 2020 rates.
But in July, Blumenthal’s attorney exited the case, claiming he hadn’t been paid. The status of the case is now unclear. But Blumenthal’s got even bigger problems: A former partner is accusing him of stealing artworks. Blumenthal, on the other hand, claims he was simply taking what was rightfully his.
In a video sent to Wet Paint, the dealer Ford Phillips—who founded East Projects with Blumenthal in late 2019, but no longer works with him—can be seen entering his apartment on March 1 for what he says is the first time since November. “Robert Blumenthal has been here trying to steal artwork,” Phillips says in the video. “All the lights are on—typical. The place is a fucking mess.”
In another image given to Wet Paint, police can be seen in the apartment filing a report.
Phillips’s lawyer confirmed that his client had contacted the Art Loss Register and “the appropriate authorities… to resolve the issue.” (“The unfortunate reality is my client did work on various projects with Robert Blumenthal,” the lawyer said. “However, Robert never had a formal interest in my client’s business.”)
Sources said Phillips was missing work by artists including the hotly in-demand Ivy Haldeman—who makes pastel-washed surrealist scenes that often feature hot dogs come to life—and others who had been featured in the last solo show at East Projects, which was curated by the London-based advisor Bjorn Stern.
Another artist whose work is said to be at large is Godwin Champs Namuyimba, the Ugandan artist who has seen his market rise over the pandemic. Three works in the last six months have doubled their high estimates at auction, selling for mid-five figures and gaining momentum.
Blumenthal, for his part, says he merely claimed what belongs to him. “This is simply a shakedown by someone who is financially desperate and trying to take what isn’t his,” he told Wet Paint. “I took the work to protect my financial interest as Ford was threatening to sell the paintings and keep the money.” He shared an email that appears to confirm his purchase of a work by Haldeman, which he says is now in “the townhouse Ford and I shared together.”
Meanwhile, he is unhappy with the way his estranged business partners have handled the work of Champs Namuyimba, who Blumenthal says is being included in the next Venice Biennale. After the trio planned to buy 25 works by the artist jointly, Phillips and Stern began “putting [them] directly at auction which is not the way I would go about building an artist career,” he said. “I hope we can resolve this, but I am not going to just let people steal from me.”
The East Projects website no longer lists Blumenthal as a partner, and his own gallery on the Bowery, simply called Blumenthal, has not had a show since 2018. Sources say, however, that there is an intriguing development in his personal life. After a divorce that landed him some unflattering coverage in Page Six, Blumenthal is newly engaged to Olivia Wheat, stepdaughter for former Credit Suisse chairman and CEO Allen Wheat.
Mazel tov to the happy couple! Let’s hope all this mishigas gets sorted out before the wedding.
FRIEZE THAWS FROZEN PLANS FOR NEW YORK FAIR
Here’s a fun parlor game to play with dealers while dining outside as temperatures creep up: What will the actual first art fair be in the After Times? Many have their money on Art Basel in Switzerland, now delayed to September, and lack of rooms at the Drei Könige indicates a certain amount of confidence that there will be, um, something on the Messeplatz come fall. But flights are not booked, and Wet Paint hears that one prominent gallery owner is telling staff that a trip to the Rhine come fall is not exactly likely. If the last year taught us anything, trying to predict stuff like this so many months out is pretty worthless. (An Art Basel rep says the fair is still scheduled for September.)
But perhaps the plan for springtime has finally become clear—at least stateside. Europe has been in and out of lockdown since last fall, but New York’s numbers have been looking pretty dang promising since the start of 2021, knock on wood. Which is why, despite rumblings of its demise, Frieze New York is indeed going ahead with plans for its scaled-back fair, travel restrictions and general logistical headaches be damned.
In a letter to exhibitors obtained by Wet Paint, the fair says it plans to hold its mini expo at The Shed, the art center at Hudson Yards, and claims it has the pledged support of “all relevant authorities, medical consultants, collectors, and our participating galleries.”
Getting in won’t be a cakewalk. All exhibitors, staff, and attendees need a negative PCR test—that’s a PCR test, not a rapid test—before they can enter, which means full quarantine in the days while you wait for the results. That, or proof of vaccination. Once you jump that hurdle, you’ll enter a facility geeked-out with an extra fancy ventilation system, a large space that will be sparsely populated at all times due to the timed ticketing system. Naturally, masks are required. Daily health checks will monitor the temperature of staff, exhibitors, and attendees.
And just to be extra careful, Frieze has established a “medical advisory team” that will oversee “an app to manage daily declarations, appointments for testing, private records of test results and/or proof of vaccination, as well as details for contact tracing.” Sounds like a party!
Frieze declined to comment beyond the email.
Excellent work on last week’s quiz, dear readers. So many of you knew that the work was Black Monolith, for Okwui Enwezor (Charlottesville) (2017–20) by Julie Mehretu, which is currently on view at the New Museum in its fantastic show, “Grief and Grievance: Art & Mourning in America,” conceived of by Enwezor before his death. Thankfully, it’s up until June—fingers crossed that some vaccinated non-New Yorkers can swing through town in the next few months to see it.
But identifying the owners proved a little trickier. The Mehretu is owned by Henry Kravis, the billionaire founder of investment firm KKR & Co., and his wife, the philanthropist Marie-Josée Kravis. (The wall text at the New Museum doesn’t mention that Henry Kravis was a prominent Trump donor who was once in the running to be secretary of the Treasury, though in November, Kravis did urge Trump to accept the results of the election and begin the transition, so, I don’t know, all is forgiven? Is that how this works?)
We had more than 10 correct responses, so here’s the first batch that landed in the inbox with a fully correct answer: Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte; collector and patron Scott Lorinsky; Dan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley; Pace Gallery’s Danielle Forest; Cyprien David, exhibition coordinator at Gagosian, Geneva; Los Angeles dealer Harmony Murphy; Kelly Long, curatorial assistant at the Whitney; Darrow Contemporary founder Meredith Darrow; self-described “Wet Paint fan” Cullen McAndrews; and the art historian and critic Phyllis Tuchman.
A hearty congrats to all!
Here’s this week’s clue: Name the artwork and its owner!
Winners will get hats—the next batch is coming in very soon… so send your guesses to [email protected]!
Loïc Gouzer’s Fair Warning will be offering a dazzling work by the master Issy Wood Sunday, and it’s expected to go for big, as Wood’s work is impossible to get—even if you are world-famous art podcaster Russell Tovey!—and has never before appeared at auction … Longtime Bowery stalwart The Hole is branching out to a second location, right in the heart of the new gallery mecca in Tribeca … Rapper Ja Rule is doing NFTs now—look, this gimmick is already entering its Fyre Festival era, do we still have to pretend to care? … Ramiken founder Mike Egan is taking off his art dealer hat and putting his artist hat back on with a solo show at Meredith Rosen Gallery inspired by that eternal muse, Lana Del Rey … I feel like we’ve written this a few times but now Indochine is actually reopening March 30 … Josh Kushner and Karlie Kloss have brought another grandchild of former jailbird Charlie Kushner into this world … Greek shipping heirs Theo Niarchos and Eugenie Niarchos have opened a new gallery in Los Angeles with a show or works by Max Ernst …
… Winter Street Gallery, the Martha’s Vineyard space founded by dealers George Newall and Ingrid Lundgren, will be popping up in Mexico City—there’s a lot going on in Mexico City in April, people—with an outdoor sculpture show featuring Carl D’Alvia, Al Freeman, Tony Matelli, Kayode Ojo, presented alongside Galería Hilario Galguera, and the grand opening is April 27 … Beloved East Village art dive Sophie’s, a place very close to your scribe’s heart, reopens today, along with its sister bar Josie’s, and we will see all you vaccinated folks at the pool table, get ready to lose … There may not be art fairs quite yet, but all the collectors down in Palm Beach can attend the billionaire-stuffed island’s International Boat Show, which, according to a release, is very much happening at the end of March very much in person, as there ain’t no online viewing room that can replace the smack of sea breeze taken in deckside …
*** Sotheby’s CEO Charlie Stewart, who was last seen drinking a fancy bottle of red with Kevin Love, on his businessman tip—this week on the Instagram stories, Charlie made sure to post proof that he got to the office early *** A large swath of the downtown set descending upon the Bushwick-based Pegasus Prints for a group show arranged under the auspices of Lucien Smith’s non-profit Serving The People *** Anton Kern director Brigitte Mulholland celebrating artist Hein Koh’s carrot-themed paintings at the gallery’s Tribeca window with, um, carrot cake, what else *** King Of All Media Chris Black taking a break from pumping out episodes of How Long Gone (which he hosts with Jason Stewart) to shoot pre-grammy pictures of Phoebe Bridgers wearing custom Thom Browne in a Los Angeles backyard ***
*** A number of artists and writers celebrating the one-year anniversary of Dr. Clark, which had the distinction of opening on exactly the day the city’s restaurants shut down *** The new LA set at Gigi’s, a Hollywood spot that on-the-town west coast tipsters tell us has attracted a continuous flow of models, artists and musicians, and everybody’s smoking constantly, which is great *** Artists Lily Gavin and Barry Keoghan screening films at the Gucci Bookstore on Wooster Street in Soho *** Bella Hadid hanging out by the big KAWS thing outside the Seagram Building *** Speaking, if anyone could put Lil Baby in touch with Per Skarstedt—Lil Baby, ladies and gentlemen, would like to buy some KAWS ***
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