Wet Paint: Coronavirus Panic Grips the Art Market, Jennifer Guidi Deal Revealed on Venmo, and More Juicy Art-World Gossip

What building is Aby Rosen buying next? What artist is Raf Simons collecting in bulk? Read on for answers.

Salone del Mobile 2019 at Rho Fiera. Milan (Italy), April 11th, 2019 (Photo by Marta Carenzi/Mondadori via 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].


Alarm over the novel 2019 strain of coronavirus is reaching new heights as the deadly disease spreads rapidly in Europe and the global death toll nears 3,000. The financial and art markets alike are feeling the impact: Weeks after organizers cancelled Art Basel Hong Kong due to the outbreak, there is new concern that art expos in Europe and elsewhere could be cancelled in the coming months, too.

As collectors and dealers arrived in New York this week with plans to attend what amounts to two long weeks of art fairs and marquee gallery and museum openings, talk turned to how radically the globe-trotting fair calendar might be amended. Several sources said that, while it’s too early to make a final decision, advisors and clients are still waiting to book travel to Switzerland for the Art Basel fair, which is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary this June. The fair announced its exhibitor list this week and has not yet commented on the status of the virus in the country, where there are currently four confirmed cases. (On Friday, a rep for the fair said that “we are moving forward with plans for the show to take place as scheduled,” citing the fact that the fair is more than three months away.) But several events there have already been cancelled, including the Watches & Wonders watch trade show in Geneva, a St. Moritz car fair called The International Concours of Elegance, and a ski run that’s considered the largest sporting event annually in Switzerland. And Art Basel’s parent company, MCH, just announced that Baselworld, a leading Swiss watch fair, will be postponed until January 28, 2021 in light of a new rule from the Swiss government outlawing events where more than 1,000 people are gathered until March 15. A rep for MCH said the group “will similarly be continuously reviewing the holding of further events over the next few weeks and will be providing information about these as soon as possible.” 

Travelers are on high alert for coronavirus in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In Germany, fears over the spread of the virus have prompted the cancellation of the Light + Building fair in Frankfurt, a lighting fair that two years ago attracted 22,000 visitors. Meanwhile, Northern Italy is also seeing a spate of cancellations on its trade-fair calendar, as the number of cases in that country exceeds 400. In Milan, La Scala is staging no operas, and Salone del Mobile, the world’s biggest design fair, has been postponed—it was expected to open April 21 and now will apparently open in June. Sources said that MiArt, the contemporary art fair that opens the week before Salone in Milan, is likely to be postponed as well. (A representative of the fair did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

While widespread cancellations have mostly be limited to Europe, warnings of the impending outbreak in the US—including news, on Thursday night, of what may be the first confirmed case in New York—has the industry feeling jittery about fairs here, too. Some wonder whether Frieze New York, set to open in May, will be pushed back. (A rep for Frieze said that “We are proceeding with our preparations for Frieze New York while monitoring the situation closely in partnership with local, state and federal health officials.”) A representative from the Armory Show said in a statement earlier this week that “as safety of our exhibitors and guests remains a top priority, we will continue to consult with experts in the field and pursue best practices in safeguarding The Armory Show 2020 edition”—though one of the events on the Armory Show VIP schedule, a tour of the home of the collectors Howard and Barbara Morse, was cancelled by the hosts due to fears over the coronavirus. Already, the paranoia has set in—at the VIP opening for ADAA’s The Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory Wednesday night, patrons were consciously avoiding any of the customary handshakes and double-cheek kisses in favor of fist bumps and elbow taps. 



People are always asking for more transparency in the art market, where secretive billionaires frequently buy and sell paintings through shell companies without having any idea who is on the other end of a transaction. Now, we have a shining beacon of what art-market transparency could be: two behind-the-scenes advisor-slash-dealers posting their transactions to the public feed on Venmo. Over the weekend, a source sent over a screenshot of the social feed of their Venmo app with something a little more substantial than the usual notifications (friends hitting back friends for getting dinner, a roommate paying their half of the utilities bill, that sort of thing). On the feed appeared an intriguing status update, between two of the source’s friends, indicating that the Puerto Rico-based collector and real estate investor Jacky Aizenman had paid the collector and art advisor Ronald Harrar for a service that he dubbed “Delivery Guidi Sotheby’s.” Alas, a price is not given, and the details stop there. But the Guidi being referred to is, of course, the artist Jennifer Guidi, who has her first show at Gagosian in New York opening Friday, with a dinner at Balthazar to follow. How Sotheby’s is involved remains to be seen, but if any work from the show ends up at the auction house in the future, you heard it here first.



Last year, the art collector and real-estate titan Aby Rosen added the Chrysler Building to his stable of iconic Manhattan skyscrapers, which includes Lever House, the Seagram Building, and several others. Now, he’s been spotted checking out another world-famous structure, one that was for almost two decades the tallest building in the world: the Woolworth Building, a neo-Gothic stunner erected in 1913. How do we know this? Well, on Friday afternoon, Rosen and his entire team took the elevator to the 26th floor and strolled up to the window… and right into the Artnet News bullpen, where this reporter and colleagues were busily tapping out the day’s stories. While a spokesperson at RFR Realty, Rosen’s company, insisted that they were just looking— “We are not a buyer,” is all the director of leasing had to say—the German collector, who’s amassed a serious trove of works by Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst, sure looked pretty interested while strutting around the office. Hopefully he doesn’t raise our rent. 



Can you name the artwork shown here, the name of its owner, and the location of the house where it is installed? As usual, the winner will earn fame and fortune in the form of a mention in an upcoming column. 


… That a phishing scam attempted to ensnare a number of artists, who all received an email from someone purporting to be an art advisor (though the address given is actually the address of the new Pace HQ in New York) promising a wire transfer from a collector but riddled with typos … That the actress Paz de la Huerta commented on Artnet News columnist Kenny Schachter’s Instagram to recall how, when she was living at 421 West Broadway, directly under Larry Gagosian, her father would run upstairs to Gagosian’s apartment with a gaucho knife because the budding dealer’s tub was leaking through the floor and into the de la Huerta household … That Raf Simons, the Belgian fashion designer who will team up with collector Miuccia Prada to co-direct the her iconic Milan label, is buying up a lot of work by the Iranian artist Nairy Baghramian.



Brian Donnelly, AKA KAWS, stalking the aisles at ADAA’s The Art Show on Wednesday *** Talking Heads frontman and new Broadway star David Byrne at the New Museum checking out the new Peter Saul show *** A number of artists, dealers, advisors, and writers at a certain gossip columnist’s birthday party at Clandestino ***



Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.