Wet Paint: Hunter Biden’s Wild Nights in the Downtown Art Scene, Inigo Philbrick’s Thai Hideaway, and More Juicy Art-World Gossip
What museum couldn't afford to ship works back to the artist and destroyed some instead? Which billionaire is hosting a show of anti-Trump art?
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]
HUNTER BIDEN BEFRIENDS ART-WORLD INSTAGRAM SENSATION
At the start of last year, Hunter Biden—the son of former vice president Joe Biden—was perhaps best known for his battles with drug addiction and his decision to start up a relationship with his late brother Beau’s widow. He enters the new decade at the center of whistle-blower controversy that culminated with the impeachment of President Donald Trump, who has been accused of withholding hundreds of millions of aid to a war-torn US ally on the condition that its president reopen the since-closed investigation into the eldest Biden son. The extra-hot spotlight on the son of the Democratic front-runner has caused the tabloids to unearth all sorts of sordid details, from drug relapses to a paternity suit brought by a Washington, DC-based stripper. What’s yet to be disclosed, however, are Biden’s ties to the downtown New York art scene, a world away from the board of Burisma in Kiev.
For a period in 2018, Biden could be seen stopping by art openings and parties on the Lower East Side, and attended a runway show for the hip downtown fashion brand Lou Dallas. Sources said that many of his art-world connections came through his relationship with Zoe Kestan, the lingerie entrepreneur who is better known by her Instagram handle @weed_slut_420. In addition to modeling her wares on her account, where she has nearly 75,000 followers, Kestan is also an artist whose Polaroid snapshots have appeared in group shows with Bernadette Van-Huy, Danny McDonald, and Sam Pulitzer. She has also appeared on the controversial podcast Red Scare, hosted by art critic Anna Khachiyan and actress Dasha Nekrasova, and modeled in runway shows during London Fashion Week. (Reps for Kestan and Biden didn’t get back to us.)
There’s also some concrete leftover evidence of Hunter’s brief wade into the water of downtown art studios and gallery openings. Sources say that, being circulated around the downtown gallery hub of Dimes Square like samizdat, are images of oil paintings of Hunter Biden—that is, images of paintings of all of Biden with nothing left to the imagination—made by another local artist who has asked dealers to not reveal her identity. We’ve yet to get a hold of the depictions of Hunter in the buff or a lead on that painter’s identity, but rest assured: we will keep you posted.
IS INIGO HIDDEN IN A JUNGLE OASIS?
Last month, a source close to the infamous alleged art-world swindler Inigo Philbrick told us the on-the-lam former high-flying wheeler-dealer was somewhere in Thailand, having fled from authorities in the United States and England who have frozen his assets, and leaving lawyers twisting in the wind after he declined to show up at multiple court appearances. Where in Thailand, exactly? Well, another tipster reached out with the evidence of a trip taken with Philbrick years ago in the jungles outside of Chiang Mai, and thinks that he might have returned there to hide out.
The old pictures show the now-embattled dealer horsing around with his travel companions—including Gia Coppola, the film-world royalty who would go on to become a director herself—and strolling through marketplaces, his serene face blissfully unaware of the troubles he would find himself in years later. And while there’s no direct evidence that he’s gone back to the jungle to hide, the source did say that Philbrick was even back then—six years before he took the helm of Modern Collections, a London-based secondary market dealership co-directed by White Cube founder Jay Jopling, and 14 years before he found himself in hot legal water—flaunting his insider status in the art world. At one point, he led the whole team to visit Rirkrit Tiravanija at his Land Foundation, which the artist established outside of Chiang Mai in 2004, and they were greeted with open arms. We doubt he’d get the same reception today.
MUSEUM ACCUSED OF TRASHING WORK TO SAVE ON SHIPPING
As an exhibition ended, a hard-up museum is said to have offered an artist a twisted Sophie’s Choice: Which of your works do you want shipped back, and which do you want to be destroyed? That was the situation facing the artist Jessica Vaughn at the end of her first-ever solo museum show, which was up at Dallas Contemporary from September until late December. As the show wound down, sources said that DC director Peter Doroshenko reached out to Vaughn and informed her that the show was over budget, and with no money left to ship the work—which consists of large-scale sculptural installations that can involve construction-site detritus and large television screens—to her studio in Brooklyn, some would have to be destroyed in Texas and discarded. Vaughn enlisted her gallery, Martos in New York’s Chinatown, to see if they could negotiate to save the work, and after protracted talks, Vaughn chose a few to be shipped back; others were destroyed. (Neither Dallas Contemporary nor Martos would give details on how the shipping was paid for.)
In a statement to Wet Paint, Doroshenko said any destruction was agreed-upon: “The Dallas Contemporary commissioned a site-specific work from artist Jessica Vaughn. Elements of this installation included discarded office cubicles that the museum purchased. At the close of the exhibition the museum agreed with the artist to send a limited number of cubicle elements to NY. The artist, museum, and gallery concluded this exhibition on amicable terms.” The show was a groundbreaking triumph, though admittedly a belated one: it’s said to be the first solo show by a black artist in the near-decade since Doroshenko took the helm at the revamped museum in 2010.
CURTAINS FOR ARTINFO
Has the grim reaper finally come for the Louise Blouin empire? Artinfo, the flagship website of a network that the collector launched in 2005 as a constantly-updated chronicle of the high-end world of art and culture, is no longer operational. Blouinartinfo.com—which has been the site’s url since the owner’s decision to smack her own hard-to-pronounce name at the beginning of her news site—no longer loads, and simply goes to a site that says “bad gateway.” A representative for Blouin did not return a request for comment on the fate of the site by press time. But if it’s gone for good, it’s no terrible surprise. The operation is years removed from the height of its influence—when many writers, Wet Paint included, did stints in the LBM Media gulag—and in 2017, according to reports, the entire New York-based staff was laid off and key employees were asked to reapply to work as freelancers. But as recently as November, the British publication Private Eye published the account of a freelancer who signed a 12-month contract, but then was not paid after the first month. After the former hired gun attempted to sue and heard nothing back from the company, the hapless writer went to the office addresses listed under Blouin’s name only to find that no one there had heard of the business owner. For a woman who put her name on every art website and magazine in her portfolio, that might sting more than anything else.
Andy Hall, the former Citibank trader who pulled in so many hundreds of millions of dollars in the run-up to the recession that his colleagues nicknamed him “god,” will host a show at his private museum in Vermont titled “Late America” that reflects his virulently anti-Trump Instagram presence, featuring politically charged works by Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Judith Bernstein, Mickalene Thomas, and more … Marina Garcia-Vasquez is out as the editor-in-chief of Artsy after just nine months, further indicating a breakdown of its editorial operations—three editorial staffers were let go among the 20 laid off by incoming CEO last September … Amoako Boafo, who emerged as a market star in Miami last month during Art Basel Miami Beach, will have work at February’s Felix Los Angeles fair in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, at the booth of Roberts Projects … the Metropolitan Museum of Art has apologized on Twitter after being called out by both advocates and New York City’s human rights commission for asking prospective research assistants to provide a salary history—even though it’s been illegal for an employer to ask applicants for a salary history in New York City since 2017 … Jerry Saltz is once again indulging in his inner Instagram skeezeball by asking “have you ever orgasmed while looking at art?” and then clarifying that it doesn’t count if there is “touching/friction.”
Billionaire collectors Roman Abramovich and David Geffen both parking their yachts in St. Barts for New Years, though we got no word of any sign of Caribbean-dwelling snow-bunny Larry Gagosian, who has a massive waterside house on the Island *** Also on St. Barts: the rapper, Harmony Korine collaborator, and all-around American hero Gucci Mane *** Alexander Gilkes, the former Paddle8 chairman, making an extended cameo in Adam Sandler thriller Uncut Gems playing—what else?—a suave English auctioneer.
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