Wet Paint: Kenny Scharf Says a Swiss Dealer Stole His Art, Justin Bieber Parties at UTA Artist Space, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip

Plus, which gallery is watching as another of its directors gets poached by a mega? And what fair in Asia is colliding with a dicey political situation?

Kenny Scharf. Photo courtesy Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

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].


Another week, another artist-versus-dealer Instagram fight. On Wednesday, the artist Kenny Scharf took to the social media/revenge platform to air a searing condemnation of the Gstaad gallery Patricia Low Contemporary, accusing the Swiss dealership of “ripping off artists” due to the fact that he “never received these works back” after having a show at the space in 2015. “I’ve tried everything all I have left is social media shame,” he said in a post containing images of several paintings and sculptures. “So after five years I’m posting stolen art.” Scharf’s crie de coeur immediately ricochetted around the internet, prompting notes of concern from fellow artist Maripol and Goodfellas actress Debi Mazar

Patricia Low and the fondues and don’ts of art dealing. Photo courtesy: Kenny Scharf Instagram.

“Wet Paint” obtained emails that were sent between Scharf’s studio, his Los Angeles gallery Honor Fraser, and Low over the course of a few months in 2016. In March 2016, the Gstaad dealer—who has run a gallery in the chic Swiss ski town since 2005—sent said that she could not send the works because the freight company Via Mat had thrown away the crates she was going to use to ship them. When Honor Fraser director Laura Watts followed up in April, a Patricia Low Contemporary employee said that “the transport company did a mistake with the crates and now they have to resolve the problem.” A followup by Watts in May—saying, reasonably, “I assume by now the crates have been constructed?”—was met with crickets, as was an email sent in July by Scharf studio manager Dave Morgan (“Any word on this?”). At that point, gallery owner Honor Fraser emailed Low herself, asking for a wire transfer to account for the painting. Low said that the “bank wont send such an amount with just an email” and said she would get the money to her “when I’m back from my holidays.” For point of reference, she was talking about the summer of ’16.

After that, a source said Low “ghosted” Scharf. In his Instagram, the artist said Low claimed she went bankrupt and changed the gallery’s name. But he’s now hopeful for a resolution: Word came in Wednesday night that hours after the Instagram was posted, Low’s lawyers reached out to Scharf, ready to talk. Low herself didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.



UTA Artist Space, the Los Angeles gallery run by the United Talent Agency, has earned a reputation as the Tinseltown talent conglomerate’s more thoughtful side, underscoring the company’s long dedication to contemporary art. Since July 2018, when it moved to a new building in Beverly Hills designed by Ai Weiwei, UTA Artist Space has hosted exhibitions such as a Color Field show featuring Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, and Sam Gilliam, and it currently has a show on view organized by hotshot Chicago dealer Mariane Ibrahim, featuring up-and-coming African American artists. 

Miss Zukie, Jaden Smith, Justin Bieber, and Kylie Jenner at UTA Artist Space. Photo courtesy: L.A. Guest List.

Sounds like some sober-minded art cred, right? Well, on Friday all that seriousness went out he window when the space went full-on Hollywood, becoming a venue for Justin Bieber to celebrate the Paddle 8 auction the he and his wife, Hailey Bieber, put together to benefit LIFT Los Angeles and Inner-City Arts. Soon enough Jaden Smith showed up and started to playfully roughhouse with the Biebs, jumping on top of him as adoring Bieliebers watched on, phones out. The highlight of the evening, however, was when Kylie Jenner took the microphone to sing her viral hit, “Rise and Shine,” which began its life—as most classics do—as a nine-second clip Jenner posted to her Instagram of her waking up her daughter, Stormi.  



Chelsea galleries had some unexpected visitors earlier this month: officials from the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Sources say the D.C. muscle was sent up north to comb through the arts district and suss out whether anyone was still selling work to Nazem Said Ahmad, the Lebanon-based collector who made a fortune in the diamond business. Keeping Ahmad as a client would be a big no-no, as the Trump administration recently had Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (himself the son of art dealer Bob Mnuchin) place sanctions on the collector, accusing him of laundering money for Hezbollah, which the administration considers a terrorist organization. It’s unclear whether the brass found any shops offloading inventory to Ahmad, but word to the wise: he is known to collect artists such as Antony Gormley, Barbara Kruger, Gerhard Richter, Yayoi Kusama, whose show at David Zwirner’s Chelsea space was open through last week. 



Bill Powers is bringing the gallery scene back to the East Village. Decades after the brief rise and fall of a red-hot art circuit in the blocks between Avenue A and Avenue B—one that nurtured the careers of Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, and Richard Prince—Powers will open a new location of Half Gallery, the space he’s run in various locations since 2008, at 235 East Fourth Street, right on Avenue B. That puts him just a few blocks away from fellow Alphabet City outfit Karma, and a hop, skip, and jump away from the Manhattan branch of the Brant Foundation. While he was tempted to join the current vogue and open in Tribeca after the Upper East Side building was set to be rebuilt, he chose the East Village for its historic role in shaping the current market. He cited as examples Lisa Spellman’s 303 Gallery and Colin de Land’s American Fine Arts, which were both on East Sixth Street, and Pat Hearn, who was on Avenue B, a block from the new Half Gallery. The first show will be Tanya Merrill, and it opens in February. 



Last year, the first edition of Taipei Dangdai was a gambit to bring an Art Basel-style international contemporary art fair to Taiwan—and, by most accounts, it was a hit. Pace, Gagosian, and White Cube all did business, Sean Kelly opened a gallery in Taipei (his first non-New York space) timed to the fair, and it was attended by collectors such as Budi Tek and Ulli Sig. But for the second edition, Taipei Dangdai may get tripped up by an unexpected speed bump. The fair’s VIP preview will open just days after a contentions presidential election, and some dealers and advisors are skipping Dangdai this year due to what could be a political climate not too temperate for selling art. The pro-democracy incumbent is facing a real threat from the pro-Beijing opposition, and there are reports that China is attempting to influence the election via Facebook. Sounds familiar!



Kenny Schachter’s “The Hoarder” auction at Sotheby’s turned out to be a “white glove” sale—meaning every item found a buyer—netting the irascible Artnet News columnist $780,000, mostly through lots that Schachter generously offered without a reserve… that the rumor mill is once again chattering that David Zwirner is getting ready to open a space in Berlin, home to not just a good number of artists but also his father, Rudolf Zwirner, who lives on an estate in the Grunewald Forest… that the Nasher Museum of Art, the fabulous institution at the world-class Wet Paint alma mater Duke University, acquired Derek Fordjour’s Signing Day (2019) from his February show at Night Gallery in L.A…. that photographer and onetime Warhol Factory mainstay Stephen Shore shot the new campaign for Rag & Bone, starring model Paloma Elsesser… that Jeffrey Epstein once announced his intentions to marry the daughter of art collector Glenn Dubin, an Epstein associate who has a gallery named for him at the Museum of Modern Art… that after Avery Singer‘s decampment from Gavin Brown to join Hauser & Wirth, word is getting around that one of Brown’s top dealers is leaving for Hauser as well—just months after his gallery director Thor Shannon left for David Zwirner.



Jay Z and Kanye West thawing out their years-long feud at Diddy’s 50th birthday party, where they embraced in front of Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times (1997)—which Diddy bought from Sotheby’s in 2018 for $21.1 million *** Artists Maia Ruth Lee, Rachel Rossin, and Zak Kitnick at Lee’s on Canal Street for the Wide Rainbow Holiday Party, which raised funds for the nonprofit’s mission of supporting the arts in youth programs in New York *** A naked Rob Pruitt at his annual holiday flea market at Karma Bookstore over the weekend, which also featured a performance by Gerard Malanga and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo ***



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