Wet Paint: LA Gallery’s Artists Flee Over Dealer’s Racist Comments, Marfa Waffles on Reopening, & More Art-World Gossip

Plus, which influential artist called on Sotheby's to hold a Black Lives Matter sale? Which VIP sent Frieze a conspiracy-filled screed?

Shirley Morales attends Soap at MOCA: James Franco on General Hospital at MOCA Grand Avenue on June 24, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)

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].



Last week, the Instagram page for ltd. los angeles—the La La Land gallery with a global fair footprint founded by the estimably sociable collector-turned-gallerist Shirley Morales in January 2010—posted an image that proclaimed “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in all caps. Such an unequivocal show of support from Morales was understandable, especially given that her online exhibition up at the time was “Quiver of Voices,” a group show of work by Black artists Darryl DeAngelo Terrell, Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., and Nonzuzo Gxekwa. Morales even arranged for a curator from the California African American Museum and a Studio Museum/MoMA fellow to contribute texts, and in addition to the online show, each artist provided a flag to be flown on a pole at the gallery’s ancillary space in the Hollywood Hills. The gallery’s ownership certainly seemed committed to supporting the cause that has led to protests, vigils, and demonstrations across the country since the murder of George Floyd by four police officers last month.


And so a comment left days later by the Los Angeles-based artist Rebecka Jackson came as quite a shock. “Well Shirley Morales personally told me Black people deserve to be shot by police,” Jackson wrote in the comments. “So…. when do they matter to her?”

A few other comments followed, all pretty scathing. “One black lives matter post is not enough to make up for her clearly problematic views,” said Mallika Dhaliwal, an employee at Netflix. “Her thinking that black artists will work (take meetings for her, give contacts) with/for her free as she poaches them for information on how to build proximity to OTHER black people is unacceptable,” said Justen LeRoy, the founder of LA art space SON. Studio.

Rebecka Jackson, an artist who has accused gallerist Shirley Morales of racist remarks. Photo courtesy Al-Awda

But what exactly did Morales say to Rebecka Jackson? A source sent Wet Paint a transcription of a talk that Jackson gave at the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice in Los Angeles last November; in it, she refers to a disturbing episode that occurred in the summer of 2019. “I want to dismiss it, I want to not give this malefactor any more time or space in my life, and yet her tale so perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of the white ruling class against Black bodies,” Jackson told the crowd at the Pico Avenue space. “I feel it necessary to call out this woman by name to hopefully help other Black artists avoid her exploitation.”

The woman was Shirley Morales, whom Jackson refers to as a “white gallery owner,” and the incidents went down during a trip the two were on to Senegal. At first, Morales said that the cabbies there “didn’t deserve the money they were making” and complained about how Muslim residents celebrating Ramadan “inconvenienced” her, according to Jackson’s account. Then one day during a break, Jackson was having what she called “a personal conversation with a brother from Ghana about police brutality in the United States” when Morales joined their table. As Jackson moved on to discussing the “systematized way in which police officers hunt down Black people,” Morales interjected and said, according to the artist, “Well, everyone has a choice.” Jackson, thinking that Morales misunderstood the conversation, replied, “So are you saying Black people choose to get shot by the police?”

“Well, ya,” Morales responded, according to the transcript of the talk. “If they are in those situations, they made a choice.”

In an email to Wet Paint, Jackson noted that during that conversation she also informed Morales that she herself had been the victim of police brutality, which resulted in cuts requiring 20 stitches, a concussion, and trauma. “So, in fact,” Jackson wrote in an email, “she was also insinuating that I personally deserved what happened to me.”

The harrowing transcript made its way to the three artists in the current show, who all immediately co-signed a letter to Morales proactively rejecting any apology or explanation and demanding their work be removed from the site and its archives, and their flags be taken down from the flagpoles. By early this week, the entire exhibition history of ltd had been scraped from the internet, apart from a brief acknowledgement on the homepage that the show would close earlier than scheduled.

The exhibition page for the online-only show that has been removed from ltd los angeles’s website. Courtesy the Wayback Machine.

In place of any other information on the site is the following statement from the gallery: “I admit there is much I have to learn about black struggles and how to effectively work with and support black artists. I commit to learning and understanding more, to reading, and to further supporting black causes (such as Al Maa’uun, Black Lives Matter, Cities and Care Collective), through my time and resources. I hope for this moment to create inroads to conversation. Moving forward, I will definitely be more aware that my own comforts can be other people’s discomforts, and endeavor to ameliorate environments hostile to people of color.”

In a statement to Wet Paint, Morales said: “I now understand that my words do not accurately reflect the varying levels of socio-political agency experienced by people of color in the US and around the world. I continue to categorically reject any and all state violence against any person of color.”



The header to the somehow offending email. Photo courtesy Frieze.

Last week, frieze editor-in-chief Andrew Durbin wrote a note to the magazine’s online newsletter subscribers with the subject line “Support Black, Activist-Led Groups.” The editor’s letter reads, “We condemn police brutality, racism, and the violence that affects everyday life for Black people and people of color in the US and around the world.” That sounds like a pretty unassailable response to the mass killings propagated by an abusive, corrupt police force. If someone says police brutality and racism is bad, it’s kinda hard to not agree.

Andrew Durbin. Photo courtesy Frieze.

But Connecticut-based collector Carlos de Villa-Amil made it perfectly clear in an email that he does not agree. How do we know that he takes umbrage at Andrew Durbin’s email? Well, he sent a response with the subject line, “ANDREW DUBIN’S EMAIL IS BULLSHIT.” [sic]

Carlos de VIlla-Amil. Photo courtesy Calladilly Studios.

Villa-Amil—a collector who has very little art-world internet presence apart from evidence of a $100 dual membership to the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield—proceeded to rattle off a laundry list of ludicrous far-right talking points and laughable conspiracy theories while warning frieze that it should—and brace yourself, as this is referring to the Black Lives Matter movement—”be careful of the beast you are feeding.”

“Sooner or later it will make a meal out of the ELITIST ART WORD (their name for us) who pretends to care out of PR wokeness,” Villa-Amil wrote.

Villa-Amil also accused the magazine of “supporting radical left-wing organizations,” claiming that “Black Lives Matter and Antifa (a terrorist org) are not fighting for social justice, they are destroying a system under the pretext of caring for Mr. Floyd.” He went on to claim that “the reality is that most black deaths in America are black on black violence” and insisted “a tiny percentage are at the hands of law enforcement.” He propagated a widely debunked narratives about Floyd’s murder, claiming incorrectly that drugs in his system were the cause of death and not the eight minutes with a knee crushing his neck.

When reached for comment, Durbin said, as part of a larger statement, “I emphatically support Black Lives Matter and I disagree with every assertion and lie in his racist email.”

Durbin also said he hoped this column would not “further perpetuate the revolting views of this insignificant mind by reproducing them,” but alas we have to risk perpetuation by reproducing one more revolting view. When asked for comment, de Villa-Amil threatened a frieze spokesperson who he incorrectly believed leaked the letter to Wet Paint (it did not come from a Frieze employee) and then issued a vaguely incomprehensible comment about Black Lives Matter: “How can an organization which receives $30 million for George Soros be considered black led.”

De VIlla-Amil signed off his initial email as a “Frieze VIP collector” and a “Deutsche Bank guest.” A source within Deutsche Bank said that Villa-Amil is not welcome at the bank’s Frieze events.


Eileen Myles. Photo courtesy Poetry Foundation.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is ramming through to stage three of reopening, despite the fact that the state saw its largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases to date on Wednesday. And so while some of Texas’s many world-class museums are opening—such as the MFA Houston, which began welcoming adventurous visitors in late May—others, such as the Blanton Museum in Austin and El Paso Museum of Art, are keeping their doors closed out of “an abundance of caution,” or whatever the popular phrasing is this deep into quar. Another option is a compromise, where visitors can socially distance in outdoor areas while leaving the more perilous indoor portion of institutions dormant until… next summer? 2022? Who knows at this point.

Donald Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete (1980-1984) at Chinati. Photo courtesy Chinati Foundation.

The Chinati Foundation in Marfa considered that kind of partial opening, seeing that Presidio County had nearly no cases and its residents were rocking full-on PPE even when shooting pool at the very open (and very awesome) Lost Horse Saloon. But the plan may have been derailed by one of Marfa’s most famous residents. A source said that none other than the poet and writer Eileen Myles pressured—the source used the word “shamed”—Chinati into staying completely closed, even if other institutions in cities much more densely populated than the desert town were gamely opening their doors. And Myles seems to have serious sway in the artiest little arthouse in Texas. According to the museum’s website, Chinati is “planning to offer outdoor self-guided walking tours,” but right now “Chinati is currently closed.”

Myles did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, a spokesperson for Chinati said: “Chinati has been developing our reopening plans in consultation with local officials and local health officials for some time, and we continue to proceed in a cautious manner informed by epidemiological metrics, following all safety precautions. We do not have a date for reopening. Safety and community will continue to come first as we take these steps.” The spokesperson added: “Eileen Myles has not been involved in Chinati’s process to reopen.”



Yes, last week’s quiz was a little difficult, given the fact that the sculpture you loyal readers were asked to identify was a bit in the distance, and a tiny bit blurry. So, to reveal, it was a large sculpture by Rebecca Warren from 2015, and it’s installed beside the tennis court at Per Skarstedt’s home in Sagaponack—a quick 13 minute drive to his soon-to-open Newtown Lane gallery in East Hampton. Two readers successfully chimed in with the correct answer. First was art advisor Christopher Wolf, who is the founder of Amor Fati Art. The second was freakishly consistent guesser Meredith Darrow, who is correct for a fourth time. Congrats to both!

Here’s a clue that might be more familiar. Name the artist who made this drawing, the object it was drawn on, and its location.

Winners will receive either a €40 martini at the Three Kings during Art Basel 2021, or a KAWS print—whichever is worth less by then. That, and eternal glory via a mention in these pages next week!



Installation view at the fair. Courtesy of Independent Art Fair NYC.

Installation view of the Independent Art Fair. Photo courtesy of Independent Art Fair NYC.

Independent fair executive director Ashley Harris, who made a splash when she jumped from the Sotheby’s to head up the Tribeca fair in late 2019, was let go at the start of quarantine—a few months after coming on board … While museums may be closed indefinitely, all the commercial spaces in New York are allowed to open in phase one, as long as collectors agree to curbside pickup and masks—or at least have their handlers show up with masks … Chinatown gallery Helena Anrather is selling raffle tickets to raise money for a variety of charities supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and the winner gets a new work by artist Douglas Rieger … Sculptor Karon Davis, who co-founded the Underground Museum with her husband, the late Noah Davis, called on Sotheby’s to host a full sale to support the social justice movement, asking, “When people look back at this historic time, how will people remember you and what you did or did not do?” … ArtTactic ripped off yours truly by calling its latest boring trove of data analysis “The Wet Paint Market Report 2015–2019″—good luck ever moving above us in a Google search, suckers! … With the cancellation of the rescheduled Art Basel fair this September comes the sad news that the annual Art Basel Fondue Dinner at the Elsbethenstubli restaurant, which was to have its 8th edition this year, will now take place in 2021 as well …



Stanley Whitney Always Running From the Police 2020.

*** Felix Gonzalez-Torres editions installed in all kinds of fun places, including the home of the artist Tom Burr *** Johann König hoisting a very large Erwin Wurm sculpture onto the roof of his gallery ahead of the inaugural edition of his fair, Messe, which is a bit surreal to see when stateside collectors still can’t do anything but send their minions to pick up small paintings curbside in masks *** A fabulous new Stanley Whitney drawing, Always Running From the Police (2020), used as the artwork for a Jonathan Chait column in New York magazine *** A sculpture by the collective FriendsWithYou inside the Philadelphia pizza mecca Pizzeria Beddia, owned by revered pizzaiolo and collector Joe Beddia *** Keri Russell, the star of The Americans, sitting at one of the very socially distanced tables outside at the Deer Mountain Inn in the Catskills town of East Jewett—informing an art-world gossip journalist that while patrons were not allowed inside the main building yet, the surrounding woods is nothing but a big bathroom ***


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