Wet Paint: Marfa May Have Quarantined Christopher Wool, Jerry Gogosian Lands a Gallery Job, and More Juicy Art-World Gossip

What Insta-famous meme-maker got the last new job in the art world? Which art-collecting billionaires got into trouble on Instagram? Read on to find out. 

Each 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].



There’s been an identity issue lingering in the isolated West Texas town of Marfa ever since Donald Judd ambled in from the desert and started to buy up Highland Avenue building by building, alienating the ranchers and local business owners, some of whom are descended from the families that founded the city in the 1880s. Today, Marfa’s main economic driver is the arts, with institutions like the Judd Foundation, Ballroom Marfa and the Chinati Foundation acting as major employers and tourism generators—but there is still some tension between longtime locals and the art worlders (not to mention the clout-seeking Instagram influencers) who often jet into town from New York or Los Angeles.

Marfa. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Case in point: On Saturday, the Presidio County Sheriff announced in a Facebook post that three passengers were flying into Marfa from New Jersey, a hotspot for the coronavirus outbreak in America. The news riled residents of the county, which is almost the size of the entire state of Connecticut but has a grand total of two ICU beds.

In the comments, many griped about how the passengers appeared to be getting special treatment (apparently, they flew private due to a lack of commercial flights, and the flight plan indicates the point of departure was Teterboro, the Jersey jet hub), and, more importantly, that they might be carriers of the disease that’s infected more than a million people globally. “City of Marfa, how dare you knowingly expose Marfa to such a horrible virus! You all are in no way equipped to handle this—heck, major cities are not equipped to handle outbreaks!” one user commented. Another called it an “incredibly selfish act on the part of the three individuals, especially considering the acts of sacrifice so many are making to keep ‘out here’ safe.”

The City of Marfa responded to concerns by noting that all three new arrivals would self-quarantine for 14 days, in accordance with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decree, and that they were in no position to deny any landowner’s passage. “As of now, we cannot impose rules and restrictions without an official ordinance or order from government local or state which means we must respect the rights of citizens to travel with limitations,” the statement read.

Charline von Heyl and Christopher Wool at Wool’s opening at Gagosian Beverly Hills in 2006. ©Patrick McMullan Photo-Billy Farrell/PMc.

Given the timing and flashiness of the trip, it seems like the three city-fleers could be part of the crew of high-profile artists, collectors, and curators who have property in Marfa. One commenter, Marfa Book Company owner Tim Johnson, offered one clue: two of the passengers first put down roots in the town around a decade ago, and the third has lived in the area for 30 years. And indeed, multiple sources indicated that two of the jet-setters were the married artist couple Christopher Wool and Charline von Heyl, who live mostly in Manhattan’s East Village—but bought a house in Marfa in 2007, and have studios there, too. Rumor has it they were accompanied by Rob Weiner, the Chinati Foundation associate director who’s been living in Marfa on and off since he worked as Judd’s assistant in the early 1990s. Sources say the two addresses listed on the Facebook posting as quarantine sites are affiliated with trio; one is the building split into studios for the two artists and the other is a building operated by Chinati. None of the alleged fliers (or, shall we say, fleers) responded to a request for comment.



Hilde Lynn Helphenstein and Johann König on Instagram Live. Photo courtesy Instagram.

Last week’s Wet Paint focused on a spree of layoffs that have hit the gallery sector, and it was, like most of what we read today, a major downer. So it is with great pleasure that, right here right now, we get to announce a bit of job creation in the art world. That’s right—even with all business frozen and the economy tanking, there are still some opportunities, specifically in the online sphere. And so, with that in mind, the Los Angeles gallery Various Small Fires has hired a new digital director, and it’s none other than Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, the mastermind behind the Instagram art-world meme-machine Jerry Gogosian. While her identity was previously a secret (though not, like, that well kept a secret) Helphenstein left La La Land for a quick NYC jaunt in March and stepped into high society during Armory Week—what timing, given the fact that no one was stepping out anywhere just days later! She’s been ratcheting up content on her own platform during the global lockdown, going on Instagram Live with the likes of Johann König and recording interviews with such eminences as Emmanuel Perrotin and curator Helen Molesworth. She began at VSF last Tuesday, and is working on the gallery’s show of new work by Josh Kline, which will debut this month in one of the few cities that is open for business right now: Seoul, South Korea.



Tico Mugrabi and Aby Rosen attend “THROUGH THE LENS OF NATHANIEL KRAMER” Exhibition Opening at GUY REGAL on October 29, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

No one is going to claim that wealthy collectors confined to their mansions are actually suffering, but the weeks of quarantine are certainly causing some to pull pretty boneheaded moves on social media. First, entertainment mogul David Geffen—who has been one of the world’s top collectors for decades, and in 2015 sold two paintings to Ken Griffin for $500 million—posted a picture of the place he’s cooped up in: Rising Sun, his 450-foot yacht. Many, many people who are lonely, ill, or mourning loved ones in vastly smaller spaces were, justifiably, not pleased. We get it, Geffen, you have a yacht. The billionaire soon disabled comments, then deleted the post, then deleted his Instagram account entirely.

Less guillotine-worthy but more telling was the back-and-forth between Aby Rosen, who collects Manhattan skyscrapers like a seven-year-old boy collects Hot Wheels, and Alberto “Tico” Mugrabi, whose family owns the world’s largest collection of paintings by Andy Warhol. Rosen posted a mock poster of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that reads, “Cuomo for President 2020” (despite the fact that the governor is not, in fact, running for president). Mugrabi fired back with a Trumpian sobriquet and said, “Im sure sleepy ? joe wouldn’t even notice ?.” Gamely, Rosen responded with, “wake up tico 19 , you are blind and you can’t even vote.” To which Mugrabi quipped, “can’t vote but my candidate will win you can vote and your candidate will loss ?” What do we learn from all this? First, Mugrabi and Trump are both bad at spelling. Second, if you are a billionaire, maybe don’t isolate and Instagram.



Here is this week’s puzzler: Where, precisely, is this Urs Fischer installed, and who owned it when it was installed here?

The answer to last week’s POP QUIZ is as follows: It was Robert Gober’s Untitled (1993–94), edition of two with one artist’s proof. The other editions are in the collections of the Whitney Museum and the Hirshhorn; the edition pictured was bought by Alice Walton at the Loic Gouzer-organized “Bound to Fail” sale at Christie’s in 2016 for $2,285,000. Walton placed the work in her Art Bridges program, which organizes loans to institutions around the country. In the picture, it was installed at the El Paso Museum of Art in Texas.

Many, many people solved some of the mystery, and a few got all the answers correct. If that was you, give yourself a quarantine-approved pat on the back—this one wasn’t easy! But two responders sent the full set of correct answers first, at nearly the exact same time, so we’re calling it a tie. This week’s winners are: Yayoi Shionoiri, the executive director of the Chris Burden Estate and the Nancy Rubins studio; and Lock Kresler, the senior director of Lévy Gorvy in London.

As promised, there’s dinner for the winners at Minetta Tavern on Wet Paint’s tab after quarantine. Kidding! T&E budgets are so pre-coronavirus.



This is the flier for an online gala, which is not exactly what people had in mind for 2020. Photo courtesy Zoomtopia.

Hauser & Wirth is donating 10 percent of the proceeds from their online shows to COVID-19 relief, but the $125,000 price tags for the new George Condo drawings in the first show are 25 percent pricier than similar works were just months ago, before he joined Hauser … MoMA is asking all employees to work from home through June, dashing hopes that New York’s museums might be open in the summer … a bunch of art world-adjacent socialites are on the host committee for Zoomtopia, a digital gala Thursday night that, with a $25 donation as an entry fee, is way cheaper than the galas we used to have during non-quarantine life … artist Jeanette Hayes scheduled an April 2020 studio visit with a very busy collector way back in August 2019—and now, it’s been pushed to November 2020 …



Seth Meyers and art magazines. Photo courtesy Twitter.

*** New York Times critic Roberta Smith liking a tweet in which Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called Bernie Sanders a “total menace” for staying in the presidential race *** Seth Meyers taping his late-night show from home in front of a bookshelf stocked with back issues of Artforum and Parkett (props to tipster Melissa Gronlund) … the actor Jack Black playing poker with Mark Grotjahn in one of many epic throwback pictures Jonas Wood posted to his Instagram story … Tony Shafrazi on Twitter saying in an all-caps missive that he hopes Mindy Robinson, the fierce Trump-supporting conservative commentator, gets elected to Congress because she is “TOO KIND & POLITE” *** Cultured magazine founder Sarah Harrelson posting a picture of her and Bruce Weber, the photographer who has been accused by male models of attempting to grope their genitals during photo shoots *** Gia Coppola hanging in a Houseparty room with some art-worlders—yes, I realize that’s pushing it, but, you know, kinda losing it here ***

Poker in the pre-social distancing era. Photo courtesy Instagram.



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