Wet Paint: MOCA Detroit Staff Rises Up Against Director, Elon Musk Buys a Robot (Sculpture) From Jeffrey Deitch, & More Art-World Gossip

Which mega-collector's wife is selling painted seashells for hundreds of dollars? Which art magazine is reducing its print run? Read on for answers.

Exterior view of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2017. Photo courtesy of MOCAD.
Exterior view of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2017. Photo courtesy of MOCAD.

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]

 

MUSEUM MOJO ‘TOXIC’ IN MOTOWN

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit opened today after having remained shuttered for months due to COVID-19. But it might not be the happiest homecoming, as the institution’s director is facing a potent revolt from current and former staffers. In a letter due to be sent to the board of MOCAD—shared with Wet Paint by a source—several came forward with complaints about director Elysia Borowy-Reeder, who has been at the museum since 2013.

“We are aware of the recent departure and laying off of several staff—particularly Black staff and staff of color—and we want to encourage the institution to re-consider which side of history it chooses to stand on,” the letter reads. “For numerous years, Elysia Borowy-Reeder has created a toxic environment which has isolated several current and former staff members and has left MOCAD’s reputation in the local community hanging on by a thread.”

Elysia Borowy-Reeder. Courtesy of the Museum of ConteElysia Borowy-Reeder. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.mporary Art Detroit.

Elysia Borowy-Reeder. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

The letter notes that Bowery-Reeder is in a “challenging” position, given her role in guiding an relatively young institution in a still-rebuilding city through turbulent times. But the authors, who chose to remain anonymous, say that they had already issued complaints through the proper channels, and such complaints went “unchecked” and “ignored.” The letter also claims that they have “experienced or witnessed” Borowy-Reeder commit “various racist micro-aggressions, mis-gendering, violent verbal outbursts, and the tokenization of marginalized artists, teen council members, and staff.” Sources said that all but five of the museum’s 22 staffers were let go in April, with plans to rehire once PPP loans came through. The current staff page lists 13 employees.

Aerial view of MOCAD with NEKST murals by DONT, VIZIE, POSE, OMENS, REVOK, and SKREW, 2013, PHOTO: Colin M. Day.

As the letter implies, there was some turnover at the museum in recent years—turnover that saw its most prominent curatorial position vacated twice. In late 2019, senior curator Larry Ossei-Mensah left after a little over a year in the role. His replacement, Jova Lynne, was named in November 2019, but sources confirmed she is no longer with the museum. On her website, Lynne’s bio says she is “currently an independent artist and curator” and offers a gmail address as a contact.

Borowy-Reeder did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Ossei-Mensah did not respond to a text and Lynne did not reply to an email.

UPDATE, July 3: On Friday morning, Ford Foundation curatorial fellow Tizziana Baldenebro resigned from MOCAD, effective immediately. In her resignation letter, Baldenebro details the “dangerous culture” she says Borowy-Reeder perpetuated, which allowed for verbal abuse, exploitative labor practices, and “outright racist behavior.”

Baldenebro also contends that Borowy-Reeder’s actions led to curatorial staff departures in the aftermath of its closure due to COVID-19, noting that the director used a PPP loan to “implicitly threaten the roles of several employees.” According to Baldenebro, such “threats” led to the departure of curator Jova Lynne and curatorial fellow Maceo Keeling, who are both Black.

“MOCAD has lost three Black curators within a six-month span of time, all within my brief time at the museum,” she wrote. “This is not a coincidence, this is a result of well-documented racism that the staff faced by Borowy-Reeder.”

The letter of resignation was one of the many documents sent today to the MOCAD board, including a notice of complaint from Erin Moran Martinez, the former youth program producer at MOCAD, and the letter referenced earlier, now with the names of nearly 40 former and current staffers attached.

There is also a list of demands for the board, most prominently that the director “cede her role and the museum must conduct a national search for a new director, emphasizing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) candidates, who will work for the city in which it stands.”

MUSK COLLECTION BLASTS OFF

Bros. Photo via Kanye West Twitter.

You may have seen the image of Elon Musk and Kanye West bouncing around the web this week. If you haven’t, it’s directly above this text, so, apologies for that. Look closely, and you’ll see Musk’s girlfriend, the musician Grimes, in the reflection of a glass case. Look even more closely and you’ll see that in that glass case is an artwork that may look familiar to anyone who sauntered into Jeffrey Deitch’s “Tokyo Pop Underground” show in 2019. It’s Hajime Sorayama’s Sexy Robot_Floating (2019), six of which were installed in Deitch’s Los Angeles gallery in a haunting dark room with spotlights illuminating the suite of sexy, sexy robots. Sources said that the work in the photo was among the editions on offer at Deitch’s gallery.

Installation view of Tokyo Pop Underground at Jeffrey Deitch. Photo courtesy Jeffrey Deitch.

(Credit where credit’s due: Wet Paint was tipped off to the Deitch-Musk connection by Alexander Shulan, founder of the essential Bowery gallery Lomex. It’s only open appointment only, but do yourself a favor and watch this really great, deeply strange Marc Kokopeli video on the Lomex website.)

The work comes in an edition of 15 plus six artists’ proofs, and set Musk back $150,000 plus installation fees—pennies for a guy worth $44.9 billion. Deitch, when reached on email, said, “It has been our practice since I began in this field in the 1970s to never reveal the names of collectors or prices of sold works. I am unable to comment on whether this sculpture was included in our exhibition.”

 

NEWPORT’S ART NOT CLOSING 

Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Emma Jones) (2020) in Suicide Stunners’ Séance at Island Cemetery in Newport. (Photo courtesy Art&Newport.)

In April, the longtime Vogue contributing editor and curator Dodie Kazanjian had to make a choice: Should she go forward with the 2020 edition of Art & Newport, the celebrated annual exhibition she puts on each summer in some plush part of the fancy Rhode Island dock spot? All year, the artist Piotr Uklański had been planning to install new portraits in the abandoned Belmont Chapel at Island Cemetery. Ultimately,  she decided to go ahead with the opening—by appointment, with masks required, one at a time, making the journey to the cemetery an even more solitary experience. “It’s meant to be seen that way anyway because it’s a chapel,” Kazanjian said on the phone from Newport. “It’s a beautiful thing to have in the world because it’s real, it’s not an online viewing room. Even if nobody could actually see it, we could install it ourselves, safely.”

She added that she’s long wondered about the strange chapel in the cemetery where the Newport lifer and her husband, longtime New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins, have a plot—”the chapel was buried in vines, and super haunted, and I was so scared of it as a child”—and that when she saw new portraits of Uklański’s at Luxembourg & Dayan last year, she knew that he had ask him to take over the chapel. The works—being installed as we speak for a July 3 opening—depict the muses of the Pre-Raphaelites who languished in the fraternity of male painters, a perfect theme for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which has its roots among Newport socialites. “When you look at these women,” Kazanjian said, “He brings them back to life with a more complex kind of life. You can tell they have minds of their own and he shows it.”

Unlike in past years, there will be no swank gathering to fête the artist, and no streams of Newport residents flocking to the show on opening day. But just opening at all is an accomplishment. Kazanjian said that, in response to the announcement, New Museum chief curator Massimiliano Gioni emailed his congratulations. “He said, ‘I can’t believe you’re having an opening—most museums are trying not to be closing!'” Kazanjian said.

 

SHE SELLS SEASHELLS BY THE SEASHORE… FOR A TON OF MOOLAH

Colby Mugrabi attends the Private Opening of ‘Il Sarcofago di Spitzmaus e altri tesori’ exhibition at Fondazione Prada. (Photo by Pietro D’Aprano/Getty Images for Fondazione Prada)

Last time we checked in with Colby Mugrabi, she was partying down to celebrate Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s wedding anniversary and planning a Trump 2020 fundraiser as her collector husband, Tico Mugrabi, watched football with the president at Camp David. But now, she seems to have turned her attention to a new pursuit: painting seashells, for some reason, and selling them for hundreds of dollars.

These cost thousands of dollars. Photo via Instagram.

“Consumerism Ashore SERIES 1 💖👟🍹🍔⏱❤️ Now AVAILABLE on MMerch.com” she wrote on her Instagram, before hashtagging #CoronaCrafts and #ConsumerismAshore, just in case she didn’t get her point across. On these seashells, Mugrabi has painted the logos for Malibu liquor, Shake Shack, Rolex—and, last but not least, the streetwear store responsible for nothing better than an amazing Barbara Kruger burn, Supreme. Yes, she’s selling beach trash for as much as $1,000 and using logos (presumably) without permission, but hey, that’s all part of the #ConsumerismAshore magic.

Yoohoo, indeed! Photo courtesy Instagram.

Her posts announcing the series have drawn likes from the lines of shoe designer Brian Atwood, model Madison Headrick, artist Tom Sachs, and Proenza Schouler designer Lazaro Hernandez. So far, it’s unclear if Kushner-Trumps are true fans, but someone definitely is, because all six of these “unique objects” made from “naturally sourced seashell” are listed on her website as… sold out!

 

POP QUIZ

What a joy it is to see all these guesses streaming into the Wet Paint mailroom from all over the world. And so many were right on the money! Yes, many of you dear readers and art-trivia aficionados saw that tiny detail and knew right away it was Jeff Koons’s Kiepenkerl (1987). And like all classic Koons creations, this one came as an edition of three, with one artist’s proof—which one was the one pictured? Well, it’s not edition one, which was bought by Damien Hirst at Sotheby’s in 2008. And it’s not edition three, which was bought by Eli Broad in 2009 in a private transaction. And it’s not the artist’s proof, which sold to a mystery guarantor at Christie’s in 2014 for nearly $4.1 million (if anyone knows where that is, major Pop Quiz points…).

As it turns out, it is edition two, which was purchased by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1998, and currently peers out onto the National Mall.

The correct Koons. Photo courtesy Hirshhorn.

There were a lot of correct responses, and if you, reader, sent in one of them, seriously, give yourself a pat on the back. That’s just awesome. Here we’ll list the first five respondents—you gotta be quick! They are: Todd von Ammon, the founder of wonderful DC gallery von ammon co.; fellow Washingtonian Jennifer Schrock, who is the director of cultural exchange programs at International Arts & Artists; Curatorial Services founder Benjamin Godsill; New York-based architect Peter McCourt; and the English historian and writer Roger Bevan. Congrats to you, speediest of winners!

Here’s this week’s quiz—again, it’s a closeup of an outdoor sculpture somewhere in the world, and you have to give me the artist, name of work, location, and owner.

Send guesses to [email protected]—and there are no bad guesses! Winners get eternal glory and maybe some kind of outdoor, socially distanced cocktail when such a purchase is safe, though that might be a long, long time from now.

 

WE HEAR…

Hauser & Wirth Rämistrasse. Photo courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

Hauser & Wirth is teeing up a major Picasso show as the second exhibition in its newly announced second space in Zurich, in a landmark baroque house in the city’s historic district, down the street from the scrumptious Kronenhalle that had previously functioned as a high-end private viewing space … Artforum will downsize to eight issues a year for the next 12 months due to the decreased number of exhibitions and art happenings around the world … the marvelous Instagram Regret Counter—a raucous compilation of nights of rabid excess put together by dealer Alissa Bennett—is back and better than ever … artist Andra Ursuta is getting ready to join the roster at David Zwirner, months after her stunning show of new sculptures at Ramiken’s raw cityscape-wrapped space on the top floor of a building in BushwickGlenstone, the greatest museum in the Wet Paint homeland of Montgomery County, Maryland, will be reopening its indoor pavilions on July 23 … Brice Marden‘s Complements (2004–7), once in the Donald Marron collection and now headed to the block at Christie’s with an estimate of $30 million to $40 million, is making last-second house calls to the Hamptons despite officially being installed at Rock Center

SPOTTED

A slice of Loic cake. Photo via Instagram.

Loic Gouzer, birthday boy, celebrating the big four-oh in Montauk—hours after the first work sold through his Fair Warning app, Steven Shearer’s Synthist (2018) selling for $437,000 over a high estimate of $250,000—with friends including married collectors Dasha Zhukova and Stavros Niarchos, who we hear rented for the summer Adam Lindemann’s $65 million estate Eothen, once owned by Andy Warhol *** Lisa Spellman letting her followers know about a Montauk Black Lives Matter rally scheduled for July 6, starting in Kirk Park and ending in Town Circle, in case any of the new villagers want to join … Sterling Ruby posting a new capsule collection of his S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. fashion line in which each and every item is a unique object made by Ruby, further blurring the line between art and fashion … FT columnist Melanie Gerlis and Sotheby’s CEO Charlie Stewart engaging in some reporter-source banter on the ‘gram, wherein Stewart announced he’s going to inform the house’s owner Patrick Drahi that she deemed the billionaire “increasingly useful,” and Gerlis makes it clear that she meant it in the “nicest possible way,” to which Stewart replies 👍👍👍👏👏👏 *** Richard Prince growing some really great-looking marijuana …

Good green. Photo courtesy Instagram.

 

PARTING SHOT


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