Wet Paint: MOCA Board President Revealed as Secret Trump Backer, Murakami Mix-Up at Paris Fashion Week, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip
What cash-strapped gallery still throws dinners with Daniel Boulud? Which Weinstein-accusing star has art at Felix? Read on for answers.
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].
MAKE MOCA GREAT AGAIN
Last week, Klaus Biesenbach, the director of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, posted to Instagram an image of the museum’s board president, Carolyn Clark Powers, standing in the California sunshine with megawatt smile on her face. “Thank you @carolynclarkpowers for making it possible for @moca to have FREE general admission from tomorrow on!” Biesenbach wrote. Indeed, Powers, a major art philanthropist who has been on MOCA’s board since 2009, donated $10 million to enable the museum to do away with its $15 entry fee beginning January 11.
And while her contributions to the arts have long been heralded, her political donations have yet to be revealed—but they might rub some of her fellow board members the wrong way, not to mention the liberal Tinseltown elite who pick at canapés at the museum’s star-studded annual gala. A prominent dealer-collector in La La Land tipped me off that Powers has been making hush-hush payments to Donald Trump‘s campaign since 2018. Sure enough, a search on OpenSecrets.org showed that the Powers has made four contributions since the 2016 election, all in March 2018. There were two donations directly to Trump’s campaign, both for $2,700, and two different contributions to the Republican National Committee, which is currently focused on the president’s re-election. The first was for $10,700 and the second was for $33,900. In total, Powers donated a cool $50,000 to a president who has shown little interest in funding the arts—and is quick to forcefully demean his political opponents, women, and the press.
To be sure, the sum Powers has forked over to Trump and his cronies pales in comparison to the amount she has given to MOCA, and it’s a fraction of the $1 million that art collectors such as Henry Kravis and Steve Cohen gave to the president’s 2016 Inauguration Committee. But any support for this president—who is, in case you missed it, currently facing an impeachment trial in the Senate—might rankle fellow MOCA board members like Ari Emanuel, the Hollywood power-agent and brother to former Barack Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as outspoken artists Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger, and Mark Bradford. Though, to be fair, the board isn’t a pure bastion of liberal politics: Trump’s current treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was a member until he resigned to take the big DC job in 2016. MOCA did not respond to a request for comment; Powers couldn’t be reached.
MORTIFYING MURAKAMI MIX-UP
Takashi Murakami and Ai Weiwei have been mistaken for one another often enough that both have, at various points, posted videos to their Instagram accounts in which they gently explain to an excited “fan” that no, they are not that other famous Asian artist. Of course, the two bearded men could hardly be more different in terms of the work they produce—never mind the fact that they were, you know, born in completely different countries and don’t actually look all that much alike. So it was particularly head-shaking to see that Getty Images posted a picture of Murakami at the Off-White Menswear Fall/Winter 2020–2021 runway show at collector/dealer Patrick Seguin’s gallery in Paris—but identified Murakami as “Ai Weiwei.” Make no mistake: it is extremely amusing to imagine solemn human rights activist Ai Weiwei sitting front row at a Virgil Abloh show next to hip-hop stars Takeoff and Quavo of Migos, the rapper Tyga, and Jonathan Cheban, the Kardashian hanger-on who claims he legally changed his name to “Foodgod.” But it’s disturbing that one of the world’s biggest stock-image sites had yet to fix the caption more than 24 hours later. And last week, the New York Times had to issue a correction after fashion editor Vanessa Friedman mistakenly wrote that the brand Louis Vuitton had a history of collaborating with the novelist Haruki Murakami—again, amusing to imagine!—when it was, of course, Takashi who made the iconic bags with the French house in the aughts. Sorry, Takashi! It’s just not your week.
BUDGET FOR BOULUD
Onetime Swiss powerhouse Galerie Gmurzynska is dealing with a looming expense that probably wasn’t part of its business plan. The gallery is facing an ongoing lawsuit and resulting fines stemming from its role in allegedly helping a financier avoid paying the correct VAT tax on almost 100 works of art. It was also conspicuously absent for the first time in a decade from Art Basel Miami Beach, where it usually stages a theatrical display, and plans to sit out Art Basel Hong Kong in March. (While acknowledging that Swiss customs authorities are involved in the pending legal VAT issue, the gallery denied it is having any financial trouble, and said that it skipped Art Basel Miami Beach to focus on opening its New York space said opted out of the Hong Kong fair due to the political turmoil in the city.) Still, it is notable that the gallery is forging ahead with another part of its program: fancy, spare-no-expense dinners, which in the past have taken the form of bacchanals at the penthouse of the Faena in Miami or the original Mr. Chow on Manhattan’s east side. The invitation for its latest event arrived Thursday, timed to coincide with its exhibition “What’s for Dinner? A Brief History of Food in Art.” Following a conversation with three-Michelin-star chef Daniel Boulud next week, guests will head over to his restaurant Bar Pleiades—which, when the gallery isn’t picking up the tab, features “snacks” like a $42 burrata ravioli.
THE STARS ALIGN AT FELIX
We’ve got the list of special projects for the second edition of Felix, the art fair at the Hollywood Roosevelt that runs alongside Frieze Los Angeles in the second week of February. And it looks like the local industry folk punching in at the dream factory can’t keep away from the art folk in town to sell (literal) pictures. The sector is curated by critic William J. Simmons, who recruited former “Transparent” showrunner Jill Soloway to curate a selection of work by feminist art icon Judy Chicago. (This is not Soloway’s first time working with Chicago; Amazon ordered a series from the director based on her autobiography, but it was cancelled before it got off the ground in 2018.) And Soloway’s not the only Hollywood figure to factor into a project at Felix. Paz de la Huerta, the actress who has one of the most unpredictable Instagram presences around and is currently trying to get the Manhattan District Attorney to listen to her case against Harvey Weinstein for alleged rape, is planning a yet-to-be-divulged presentation at the fair called “the Paz Project.” It will take over the booth of none other than Artnet News columnist Kenny Schachter, with some help from the artist Bjarne Melgaard.
Can you identify the name and year of this Basquiat painting, shown here with its owner, the Valentino partner Giancarlo Giammetti, heiress Nicky Hilton Rothschild, and, um…ah yes, prominent mid-aughts New York socialite Olivia Palermo? (Thanks for the lowbrow-brilliant Instagram account @hollywoodartwindow for tipping us off to this bizarre photo’s existence.) Winner of the quiz gets fame and glory courtesy a mention in this column.
… that the Frick Collection hasn’t officially decided to move into the Met Breuer building, even though the Met is still planning to move out after the Gerhard Richter show closes in July. A spokesperson for the Frick described the move as “possible” though they “still anticipate being able to begin programming at the Breuer in late 2020,” meaning they’ll be at least a few months later than initially thought … that dealmaker Loic Gouzer is back in New York after a post-Christie’s year of travel and environmental activism, and even though his garden leave is over, he plans to take the next six months to figure out his next move … that despite the many, many big-game artists claimed by Hauser & Wirth in the past month (Nicole Eisenman, Avery Singer, George Condo, and Henry Taylor—many of which were, ahem, first revealed in Wet Paint), it’s arch-rival David Zwirner who’s rumored to have a big artist poach bombshell to announce soon.
*** Cleveland-based collector and philanthropist Fred Bidwell announcing the details of the FRONT Triennial, for which he acts as CEO, during a bash at the office of art advisors Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wager *** artist Shirin Neshat at Soho staple Fanelli’s, where she greeted the bartender by first name and sat down for some light reading: Eleanor Heartney’s Doomsday Dreams: The Apocalyptic Imagination in Contemporary Art *** artists Zak Kitnick, Leigh Ledare, Violet Dennison, Lena Henke, Eva LeWitt and Dena Yago at Tribeca restaurant China Blue to celebrate Madeline Hollander’s new show “HEADS/TAILS” at Bortolami *** an apparently very famous singer who Wet Paint needed help recognizing named Dua Lipa at Ray’s, a Lower East Side “dive bar” owned by actor Justin Theroux.
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