Wet Paint: Swizz Beatz’s Longtime Curator Is Opening a Gallery, Damien Hirst’s Shirt May Flip for a Fortune, & More Art-World Gossip

What pop star is buying big works from Lower East Side galleries? What artist is off the roster at a Chelsea powerhouse? Read on for answers.

Nicola Vassell. Photo: Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Every 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].



It’s hard to think of an art-world figure who really should open a space more than Nicola Vassell. Lots of people put their name on a door just because—but Vassell’s track record is as stacked as it gets. After moving to New York from Jamaica in 1996 to work as a model, she joined Deitch Projects in 2005 and served as director during the space’s zeitgeist-conquering heyday. There was a lot going on. In 2009, at 30, Vassell got the Times profile treatment—its writer breathlessly followed her through a typically topsy-turvy few hours surrounding a hectic Stephen Sprouse install at Jeffrey Deitch’s Wooster Street space, and it was clear she was at the till of a boat weathering an art-world high tide. Deitch, Tauba Auerbach, Kehinde Wiley, and then-Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman all made cameos in the story to sing Vassell’s praises.

"Black Eye," curated by Nicola Vassell, featuring works by Toyin Ojih Odutola, Derrick Adams, Christian Rosa and David Hammons. Photo courtesy Art Observer.

“Black Eye,” curated by Nicola Vassell, featuring works by Toyin Ojih Odutola, Derrick Adams, Christian Rosa, and David Hammons. Photo courtesy Art Observer.

When the Deitch Projects founder closed up shop to take the top job at MOCA in Los Angeles, Vassell moved to Pace. Two years at the blue-chip went by and she launched her own enterprise, Concept NV, and in 2014 curated “Black Eye,” a wildly influential group show in Tribeca that mixed emerging Black artists—Jacolby Satterwhite, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Derrick Adams, and many others—with works by established legends such as David Hammons and Nick Cave.

Nicola Vassell and Swizz Beatz at the Tribeca Ball. Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Nicola Vassell and Swizz Beatz at the Tribeca Ball. Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Vassell has also worked closely beside collector Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean to curate the Dean Collection, helping the hip-hop star and his wife, Grammy winner Alicia Keys, build one of the most mind-boggling and forward-thinking collections of up-and-coming Black and African art in the country.

Now, Wet Paint can reveal that Vassell is planning a space of her own, a gallery that will immediately be one of the more exciting places to see work by Black artists in New York—really, one of the most exciting art spaces full stop. When the space opens—sometime later this year or in the first half of 2021, according to sources—it will be a fully formed powerhouse in a contemporary art landscape that has in recent years pushed the prices of artists of color into the stratosphere. The location has not been decided, but sources say Vassell is close to finalizing a place either downtown or on the Upper East Side. Vassell couldn’t be reached for comment.



Damien Hirst in a suite designed by Damien Hirst at Palms Casino Resort. Photo by David Becker/WireImage.

Damien Hirst in a suite designed by Damien Hirst at Palms Casino Resort. Photo by David Becker/WireImage.

In May, Damien Hirst—the erstwhile death-obsessed bad-boy YBA who in middle age has taken to painting cherry blossoms—took to his Instagram with a fun contest. The now fully hippified Hirst alerted his more than 700,000 followers that the person who left the “best comment about hope” would win a t-shirt the artist had personally worn in the studio while working on his gigantic flower canvases. The shirts had been washed to remove whatever musk of Genuine Hirstean Sweat his assistants did not put into such paintings—but the splotches of bright pink paint remained.

It was mana for the Damien maniacs. Nearly 7,000 went full Hallmark Card schlock, coming up with inspirational prose worthy of posters in a middle school counselor’s office. Each commenter dug deep into Real Feelings hoping their comment could snag them this Shroud of Turin to Hirst’s Jesus of Nazareth. And out of those thousands, Hirst really did choose seven of his favorites, announcing the victors in a post later in the month.

Damien Hirst's shirt. Photo courtesy Instagram.

Damien Hirst’s shirt. Photo courtesy Instagram.

One of them was an anonymous private account with the handle @widd_up. Here’s that person’s winning platitude: “Hope is the blank canvas, the paint is our dreams, the brush is our actions and the final piece is our reward.” Who knows what the hell that means, but it tugged at Hirst’s heartstrings, and weeks later the shirt was sent out to the lucky human behind the account.

It turns out this particular winner possesses capitalist instincts as well as a weakness for inspirational gobbledygook. This week, the person behind @widd_up put the shirt up for auction at eBay—the shirt, incidentally, bears the logo of the online auction platform—hoping to flip the ratty garment for a little bit of cash. While the shirt-flipper gushed in the listing that “it is difficult to place a price on the priceless,” they apparently overcame that difficult task and came up with a number: £250,000 (shipping is free). To justify such a high price for a ratty t-shirt, the lister claims the shirt is actually a work by Hirst, as it’s signed by the artist and was allegedly framed by his studio.

If you agree with that very loose definition of what makes a shirt Hirst once wore a real work by Hirst, and happen to have some serious snooker winnings to blow on old clothing, head to eBay and put in an offer. A rep from Hirst’s Science Ltd. studio did not respond to a request to comment.



I hate to let down so many of you, but once again, we’re only going to be able to name the first 10 winning respondents of last week’s quiz. Too many of you correctly guessed that the building on the left, 9 Chatham Square, was home to Christopher Wool. And many more knew that the building on the right, 10 Chatham Square, was home to Carol Goodden, Tina Girouard, and Gordon Matta-Clark—who, along with others, devised the idea for the pioneering restaurant/performance piece FOOD at a large oval table in that Chatham Square loft—plus Mary Heilmann and Philip Glass, among others.

Here’s the first batch of winners—and again, sincere apologies to those who can’t fit in here, but the Wet Paint brass say these columns can’t run too long. The first 10 to respond correctly were: Cyprien David, director at Gagosian Geneva; Levy Gorvy director Bona Yoo; the New York-based architect Peter McCourt; collector and patron Scott Lorinsky; Christie’s communications associate Stella Kim; Pavel Pyś, curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Lisa Jacobs Fine Art founder Lisa Jacobs; Fiona Laugharn, research associate at Pace Gallery; Camilla Johnston, sales director at the Lapis Press; and Pejman Shojaei, associate director at Kayne Griffin Corcoran.

Congrats to all the winners! Seems like there’s a lot of repeat winners here, which is marvelous—but that only means we’re working extra hard to get you all your much-deserved bits of Wet Paint swag. It is coming.

Here’s this week’s clue. Name the television show that this is a screen shot from, and the artist who has work in the background on the left. That’s it!

Perhaps everyone with a correct response can gain immortality through a mention in the art world’s best gossip column next week. We’ll have to see! Send guesses to [email protected]



Dan Herschlein, <em>Dwelling</em> (2020) in his show at JTT. Photo courtesy JTT.

Dan Herschlein, Dweller (2020) in his show at JTT. Photo courtesy JTT.

Spies tell us that the rumor downtown is that Justin Timberlake, the pop star and actor, is rapidly filling out his holdings of hot young artists, and has allegedly, according to sources outside the gallery, bought the centerpiece of Dan Herschlein’s recent show at JTTDweller (2020), the gigantic, chilling, genius installation that took over half the gallery (JTT declined to comment) … Barbara Kruger still hates Supreme—she once called the Carlyle Group-backed scheme-as-brand a “ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers” in an digital work sent to editor Foster Kamer—but is a huge fan of “The Real Housewives of New York,” as she says in a new profile in T magazineMathieu Malouf is no longer on the artist roster on the website of Chelsea gallery Greene NaftaliDimes Square update: best-in-the-game pizza place Scarr’s is moving to a larger space across Orchard Street where it can sling slices to artists and dealers even quicker than before, while beloved karaoke spot Upstairs Bar (née Swat Bar) has reopened, though only by reservation if you text a secret number … The gallery-set subplot in episode four of the improbably divisive Netflix show “Emily in Paris” was shot at Galerie Perrotin’s space in Le Marais

The cover of Melody Gardot's album, <em>Sunset in the Blue</em>, featuring artwork by Pat Steir. Photo courtesy Pat Steir.

The cover of Melody Gardot’s album, Sunset in the Blue, featuring artwork by Pat Steir. Photo courtesy Pat Steir.

Pat Steir designed the cover art for a new album by cult jazz singer Melody Gardot, who was born in the US but now lives in Paris—where, incidentally, Steir has a show opening at the new Levy Gorvy outpost … The entire staff at Lucien—chefs, servers, and the owners— tested negative for COVID-19, further cementing the restaurant’s status as one of the best downtown places to eat outside in these strange times … Eddie Martinez is now repped by Blum & PoeMexico City’s Galeria Mascota has moved to Aspen for the next six months, into an East Durant Avenue space steps away from the ski hill—and director Javier Estevez Hinojosa has organized a show of ceramics by California artist including Alessandro Pessoli, Shio Kusaka, Ruby Neri, and Sterling Ruby … All the KAWS super-fans who leased apartments in the luxury complex in Greenpoint where there’s a KAWS sculpture installed at the entrance, well, they are out of luck—the city pulled the plug on the ferry service that until this week left from the dock right by the building …

A KAWS grows in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy Streeteasy.


A work by Glenn Ligon as part of "TITAN," a show presented by Kurimanzutto. Photo courtesy Nate Freeman.

A work by Glenn Ligon as part of “TITAN,” a show presented by Kurimanzutto. Photo courtesy Nate Freeman.

Glenn Ligon, Zoe Leonard, Rirkrit TiravanijaDamián Ortega and other artists at the opening of “TITAN,” a new  show organized by Kurimanzutto in which artists take over defunct Titan phone booths on a blocks-long stretch of Sixth Avenue in MidtownPatti Smith, who contributed a phone-booth work, even came by to sing happy birthday to the show’s organizer, Kurimanzutto director Bree Zucker *** Anna Park revealing that she designed the poster for the new David Fincher movie Mank, starring Gary Oldman as Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz *** Julie Curtiss unveiling an art-fair booth’s worth of brand-new works at the Anton Kern Gallery pop-up on Allen Street, followed by an outdoor, socially distanced gathering in SoHo, where Kern toasted the artist and his team while also dominating nearly all the guests on the ping-pong table ***

An installation shot of the Anton Kern Gallery pop-up, with works by Julie Curtiss. Photo courtesy Nate Freeman.

An installation shot of the Anton Kern Gallery pop-up, with works by Julie Curtiss. Photo courtesy Nate Freeman.


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