Wet Paint: Artists Say Team Gallery’s Owner Stiffed Them, Kendall Jenner Goes Shopping at Art Basel, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip

Which mega-artist is defecting to Hauser & Wirth? Who was supposed to show with Inigo Philbrick before the art-market grifter disappeared?

Photo by John Phelan, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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].


After years of rumors that José Freire, proprietor of the small but potent Team Gallery in SoHo, occasionally falls short of ensuring his artists get adequately paid, a bombshell dropped this week. Alex Bag, the pioneering video performance artist who is enjoying a vogue due to a show at the Whitney, had been alluding on Instagram to some of her art being “held hostage” by Team. Then, earlier this week, she posted a picture of herself at the dinner for her last show at Team, in 2016, holding her son. Under the picture, the artist wrote: “Ummmm, Single mom… owed. 16k… ‘Team.’” The implication was clear to the followers of her private account, and the comments section filled up with notes of encouragement from the likes of Chateau Shatto founder Liv Barrett and Fernando Mesta, founder of Mexico City gallery Gaga. Artists Spencer Sweeney, Eli Hansen, and Jason Yates chimed in with comments suggesting that they, too, had endured financial misadventures with Freire.

The Instagram comment Alex Bag posted on Monday December 9. Courtesy of Instagram.

After the Instagram post went live, multiple sources with intimate knowledge of Team’s coffers—all of whom requested anonymity—reached out to Wet Paint to say that the money owed to Bag is just the tip of the iceberg. For years, former employees and gallery artists attested, Freire’s operation has struggled to deliver payments to its artists, with some allegedly short hundreds of thousands of dollars. The inability to balance a budget, they continued, was one of the reasons the gallery stopped doing art fairs altogether after decades of appearing in the main sector of Art Basel, among other major expos. Recent years have seen significant turnover in both Team’s sales staff and artist roster, and visitors to the gallery’s two small project spaces in Venice Beach, California, have found them to be closed as of late.

Fresh artist defections now include Sam McKinniss and Parker Ito—who is said to be owed money, though Freire claims they had settled up—while longtime Team stalwart Cory Arcangel has become represented in New York by both Lisson and Greene Naftali, and by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac internationally. We hear the gallery also owes payment to artists still listed on the roster, with those artists angling to leave once they get paid. But while all admitted that Team’s veteran proprietor lacks financial acumen, many were full of praise for Freire’s renowned ability to discover artists, saying they had a lot of respect for him as a gallerist. He has certainly proven his mettle—and good will—over the years, building the careers of such stars as Ryan McGinley, Banks Violette, and Stanley Whitney and supporting the underappreciated artist Steven Parrino until his premature death in a motorcycle accident.

Despite that legacy, however, we hear he’s currently dug himself into an unrealistic economic scenario—and sources say it may spur more artists to leave, and prevent others from joining. In an email to Wet Paint, Freire would not address the allegations of financial turmoil, saying his “only comment” was that Bag’s claim was “not true.” He added: “She has also claimed on IG that her art is being ‘held hostage.’ We would like nothing more than to return her work but our requests to do so have so far been ignored. Maybe now this situation can be resolved.”



A recent picture of Kendall Jenner. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)

One could be forgiven for thinking that when model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner goes to Art Basel Miami Beach, she’s not there just to take in the art. During the fair in 2016, she partied with A$AP Rocky at the strip club E11EVEN, and, just last week, Jenner… partied at the strip club E11EVEN, this time with Bella and Gigi Hadid together with that model-loving rapscallion Leonardo DiCaprio, who showed up at 4:30 a.m. with dealer Helly Nahmad in tow. But never underestimate a Jenner. Sources say that the 24-year-old supermodel has become serious about collecting, and was actually in Miami to buy work—ending up making a purchase at the fair.

Her new connoisseurial assurance may be traceable to the fact that, six months ago, she started working with the art advisor Meredith Darrow, who is renowned in Miami for helping to build the collection of the Key Biscayne couple Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz. (Darrow has also long advised Jenner’s half-sister Kourtney Kardashian.) At Art Basel, Jenner was seen weaving through the aisles with Darrow, checking out artworks at David Zwirner and Blum & Poe—while her sister’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, the rapper Travis Scott, was spotted by spies eyeing a Tom Sachs work at the Acquavella booth.



One would think that the biggest Hauser & Wirth news of the week came when the gallery announced Thursday morning that they had signed Avery Singer, the in-demand young artist who had been courted by David Zwirner and Gagosian as well. While the news was no surprise to Wet Paint readers—who learned of the rumored move in this column a week ago—it was still a coup for the gallery. But it looks like Hauser & Wirth has an even bigger representation announcement on the horizon. On Thursday, Artnet News scribe Kenny Schachter tipped Wet Paint that George Condo—who is coming off a year of getting the star treatment at the Venice Biennale and seeing his auction prices continue their run in the healthy mid-seven-figures—will be the latest to join the voracious Swiss mega-gallery. After the initial tip, two other sources connected to dealerships that have shown Condo in the past confirmed that they heard the same rumor. Condo’s lawyer, Richard Golub, did not deny the news when reached on the phone, offering to talk more tomorrow. Condo didn’t reply to an email, and a Hauser & Wirth rep said there was “nothing to report” at the moment. Emails to Per Skarstedt, who currently has a show of Condo paintings and drawings at his grand 64th Street gallery, also did not respond.



Last week in Miami, a few nosy art-worlders stopped by the now-shuttered space once run by Inigo Philbrick, the infamous dealer who has allegedly defrauded clients to the tune of tens of million of dollars, and is currently on the run from the law. The gallery, which as recently as August was hosting a two-person show of work by Bridget Riley and Jeff Elrod, is now a stripped-bare husk of a space, with boxes and a few stray swivel chairs. There’s also a sign alluding to something that now will never happen: “The gallery is closed for a show change. We will reopen soon with a solo presentation of: Jana Euler. Please visit us then!”

That in-demand German artist—who was recently picked up for representation by Greene Naftali—will not be showing with Philbrick anytime soon, and neither will the next artist who was slated on the program: Joel Mesler, the artist-turned-dealer-turned-artist-slash-dealer who is the proprietor of Rental gallery in East Hampton. When reached on the phone, Mesler said that Philbrick told him until just a few days before the scandal broke that he was selling Mesler’s work, and that the activist investor Dan Loeb had commissioned a painting. Then, a concerned friend called Mesler and cryptically told him to not send Inigo any art, and by all means not cash any of his checks. Two days later, news about the first lawsuit hit the internet, and Mesler had the rude awakening that his show had been vaporized. Thankfully, the Belgian gallery Patrick de Brock will now display the paintings Mesler made for the show—which display words written on a sandy beach in what appears to be urine—at Art Brussels in 2020.



The New Now sales at Phillips are meant to nurture the markets of young artists, and they often serve as a platform for these talents to make their secondary-market debut on the auction block. But one up-and-coming artist included in this week’s New Now sale is hardly an ingenue: James Franco. The actor-slash-director-turned-author-slash-artist-slash-actor-slash-director—who for a period early this decade bewitched certain members of the art-world cognoscenti into thinking he was one of them—made his debut at a major auction house on Thursday, when a 2015 painting of a bird came up for sale at Phillips London. At the time the work was made, Franco—who is now being sued by two former students for alleged sexual harassment—was on fire: he was listed on Pace’s artist roster, had a show at Gagosian, and charmed his way into participating in a show at MoMA PS1 and Performa. Then, as his art-world dalliance was waning in 2016, Andreas Siegfried, a London-based art advisor, gave him a show at Chalet Mittelgässli in a small Swiss city near Gstaad. The paintings were offered at the time for between $8,000 and $10,000, and recently one of the eight suckers who bought one somehow convinced Phillips to take the consignment. On Thursday, it was offered without a reserve and, after no bids came in at £1,000, auctioneer Sam Mansour dropped the price down to £500, where it sold on a single bid.



… that the MoMA holiday party was “Miami-themed” because most staffers weren’t sent down for Basel… that (another Kenny Schachter tip) the Ferttita brothers—who were the underbidders on that record-breaking $100 million Basquiat that sold at Sotheby’s in 2017—bid through Brett Gorvy to win the Warhol portrait of Muhammad Ali for $10 million at the Christie’s evening sale in November… that Michael Walker, formerly of Hauser & Wirth, will join Gagosian Art Advisory, the private consulting arm of the gallery run by Laura Paulson… that the Whitney will exhibit Darren Bader‘s fruit-on-pedestals work in January—which is great news for those who thought Maurizio Cattelan’s world-famous banana was just a less witty Darren Bader (an artist who Cattelan collects in bulk, just saying)… that the Instagram account @itstimetostopnow claimed that Jerry Saltz ran his finger up and down the bare leg of a female dealer in her booth—a claim that was corroborated to Wet Paint by a witness who saw it happen at NADA Miami.



*** Journal Gallery founders Michael Nevin and Julia Dippelhofer  holding the first-ever dinner at Mina’s—the scrumptious new restaurant at MoMA PS1 run by Mina Stone, who used to be Urs Fischer‘s in-studio chef—in honor of Chloe Wise, who has a show up at the gallery’s Tribeca space that opens Saturday *** Jeff Koons at the annual David Zwirner holiday party, held at the dealer’s multistory Annabelle Selldorf-designed East Village mansion that has a permanent Doug Wheeler installation built inside it *** Quentin Tarantino crashing the Absolut Art event at the Metrograph theater, en route to secret screening of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood upstairs.



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