Wet Paint: Tico Mugrabi to Fundraise for Trump After Bonding at Camp David, Deitch’s Watering Hole Closes, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip
What LA dealer scrubbed shows by angry artists from his website? Which online auctioneer bilked a small Chicago nonprofit? 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]
MUGRABIS MOVING MEGA MAGA MONEY
It’s an open secret that the Mugrabi family, the collectors who have amassed a $5 billion trove of contemporary art, have a number of ties to President Donald Trump and his family. The patriarch Jose Mugrabi has an apartment in Trump Tower, where Tom Wesselmann’s iconic Still Life No. 34 graces the wall of the dining room. His son, David Mugrabi, also lived in the building until he moved in with his wife, Libbie Mugrabi, with whom he is now going through a (protracted and ugly) divorce. Jose’s other son, Tico, has long been close with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. In 2014, when Kushner was renovating the penthouses of the Kushner Properties-owned Puck Building in SoHo, the now-senior advisor to the president asked Mugrabi to loan some art to make the place look more livable—and the collector gave a Richard Prince, a George Condo, a Jean-Michel Basquiat print, and a Damien Hirst spot painting.
Tico’s wife, Colby Mugrabi, is a fashion blogger from the same milieu Ivanka once inhabited before she changed careers and started working at the White House. In September, the couple attended the grand nuptials of designer Misha Nonoo and Mikey Hess (whose father, oil baron billionaire John B. Hess, gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee in 2017), where they got papped walking around Rome with Javanka, Secret Service tailing them closely.
But hanging out with the president’s daughter and son-in-law does not necessarily mean that the entire family supports the president—one who, in the past month, has drawn widespread criticism for his response to the spread of COVID-19. In fact, in the run-up to the 2016 election, Jose Mugrabi’s family office gave $2,700 to the Hillary Clinton campaign, while David Mugrabi gave $1,000. (It’s worth nothing that none of the Mugrabis can vote; the father was born in Jerusalem and the sons, in Bogotá.) Tico Mugrabi gave nothing to either candidate.
Now, however, sources within New York society say that the Mugrabis are planning to throw a fundraiser for Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign in the near future. Tico and Colby hatched the plan while staying at Camp David, the president’s woodsy retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park, to attend Jared and Ivanka’s tenth anniversary party in late October. (Trump and the first daughter denied that any taxpayer funds were used to pay for the multi-day bash.) The president was also in attendance, and sources said Colby later bragged that he and Tico bonded while watching NFL games, and that her husband acted as Trump’s “emotional support dog” during a period when talk of impeachment hearings was ramping up.
It’s unclear how the stay-at-home orders will affect the fundraiser, or where it will be held. (Mugrabi bought two triplex mansions in a former printing press at 36 Bleecker Street in 2015 for nearly $18.6 million.) The Mugrabis did not respond to a request for comment. An email to Trump’s campaign press office was not returned.
PADDLE8 PILFERS FROM NONPROFIT PAUPERS
Things were not going great for online auctioneer Paddle8 even before the spread of coronavirus brought the US economy to its knees and sent the art market into a tailspin. On March 10, the company was sued by the New American Cinema Group, a nonprofit associated with artist Jonas Mekas that claimed it never received the funds raised by a charity auction hosted on the site. A week later, the onetime online auction behemoth filed for bankruptcy, and Chapter 11 filings revealed that Paddle8 owes funds to charitable organizations run by Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, and others. Now, an organization with nowhere near the cash reserves of those musicians says it’s owed money, too. In a letter to supporters, the Chicago art space Prairie explained that Paddle8 owes them more than $20,000 raised in an auction earlier this year. “We’ve been robbed,” the founders Tim Mann and Jack Schneider said in a letter. “Prairie relies on fundraiser proceeds to keep our doors open.” In a statement, Paddle8 put a somewhat glossier spin on things, saying that “the safe harbor of Chapter 11 allows us to work cooperatively with our creditors with the intention of proposing a plan to satisfy our obligations to our nonprofits and consignors with whom we have longstanding relationships.” But in its letter, Prairie’s founders noted that they might not survive the nine to 12 months that the case is likely to drag on. If you have the means, donate to Prairie to make sure the space can stay afloat through the current crisis.
LIGHT A MATCH FOR LUCKY STRIKE
On the Friday of Armory Week, Jeffrey Deitch held a dinner at Lucky Strike to celebrate the opening of a joint survey of work by artist and fellow gallery owner Peter Nagy with Lower East Side gallery Magenta Plains. The Keith McNally joint has been an essential SoHo art boîte since it opened in 1989, and Deitch has held a number of artist dinners there since he opened a block away in 1996. The first was a reception for Yoko Ono in April 1998—the first time that McNally ever closed the whole restaurant for a private party, Deitch said. Sadly, with the dinner for Nagy, Deitch has the distinction of also holding the last art dinner at Lucky Strike; McNally announced this week that due to high rents, the legendary New York spot will not open following this period of stay-at-home orders. “It’s the end of an era,” Deitch sighed over the phone after hearing the news. He explained that, when Lucky Strike opened, it was at the epicenter of a cluster of galleries in a fertile one-block radius. In addition to his spot, Friedrich Petzel, David Zwirner, Lehmann Maupin, Paul Kasmin, Pat Hearn, and Colin de Land were all nearby, and made the restaurant their clubhouse. It was also a favorite of the art stars of the time. “Eric Fischl went there for lunch with Ralph Gibson, they had a standing thing,” Deitch said. “I used to go there to have a few beers in the evenings with Jeff Koons. It was kind of a ritual.”
A ROLL OF THE ONLINE DICE
In 2018, the artist Zak Kitnick staged a show at Clearing’s Upper East Side space called “DOUBLES.” It had a brilliant participatory conceit. The paintings were of geometric forms identical to those of a backgammon board. Half the show was installed on the wall, but the paintings could be moved to be installed face-up in steel-framed tabletops in the center of the gallery, allowing them to actually function, per the artist’s wishes, as backgammon boards. Throughout the run of the show, visitors were invited to take a roll of the dice and play one of the world’s oldest games atop a work of art by Zak Kitnick—what a thrill! He even kept the gallery open after hours so a lesbian and bisexual backgammon league could play all night long. Alas, IRL backgammon tournaments are very much not allowed at the moment, so Kitnick has had to satiate his love for the game the only way he could—by putting together an online backgammon tournament. Kitnick told me that he wanted to explore themes of “connecting even in isolation and always having good sportsmanship”—and to do that, he’s roped in a few art-world figures to take part. The tourney has already vanquished such formidable backgammon talents as artists Whitney Claflin and Hadi Fallahpisheh, Hauser & Wirth‘s Sabrina Blaichman, Public Art Fund curator Daniel Palmer, and Sterling Ruby studio manager Tyler Britt. The championship is tonight, with art advisor Eleanor Cayre facing off against hotel manager Leo Glazer. Best of luck to both!
Congrats to the many, many people who got last week’s answer right. Honestly, it was great to hear from you all, and it’s heartening to know how many in-the-know museumgoers are out there reading in quarantine. The correct response was: Edward and Nancy Kienholz’s Sollie 17 (1979–80) and Basquiat’s, Untitled (1982), which are both in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.
And while so many of you knocked it outta the park, as per the Official Wet Paint Pop Quiz Rulebook, only the first responder gets the glory. This week, the first person to email me (or slide into my Instagram DMs, which is totally welcome) with the full correct answer was Andrew Huff, the director of communications at Gladstone Gallery—and, like your Wet Paint scribe, happens to be a graduate of Duke University. Congrats, Andrew! Go Duke!
Here’s another one. Can you name the work that this photograph is a part of, its artist, the subject of the photo, and also identify the fliers that hang on the right-hand wall? To be clear: In addition to naming the artist, artwork, and subject, you’ll need to identify the fliers with both the name of the artist who had the show the fliers are advertising, and the gallery where the show was held.
The first person to email [email protected] with the full and complete correct answer wins eternal glory and endless bragging rights via a shoutout in the best gossip column in the art world.
Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said the phrase “private sales” in a recent all-hands call nearly two dozen times, indicating that it’s the one part of the business that’s making money these days … artist Ted Gahl put the Los Angeles dealer Nino Mier on blast in his Instagram stories after Meir took the down the images from Gahl’s 2015 show, as well as those from shows by artists Chris Hood, Jan Pleitner, and Bernhard Buhmann because, Gahl said, they wouldn’t “bow down to his abuse.” Mier restored the artists to his exhibition history a few days later … As Artnet News columnist Kenny Schachter pointed out, Athena Art Finance used n richly ironic work to illustrate the “immeasurable cultural and social values” of the art world on its Instagram: Picasso’s Head of a Young Woman (1906), which billionaire Jaime Botin actually smuggled out of Spain on his yacht … A work by Virgil Abloh and Takashi Murakami that’s being auctioned as part of Phillips‘s “Desktop: Online Auction” has an estimate of £1,500 to £,2000, but had just a £50 bid on Wednesday, before going up to £350 on Thursday …
Emily Ratajkowski walking down the street in a sweatshirt honoring the great art-world hang Lucien *** Retired slugger Alex Rodriguez going on MSNBC while sitting in front of one of Jonathan Horowitz’s Self Portrait in Mirror #1 works *** Tracey Emin chiming in on the collector Andy Hall’s Instagram comments to ask if he finds it “difficult to live amongst” the Trump supporters in Palm Beach *** Anton Kern “arriving” at his birthday party thrown over Zoom, where dealers and gallery honchos such as Matthew Higgs, Andrew Kreps, Max Falkenstein and Adam Cohen were in “attendance” *** the curator Neville Wakefield biking around a remote town in the Catskills, actually seen by yours truly—if you can believe it, your mask-wearing, hand-washing columnist randomly ran into Wakefield after a hike, and social-distance chatted with him for a minute while staying safely inside the car.
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