Inside the Hammer Museum’s Long Hunt for a Director, and More Juicy Art World Gossip

Plus, what does Fairchain's closure mean for artists? And a visit to the Serpentine's annual summer party.

Ann Philbin being honored for her 25 years as the director of the Hammer Museum at their annual gala last month. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Hammer Museum)

Every week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops. If you have a tip, email Annie Armstrong—who’s spending her summer in Los Angeles—at [email protected].

LOS ANGELES WAITS FOR THE HAMMER TO FALL

In case you haven’t caught my sun-drenched and Erewhon smoothie–stained Instagram posts, I’ve been in Los Angeles for the past month. The biggest difference between here and New York isn’t the weather or the traffic, I’ve decided, but something more intangible: The good drama comes not from the galleries, as it does back home, but from the museums.

Right now, everyone is talking about the competition to fill the director’s chair at the Hammer Museum, which Ann Philbin said last fall that she would vacate. Her retirement announcement was not a surprise, after 25 years at the helm, but many in the art community still took it hard, as her tenure has been widely admired. (Everyone around town refers to her as “Annie.”)

More than nine months since her announcement, speculation is getting louder about who deserves to get the job—and who will get it. (A big difference in searches like these.)

It is a big transition moment for Hammer, which makes the talent search even more complicated than it would be anyway. The Hammer’s chief curator Connie Butler, also beloved, was tapped in May 2023 to lead MoMA PS1. Around that time, Aram Moshayedi stepped down as senior curator, after 10 years at the Hammer, to become curator-in-residence at the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. He kept an adjunct role, though, and serves as interim chief curator. Paulina Pobocha was named senior curator last September, and she has been making studio visits for the 2025 edition of the Hammer’s “Made in LA” biennial, which she’s curating with Essence Harden of the California African American Museum.

So, where does the hunt stand? I asked a museum rep, who said that “the search, driven by its committee, is still ongoing and there are no further updates.”

I have a few, though.

One source close to the museum said that the search has been far-reaching and international, and that “everyone with a director job” is being considered. (No wonder it’s taking so long.) However, some names have been popping up over and over again among the chattering class.

Franklin Sirmans, the director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, is said to be a contender, and he would be a logical hire. He was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as its curator of contemporary art from 2010 and 2015, and has won plaudits for his leadership at the Pérez. (He would not necessarily get a big salary boost coming to L.A. PAMM’s tax filings for 2022 list his salary at about $630,000; Philbin’s total compensation in the fiscal year ending last June was $673,000.) 

The museum has also been looking internally, with Moshayedi in the running. The museum’s curator, Erin Christovale, is also seen as a potential pick, and an interesting one. Christovale made a splash when she co-curated the 2018 edition of “Made in L.A.” Black Radical Imagination, a program of experimental short films that she started while still in college, has made appearances at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and MoMA PS1, and traveled internationally.

Every director position is a high-risk, high-reward opportunity, but the Hammer job could be especially challenging since it will mean following in Philbin’s esteemed footsteps. And as former MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch can attest, L.A. can be a tough town. Good luck to all the applicants.

FAIRCHAIN PULLS THE PLUG

 

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Earlier this week, the do-gooder crypto startup Fairchain announced that it would be throwing in the towel. The news was sudden and surprising, as the company—which uses blockchain contracts to pay royalties to artists when their work was resold—seemed to be popular and well-connected. Its advisors included artists Hank Willis Thomas and Laurie Simmons, and its board of investors included still more artists, including Carroll Dunham, Ludovic Nkoth, and Alteronce Gumby.

“Our journey over the past few years has been an extraordinary one,” the firm said in a statement. “We’ve witnessed incredible strides towards changing industry norms. However, as with any paradigm-shifting endeavor, there are moments when timing and market readiness demand hard decisions.” It said that it will shut down its platform on August 1.

What will happen now to the art that was sold and tracked via Fairchain? Will royalties, of up to 10 percent of a sale’s price, continue to be paid?

Charlie Jarvis, one of the platform’s founders (alongside Max Kendrick, who left the company in April of 2023), told Wet Paint that, for artist who sold works on the platform, “Fairchain is no longer a third party to help manage the contract’s enforcement.”

That means, essentially, that while the written agreements on resale royalties will continue to exist for works that sold on the platform, Fairchain’s closure means that automated payments will no longer occur. “Without Fairchain, the transaction process reverts to traditional methods, including the prior mechanisms of managing payment, certification, record-keeping, and legal enforcement,” Jarvis said. 

It’s a bummer to see the business go. As I wrote in a profile of the company when it launched in 2022, some artists in the United States have been fighting for decades to secure resale royalties. Perhaps most famously, Robert Rauschenberg lobbied to pass the California Resale Royalty Act, after watching one of his works sell at auction in 1973 for 94 times its original sale price of $900. (The seller, Robert Scull, received all the proceeds.) That law, which pertained only to sales in California, was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2018.

Hopefully the several thousand artworks that were sold through Fairchain find themselves in the hands of people who choose to honor those contracts.

WE HEAR 

Olivier Sarkozy.

Via a tipster.

Olivier Sarkozy threw a girls-only (besides him) birthday party for 56 Henry’s Ellie Rines, and Al Freeman Jr. made a piece of wearable art to complete the French banking magnate’s outfit… Anicka Yi has posted one of the more livable salary ranges for a studio director position that I’ve seen in a while, offering $100,000 to $150,000 per year… Good news: After five agonizing months, Brooklyn’s Chez Ma Tante has announced it will reopen… Kim Gordon’s cryptic music video for her new song “ECRP” appears to have been filmed in Christopher Wool’s acclaimed show “See Stop Run” in the Financial District… I know that time is a flat circle and all, but does anyone else find it odd that Phillips’s “evening sale” in London this week took place at 3 p.m., with a “day sale” immediately following?…  And finally, I think that anyone who has attended the opening of the Venice Biennale can relate to Diane Von Furstenberg’s comportment in this photo… 

 

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PARTY OF THE WEEK 

It’s 2024, and we still do not have a teleportation system. What gives! If we did, I would have used it to hit London this week for the Serpentine’s annual summer fête. While I was drooling over BFA photos, I asked Artnet News‘s indefatigable editor-in-chief, Naomi Rea, to give me, and you, a rundown of what went on at the famously glamorous event. Without further ado…

Tuesday night in London saw the notoriously exclusive Serpentine summer party draw in a constellation of A-listers, from the effortlessly chic Pixie Geldof and Alexa Chung to the powerhouse presence of Venus Williams and Benedict Cumberbatch. But my personal fave was the ever-iconic Bianca Jagger, gracing us with timeless elegance.

The gallery does not advertise the price of tickets to its invitation-only annual fundraiser, though the volumes of Ruinart flowing made it clear the event was courting many more zeroes in a cash-strapped funding environment for London’s public galleries. Models Jourdan Dun and Monroe Berdorf raised flutes with art world royalty including Marina Abramović, whose skincare line really must be working because she seems to have reversed the aging process. The crowd included Yinka Shonibare (whose “decolonized structures” were on view inside the gallery), Museo Jumex founder Eugenio Lopez, gallerists Pilar Corrias and Phoebe and Arthur Saatchi Yates (who were still glowing from recently welcoming an adorable heir to their empire), and curator Daniel Birnbaum, who couldn’t quite wrap his head around my Tabis, offering a perplexed “what are those?”

The 2024 Serpentine Pavilion architect, Minsuk Cho, drew out Korean stars, as actor Lee Jung-jae and pop sensation Eric Nam mingled betwixt the pavilion’s central void, inspired by the open courtyards in traditional Korean houses. My heart skipped a beat spotting DJ Peggy Gou—though it was grime music icon Skepta and Jus Jammin on the decks, setting the soundtrack for an unforgettable evening.

Color me jealous. See you next week.


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