James Turrell Gives the Wackiest Gala Speech, Ex Karma Director Opens Promising New Space in Chinatown, and More Juicy Art World Gossip

Plus, which artist did Larry Gagosian bring to sit courtside at a Knicks game? Who showed up to Alex Arnault's star-studded birthday party?

James Turrell speaks onstage at a LACMA gala, 2015. Photo: Mike Windle/Getty Images.

Every week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops. If you have a tip, email Annie Armstrong at [email protected].

JAMES TURRELL EXERCISES HIS FREEDOM OF SPEECH

By this point in the spring, myself and many of my readers have likely attended a healthy portion of the season’s galas. My highlights have included free piercings in the bathroom at Art Production Fund’s over-the-top bacchanal, spotting my favorite pop star Lily Allen mugging for the Marilyn Minter photobooth at Planned Parenthood’s fête, and overhearing Swizz Beatz put his foot in his mouth while chatting about the protests outside the Brooklyn Museum gala. There’s truly something for everyone when tickets average a Manhattan rent payment per person. 

Last night was the crème de la crème of gala antics, if you ask me. Did you make it out to Long Island City for MoMA PS1’s annual gala? If you did, you probably also woke up this morning wondering if James Turrell’s speech actually happened, or if it was an unhinged dream. In case you missed it, I’ll clue you in. 

The evening honored a number of art world luminaries, including board member Robert Soros, and artists Anicka Yi, Daniel Lind-Ramos, and James Turrell, who from now on I will think of as The Creepy Uncle of the Light and Space movement. The evening began as to be expected: the newly minted director of the museum, Connie Butler, was making rounds, outfits were predictably edgy with the best looks served by Jonathan GardenhireCharlie Jarvis, and Tine Leung. Solange made a surprise appearance, and guests happily noshed on shared plates from the reliably fantastic Mina Stone (the beans and rice! So good!). Things took a bit of a turn when the museum’s founding director, Alanna Heiss, took the stage to introduce Turrell as an honoree. 

The two go way back. Famously, Heiss was one of the first to commission a Skyspace sculpture by the artist back in 1976, which helped put the museum on the map. Behind the scenes, though, Turrell clued the crowd in that perhaps things were not exactly strictly professional.

“[It was] a surely memorable yet somewhat disturbing rambling speech that captured the well-lubricated spirit of the early days of PS1,” collector Scott Lorinsky told me the next day. Alternatively, a notable New York art dealer remarked to me, “I couldn’t tell if he was high, or if I forgot that I was high.” And another attendee: “My jaw dropped 2 seconds in and I did not recover until a minute after.” 

I lament that I didn’t record the speech, but let me do my best to describe the twenty-minutes of free-association nonsense, gossip, and old school misogyny that would have put the Beat Generation to shame.

Ears started perking up around the time the 80 year-old artist told an effectively incoherent story about a nail gun he had on hand while installing the sculpture. Apparently, a roving gang of Germans invaded the PS1 campus late one night when he was pulling an all-nighter. And according to Turrell, everyone who was working there was hooking up with each other back then, including Turrell’s assistant. Apparently, the assistant ducked out to have sex with one of the Germans, and Turrell had to “win her back” by fighting them off brandishing the nail gun. Somewhere in there he mentioned something about a swastika someone nailed into the wall with said gun, which I didn’t quite catch all of, but the anecdote left my table joking that he’d be losing his deal with Nike if he kept on like this. 

The tone of the room shifted when Turrell brought up his 1980 lawsuit with the Whitney Museum, which honestly I knew nothing about until last night. Two visitors sued, with one claiming that his installation caused her to become “disoriented and confused” to the point where she was “’violently precipitated to the floor,” resulting in a broken arm, according to a New York Times report at the time. The other claimed she sprained her wrist due to a loss of depth perception in the room and asked for $250,000 in damages (which is just under $1 million in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation). 

In Turrell’s flippant retelling, the latter woman alleged that she couldn’t perform certain matrimonial “duties” with her hurt arm. In case you didn’t pick up on his subtlety there, don’t worry, he made it very clear shortly thereafter. The one quote I’m sure I wrote down verbatim from the artist is: “With a broken hand you can still give a pretty good hand job!” 

The masterpiece of a speech continued for a while longer, with some juicy slams on the Guggenheim and the Whitney (again) for their restraints on his larger-than-life installations. The prophetic trumpets began to play after his final comment about the good old days: “Oh yeah, and Alanna Heiss was really hot back then!” 

SARA’S IS ONE TO WATCH

Install shots of Harris Rosenblum’s “Inorganic Demons” at Sara’s. Courtesy of Sara Blazej.

Before we kick off the big fair weeks in New York, I’d like us all to do a little exercise. The next fortnight in the New York City art cycle is all about money, money, money, with the spring auctions proffering $2 billion worth of art from consignors of all sorts, a carousel of art fairs pushing their most commercial-ready stock, and constant chatter about what piece went to which collection and for how much. Among all the hubbub, it truly can be easy to forget the reason most of us (though certainly not all of us) are here in the first place: the art itself. 

Thus, I’d like us all to take a deep breath in, and another out. As you do, let’s think about the last time you had a powerful experience of human expression—one that made you feel energized, tantalized, or otherwise inspired. If one doesn’t come to mind, let me help you out. Have you heard of this new space in Chinatown, Sara’s

Tucked on the third floor of 2 East Broadway in the same building as Foxy Production, former Karma director Sara Blazej has hung out a shingle and opened a space where, as she put it, “the emphasis is on experimental feeling, and this community-facing, collaborative forward idea of making and generating.” 

Put a bit more simply, Sara’s is a traditional commercial space with non-traditional programming. To cement the idea that the space is less commercial and more conceptual in visitors’ heads, she kicked it off this February with five weeks of lectures, gatherings, and concerts by Nick Klein. “In terms of the content that goes into my programming, I’m more interested in what is outside of the norm,” she explained to me on a recent afternoon. “But still, things have sold, and that’s really, really nice.” 

Harris Rosenblum, Touch Grass, 2021. Courtesy of Sara’s.

The current show is a must-see, from my perspective. Inside Harris Rosenblum’s “Inorganic Demons”, you’ll find miku dolls (the anime avatars popular in Japanese video games, which is maybe indicative of a trend among the downtown set?) made of “raw clay harvested from a Wendy’s parking lot during rebuild;” an elaborate and functional vape pen complete with, err, bespoke vape juices that the artist fermented with ash from burned tree branches; and artisanal weaponry displayed in jewelry boxes made of hatsune wigs, among other elaborately sourced materials. “It’s all about elevating low materials,” she said.

Despite her approach to commerce—a necessary evil—sales have been happening.

“Sara approaches programming in an art [critical] and theory-forward process,” one of her collectors, James Elbaor, told me. “She doesn’t just look at her space and the work as only marketable objects, but her space as an actual place that is reflecting and helping us think about our current culture. As a collector, enjoyer, and financier of art, I find her genuinely distinct loyalty and commitment to showcasing her artists’ pure and raw work very refreshing.”

Her former boss, Karma’s founder Brendan Dugan, shared in that enthusiasm, remarking, “She’s great. I’m excited for her project.”

Blazej said that her five years working at Karma gave her the foundation to undertake the difficult task of opening your own space. “I learned so much from them, working there changed the way I look at art because they have a very unique way of looking at art, and you can see it in the programming,” she explained. “I feel really lucky to have Brendan be as supportive as he is. Like, he gave me my computer!” 

Coming up next for Sara’s Worldwide is a more traditional painting show from Ben Sakoguchi, a karaoke night hosted by Montez Press Radio, and eventually, a haunted house installed in the gallery by Klein. I’ll see you there.

WE HEAR 

Pilar Corrias is expanding their footprint in London, opening a new flagship gallery in Mayfair this October with a solo show by Christina Quarles… The Astor Place Cube was lifted out of its home in the dead of night, with a rumored return later this summer (has anyone checked on the guy who used to live in it?)… Jack Barrett has picked up representation of Ben TongA west coast edition of Scarr’s pizza is opening in Los Angeles across from the new James Fuentes outpost… In other Dimes Square-adjacent news, Louise Bonnet is curating a selection of horror movies for Metrograph this month… 

 

SPOTTED

She may be alone in this, but Sydney Sweeney sure seems to like Anish Kapoor‘s new bean sculpture in Tribeca *** Carl Kostyál, Jerry Saltz, and Cameron Silver down in Marfa for the unveiling of Polly Borland’s new land art sculpture *** Michael Stipe, Patti Smith, Dasha Zhukhova, Sofia Coppola, and Nan Goldin at Gagosian’s afterparty for their Richard Avedon show at The Standard High Line *** Alex Arnault celebrated his 30th birthday at Cipriani’s in SoHo this weekend, and Tico Mugrabi, Helly Nahmad, Rihanna, at least one Kardashian sister, Alexander DiPersia, and Leo DiCaprio were reportedly all there to celebrate (I consider these to be my peers! No invite for moleman?) *** Jeremy Strong hanging out at The Nines *** Emma Stern, Mika Kol, Megsuperstarprincess, and Alex Shulan at TJ Byrnes to celebrate Management Gallery‘s fabulous and freaky new painting show by Tim Brawner, which was presented with “emotional support” by No Agency *** Larry Gagosian and Mark Grotjahn with some choice seats (reputedly Steve Cohen’s) behind Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra at the Knicks game ***

? ⭐ CASTING CALL! ?️ ?

After a brief hiatus, I have a new casting call for this week, with the winner invariably receiving a Wet Paint hat in the mail direct from yours truly. What if there was an Uncut Gems-esque movie made about the Heidi Horten jewelry sale this week, where her card-carrying Nazi husband Helmut Horten built a fortune from forced department store liquidations, giving Heidi the funds to embark on an epic spending spree on jewelry, culminating in a sale at Christie‘s that blows the whole thing out of the water to a collector-base that, in the end, doesn’t seem to care.

I want you to cast the Austrian billionaire couple, Cathy Lasry, who leaked the intel on the jewels, and Rahul Kadakia, the international head of Christie’s jewelry department who led the sale. Send your answers to [email protected].


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