The Dark Twisted Story Behind Kanye’s Louise Bourgeois Album Cover, Farewell From Your Wet Paint Scribe, and More Art-World Gossip
What a-listers hung out in the Hamptons, Aspen, and Cannes? What artist will be on the jury of the Venice Film Festival? Read on for answers.
Every week since October 2019, Artnet News has brought you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. This is Nate’s final Wet Paint column. Wet Paint will resume with new authors on August 6.
KANYE GOES DEEP FOR DONDA COVER
Perhaps you’ve heard that the new studio album from the billionaire designer and occasional musician Kanye West was released today at midnight. Perhaps you’ve even listened to it. And when you did, maybe you noticed the album art: a flaming red head with hair streaming behind it. No, despite early reports, this cover was not drawn by his daughter North West. It’s a detail from a gouache on paper by the late French American artist Louise Bourgeois.
West looking to contemporary art for the cover of an album is no surprise, of course. Past covers have been made by Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and George Condo, and he’s collaborated on videos with the likes of Arthur Jafa. But even for Kanye, this particular Bourgeois work is pretty obscure. Take a ride with Wet Paint as we try to figure out how Kanye chose Bourgeois’s Femme (2007) to cover the album honoring his late mother.
First, it’s clear that Bourgeois has been on Ye’s mind as of late. In June, he took rumored paramour Irina Shayk to Château La Coste, the vineyard in the south of France that sports an impressive sculpture collection, including Bourgeois’s Crouching Spider (2003). It’s so enormous, it would have been hard for Kanye to miss it, regardless of how focused he was on trying to impress Bradley Cooper’s ex.
And that’s the thing—Bourgeois’s spider sculptures are her most famous works, and they also represent the artist’s mother. So it would have been a perfectly acceptable part of the Bourgeois oeuvre to put on the cover of Donda (if also indicative of a complex mother-child relationship).
Instead, he went with a gouache that would likely escape even the knowledge of Bourgeois addicts. It has only been displayed once, at a show at Xavier Hufkens’s gallery in Brussels that focused on red female figures and blue head imagery. According to the gallery, it was sold to a Belgian collector, and has stayed in the same collection ever since.
All of which means there’s little chance that Kanye could have come across the work, unless he happened to swing by the show during its less-than-two-month run (which happened to be at the same time he was ramping up his fashion line in Los Angeles and doing stuff like auditioning for “American Idol” in San Francisco).
Some sources suggested that Femme could be in the collection of Axel Vervoordt, the Belgian designer and collector who’s long been a friend and confidant to Kanye. They say that Vervoordt has long been a Bourgeois collector—and he did show a massive Bourgeois at an exhibition he put together in Paris in 2008. Perhaps the guy who designed Kanye’s meme-worthy house showed him the work that graces this most recent album? (Vervoordt did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
Rapper Kanye West leaves after a game between the Killer 3’s and 3’s Company during the second week of the BIG3 at the Orleans Arena on July 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)We reached out to Def Jam records to see if Kanye wanted to give an official comment but didn’t hear back. We also reached out to the Artists Rights Society, which represents the Bourgeois estate, to see if Kanye had the right to use the image. A rep immediately got back asking that we share any info about the cover, perhaps indicating that they were not yet aware of the choice of art and needed to make sure all appropriate permissions were in order. ARS did not respond to several emails after that.
A source from inside Kanye’s camp said the artist was busy prepping for Thursday’s grand unveiling of Donda (we’re sure that’s the only reason he didn’t reply to us right away). Mr. West is known to get a bit stressy when he’s on deadline.
How glorious is this—I stumped all of you! Not a single person knew that the work was Henry Taylor’s masterful painting Hammons meets a hyena on holiday (2016), which is a depiction of David Hammons’s performance Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983). It was bought by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from the Blum & Poe booth at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2016 for $70,000. It was later shown at the Venice Biennale, it is a masterpiece, and yes, I did manage to sneak in one more reference to Duke, my alma mater, in my final column. Maybe just take my word for it and visit the Nasher!
… Amalia Ulman will be on the jury of the Venice International Film Festival … 303 Gallery has opted out of doing Art Basel in Basel for the first time since 2010, and word has it that one of Lisa Spellman’s long-time artists is considering jumping ship to a mega-gallery … Opening at Blum & Poe in September: a new Mark Grotjahn solo show … … A mysterious tournament referred to as the World Series of Art Poker is going to take place during next week’s Felix Art Fair at the Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, and it’s the first-ever run of the championship event … Several galleries in Chelsea got hit by flooding last week after the Biblical rainstorms, climate change is indeed coming for the one percent … Billionaire ballclub owner and mega-collector Steve Cohen is still using Twitter to come after rando Mets fans that pop up in his menchies …
*** Simon de Pury once again presiding over a fancy benefit auction in the south of France—now we can truly say nature is healing—as he lent his well-polished gavel act to the amFAR gala in Cannes, where the Journal Gallery co-founder Michael Nevin oversaw the well-curated charity auction, with artists such as Chloe Wise and Michael Kagan making the trek out to the event *** The Anderson Ranch Art Center celebrating Simone Leigh with an entire week of programming at the HQ outside of Aspen—conveniently, the dozen or so major galleries that have opened beachheads in the Rockies could send reps to hike by day, fete Leigh by night, and drink at the Hotel Jerome by late night *** David Kordansky checking out the Marcus Brutus show at Harper’s in East Hampton ***
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*** Korean pop star Jennie, of Blackpink fame, swinging through a few L.A. studios, saying hello to Alex Israel and Jonas Wood … And in what appears to be a coincidence, the South Korean rapper T.O.P. also came to see Jonas Wood this week, never a dull moment at Wood Kusaka Studios ***
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*** Diplo at the Ranch, the exhibition space that Max Levai opened in Montauk, and then at Liars’ Saloon, the local watering hole where the speciality is the mudslide *** Helen Marden taking to Instagram to show off her husband Brice Marden’s new hip—look, we’re all happy Brice is recovering, but maybe that’s just a bit TMI *** Hauser & Wirth C.E.O. Ewen Venters at the restaurant attached to the new gallery on Menorca, eating a lot of spindly sea delicacies and big cuts of whole animals ***
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… AND ONE LAST FINAL WORD FROM YOUR SCRIBE
The rumors are true—this is my last time filing Wet Paint. This little weekly gossip rag exceeded the wildest expectations I had in August 2019, when it was just a germ of an idea, first hatched by myself and Artnet News editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein during a martini-soaked dinner at—where else?—Lucien. After scribbling a few would-be column names in crayon on the paper tablecloths, we hit upon a phrase with the right amount of oomph: Wet Paint. The idea was, the gossip was so fresh, it wasn’t dry yet.
Wet Paint made its official debut a few months later, with some details from inside Jennifer Lawrence’s wedding to Gladstone Galleries director Cooke Maroney. And it went off from there. Soon, the column was reveling in delicious scandals: David Zwirner lashing out against a flipper, the first details of Hunter Biden’s involvement in the downtown art scene, museum board directors secretly backing the Trump campaign, and so much more. When Art Basel Miami Beach happened in December 2019, Wet Paint was there to watch Marc Glimcher hobnob with Kim Kardashian and Hans Ulrich Obrist exchange pleasantries with Kate Moss.
That edition of Miami Basel feels like a decade ago. By February 2020, the biggest gossip concerned the impact of the novel coronavirus on the global art circuit, and by March, your scribe was quarantined upstate, filling out the SPOTTED section even though, you know, no one was leaving their house. But the column persevered in dark times, detailing how blue-chip artists fled Manhattan by taking a PJ to Marfa, how art-world heavies had been invited to Camp David for Jared and Ivanka’s wedding anniversary, and how Mary Boone got out of prison.
It wasn’t always easy. In April 2020, during the height of global lockdowns, I tweeted my latest column by saying “Wet Paint is, once again, still alive, giving the people a bit of GOSSIP and a dose of SCANDAL to get us through the end of an EXCEPTIONALLY BLEAK week.” Plus, there were the haters. One artist who felt scorned by a report tried to get a business owner friend of mine to fire people in order to get back at me. One mega-gallery specifically barred someone hosting a party at their home from inviting me. One critic told a colleague that the column had “No credibility or integrity and instead shit through with archness, imperiousness and meanness,” adding that my style was “Great for a gossip columnist. Nothing whatsoever to do with art.”
But as Maria Brito said after sources told me she was photoshopping herself into pictures of gallery shows: “I love my haters.” And creating and building this column has been the honor of my career—though I have to thank my editor Julia Halperin for helping me immensely each week, deploying a sharpshooter’s eye and a deep well of knowledge (not to mention, um, endless patience). And a special shout out to Pac Pobric, who has steered the column in the right direction week after week.
Wet Paint will live on—we hear that a slew of different writers will be trying on the Wet Paint slipper in the weeks to come. I can’t wait to read each and every one of their columns. As for me, I’ll be starting my new gig in early August, so look for my writing there soon enough.
And of course catch me in podcast land every week on Nota Bene. Just Thursday I was walking down the street in Southampton with my co-host Benjamin Godsill, and some person we didn’t know sitting outside at Sant Ambroeus shouted out, “Love the podcast!” The Southampton dweller recognized us from my Wet Paint Hat. And now I take that hat off and tip it to all of you.
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