Marfa Invitational’s Status as a Charitable Foundation Is Revoked, an Art Collector Runs for U.S. Senate, and More Juicy Art World Gossip

Plus, what was more of a nuisance than the bedbug situation in Paris this year?

Michael Phelan, the founder of the Marfa Invitational. Courtesy Marfa Invitational.

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].

BIG TROUBLE IN A LITTLE TOWN IN TEXAS

Since 2019, artist Michael Phelan has hosted the Marfa Invitational, a small commercial art fair in the tiny Texas town that Donald Judd brought art world attention to back in the 1970’s. Over those four years, Marfa has changed considerably, with Beeple and Jack Dorsey both buying houses there, Bjarke Ingels getting in on the action by building a new neighborhood of 3D-printed homes, and other signals of rapid commercial development that I’m not so sure would line up with the godfather of minimalism’s attraction to the one-horse town. 

As is natural with any period of rapid development, there may have been some oversights along the way. Wet Paint has learned that Marfa Invitational, which was given 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status back in August of 2020, has had that designation as a charitable foundation revoked by the Internal Revenue Service, meaning it is no longer eligible for the exemptions that fall under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. According to public records, no annual 990 taxes have been filed by Phelan for the foundation for the past three years, which is what led to the change. 

Since the status was revoked on May 15 of this year, board member Alex Scull has stepped back, as well as the board’s advisor, Kathleen Loughlin. They wrote in a joint statement to Wet Paint, “We are no longer associated or affiliated with the Marfa Invitational and are not certain whether a formal board structure for that organization is in place any longer.” As of publication, another board advisor, Debi Wisch has stepped back, as well as board member Penny Aaron.

Over the three editions of the Marfa Invitational, galleries such as Nino MierHalf GalleryCarl Kostyál, and Bill Arning have all traveled to show at the Saint George Hotel, alongside a star-studded cast of attendees such as Jerry SaltzCynthia RowleyDouglas Friedman, Leo Villareal, Yvonne Force, and Suzanne Deal Booth. The fair takes place over four days, with a full program of collectors’ dinners on sprawling ranches, artist talks, margarita-filled vernissages, and one year, even a fashion show on horseback with local cowgirls acting as models, dressed by Rowley.

Phelan asserts that the failure to file tax returns was a mistake, and that 501(c)(3) status will be reinstated within days, and that the board members who have stepped back were never formally voted in. (Phelan runs the foundation and the fair alongside his wife, former art dealer Melissa Bent). However, Phelan had previously posted on his Instagram, @blessyoutacobell, that Scull was a member of the board in a post seen by Wet Paint that has since been deleted. An invitation for a lunch that took place in Austin on September 12 listed Scull, Wish, and Aaron’s names as affiliates of the fair. 

SIMCO FOR US SENATE

Stefan Simchowitz at the MOCA Gala. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for MOCA)

Stefan Simchowitz at the MOCA Gala. Courtesy of Donato Sardella/Getty Images for MOCA.

Gee whiz, American politics sure are a rollercoaster ride these days. Well, Wet Paint is here to inform you that a new politico is running for office in the state of California, and you may be surprised to hear who it is.

SIMCO FOR US SENATE” an Instagram story by the controversial art dealer and collector Stefan Simochowitz boldly proclaimed this week. “And so a new journey begins,” he said, and then made a pretty great joke about throwing one of his “multiple hats” in the ring (if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Simchowitz, he is more often than not sporting a wide-brim felt hat). The man who has previously been nicknamed the “Art World’s Patron Satan” said he’d be running for senate as a “progressive compassionate Republican.”

Unsure of what exactly that means, and if his post was serious in the first place, I messaged Simchowitz and asked him if he’s really running. “Yip,” he replied. He’s is currently soliciting California residents for signatures to support his candidacy. 

He wants “to help rebuild the bridge between the two parties so we can work together and collaborate on solving so many issues…I am also a [big] believer in the correct application of modern monetary theory and the federal jobs [guarantee] program.” 

For the uninitiated, Simchowitz has earned his reputation in a hyper-capitalist approach to collecting that, in my opinion, does put him on par with the other popular Republicans of our time. The Simco method historically means that he snaps up the entire stock of artworks by a young, unrepresented artist, and then pumps them into the auction circuit, or sells them personally through his advisory company. How’s that for eat or get eaten? 

Stranger things have happened in California politics, to be sure. Remember Governor Moonbeam, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Angelyne?

Asked more about his strictly political ethos, Simco pointed me to the famous book on macroeconomics The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton, and saying, “the federal govt is 36 percent of all $$ spent in the US. The Public Sector is the only way to solve the big issues of homelessness healthcare education, [etcetera]. Thank you.” 

No Stefan, thank you. If you are indeed able to solve the issues in homelessness, healthcare, and education in the state of California, then my own wide-brim hat is off to you. My question is—how many signatures have you collected so far?

WE HEAR 

The rain in Paris wound up being more of a nuisance than the bedbug situation… Meryl Streep and her sculptor husband Don Gummer have apparently been broken up for the past six years… “Trish the Dish” from Nathan Fielder’s “The Rehearsal” is back working at the IFPDA print fair, as she did last year… Don’t the Instagram ads for Alison Roman’s new podcast and the Frick Madison look awfully similar? *** 

SPOTTED

Martin Parr photographing the crowd at the Museum of Natural History during Elmhurst Hospital‘s gala *** Two Georgia legends collided when Michael Stipe gave Lonnie Holley his award at the Skowhegan Institute’s gala ***  Domenick Ammirati, Paige K. Bradley, Gabe Rubin, and Christopher Bollen performing readings from the legendary Dave Hickey’sThe Invisible Dragon at McNally Jackson for the epochal essay collection’s 30th anniversary *** Two anecdotal, unrelated Spottings that lead me to believe the economy really is in dire straights: Chloë Sevigny shopping at the Trader Joe’s in SoHo, and Daniel Arsham releasing his own line of Hot Wheels toy cars ***

 


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