The Back Room: Once Upon a Time in the West

A former LA textile mill churns out art stars, the law catches up to a scandalous SoCal dealer, Gagosian goes big online (again), and more.

A view of downtown Los Angeles and traffic on the 110 freeway. Photo by Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images. Illustration by Artnet News

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. 

This week in the Back Room: A former LA textile mill churns out art stars, the law catches up to a scandalous SoCal dealer, Gagosian goes big online (again), and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,824 words).


Top of the Market

LA, LA, Big City of Dreams

Canyon Castator, courtesy of the artist.

Canyon Castator, courtesy of the artist.

The international art market’s next step out of the COVID riptide landed in Los Angeles this week, as the city hosts its first gallery weekend (organized by Gallery Association Los Angeles), the third edition of the Felix art fair, and a beach bag overflowing with associated art happenings. You can even scroll through Frieze’s LA-focused OVR while you crawl along the freeway from event to event!

But one of the city’s most exciting new art hubs will impact the industry well after the limelight turns to the next destination on the events calendar. Welcome to Mohilef Studios, a former downtown LA textiles factory now housing four stories of workspaces for an ensemble cast of rising art stars.

As Katya Kazakina reports, the driving force behind Mohilef Studios is the buzzy transplanted New York painter Canyon Castator. Six years after renting an 800 square-foot space to share with his sculptor father in what was then an arts-bereft building, Castator has grown into a hybrid curator, community builder, and entrepreneur tending what tastemakers increasingly feel is a can’t-miss hive of emerging talent.

Those tastemakers include local dealer and artists’ manager Niels Kantor, Hollywood producer and veteran collector Neal Moritz, and K-Pop supernova T.O.P. (Choi Seung-hyun). Among the fans on the gallery side are Bill Brady (who maintains spaces in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles) and Carl Kostyál (London, Stockholm), both of whom have now exhibited works by multiple current and former Mohilef tenants.

Who are some of those tenants, you ask?

  • Simphiwe Ndzube, now boasting a solo show at the Denver Art Museum and representation by Nicodim and Stevenson galleries.
  • Jess Valice, whose one-person exhibitions at Brady’s New York and Miami spaces sold out in January at prices ranging from $5,000 to $18,000.
  • Austyn Weiner, a Mohilef alum whose works have soared as high as $90,000 at auction and anchored shows at the JournalKohn Gallery, and Carl Kostyál.

Yet these successes have been refreshingly organic. Castator says the vision was always for Mohilef to be an affordable resource for artists, with a sense of community and a self-made spirit. The reality is living up to his expectations.

The two Castators have personally renovated every space and selected every new resident. Each floor has a different layout fit for different career stages, from smaller open-plan studios to about 3,200-square-foot private spaces. Prices are around $1.25 per square foot. Since neither Castator nor several of the tenants went to art school, the studio also doubles as a homegrown support network.

It has paid off for everyone, including Castator himself. His paintings now sell for $25,000 to $35,000 to buyers including KAWS. And as the buzz around Mohilef keeps mounting, his clout will only increase as an artist, talent scout, and maybe even a new SoCal cultural kingmaker.


The Bottom Line

From the market’s perspective, Mohilef Studios is the right thing in the right place at the right time.

The COVID financial boom continues to send upside-minded buyers hunting for promising young artists, drastically juicing prices and opportunities for exactly the types of talent Mohilef welcomes. Merge this dynamic with the larger cultural and financial push toward Los Angeles in recent years, and its surging profile makes perfect sense.

No wonder Castator just rented 4,000 square feet on the top floor of an industrial building on Washington Boulevard to convert into more artist studios. You know LA loves a sequel…


[Read More]


Paint Drippings

The Henderson, Hong Kong by Zaha Hadid Architects for Henderson Land. Rendering by Arqui9, courtesy of Christie's.

Visualization of the Henderson, Hong Kong by Zaha Hadid Architects for Henderson Land, where Christie’s will move in 2024. Rendering by Arqui9, courtesy of Christie’s.

Wet Paint is on hiatus this week, but here’s what else made a mark around the industry.


Art Fairs

  • Volta will debut in downtown Miami during Miami Art Week, replacing Pulse. (Both events are now owned by Ramsay Fairs.)

  • The Seattle Art Fair will return next summer, from July 21–July 24 at the Lumen Field Event Center.


Auction Houses

  • Christie’s Hong Kong will be an anchor tenant in the Henderson, a new Zaha Hadid Architects-designed tower in Central. The move (slated for 2024) quadruples the house’s showroom space, enabling it to hold a yearlong sales program in HK for the first time.



  • Mike Egan, founder of the tastemaking Ramiken gallery, has teamed with respected Upper East Side dealer Meredith Rosen on a joint venture called (what else?) Egan and Rosen. The new business opened its inaugural show, “Otto Dix / Andra Ursuţa,” last night in its home at 11 East 78th St. (Both dealers will also continue running their pre-existing galleries separately.)

  • Andrew Kreps announced the representation of Hong Kong-based painter Henry Shum (in collaboration with Empty Gallery). Kreps will stage Shum’s first solo show in North America in fall 2022.

  • Nara Roesler added painter André Griffo to its stable (in alliance with Rio’s Galeria Athena); his first one-person exhibition with the dealer will bow in São Paulo next year.

  • Multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Hlobo has joined Goodman Gallery. (He will also continue to be repped by Lehmann Maupin.)

  • König Galerie expanded its artist ranks with painter Conny Maier, a recipient of Deutsche Bank’s 2020 Artist of the Year Award.

  • JTT added James Yaya Hough, whose work is currently on view in a solo show at the gallery (and was also featured in MoMA PS1’s “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” last year).

  • New York’s Tina Kim Gallery now reps installation artist Mire Lee, a nominee for the PinchukArtCentre’s Future Generations Art Prize.

  • Angela Cuadra and Laura F. Gibellini became the latest artists to join Madrid’s NF/Nieves Fernández gallery.



  • Starting October 1, the next director of the Centre Pompidou will be 39-year-old Xavier Rey, who has helmed the Musées de Marseille for the past four years.

  • The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum named Ty Woodfolk its first ever chief culture and inclusion officer; it also promoted Trish Jeffers to deputy director of human resources.

  • New York’s Museum of Arts and Design chose Timothy R. Rodgers, formerly of the Phoenix Art Museum, to be its 11th director in eight years.

  • Tate Liverpool will host the fall exhibition of artists shortlisted for the 2022 Turner Prize. The artists will be selected next May, and the winner will be announced in December.

  • The Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University selected Sarah Rifky to be its senior curator and director of programs. It also promoted Amber Esseiva from associate curator to full curator.

  • The Seoul Museum of Art accepted a gift of 141 works from the heirs of late Korean sculptor Kwon Jin-kyu.

  • MoMA PS1 announced the 47 artists in its upcoming “Greater New York” exhibition, set to debut on October 7. ARTnews has the full list.


NFTs and Misc.

  • The Whitworth gallery in Manchester is partnering with versatile online art platform Vastari Labs to auction a William Blake NFT whose proceeds will fund “socially beneficial projects.”

  • A New York Supreme Court judge tossed out collector Michael Steinhardt’s lawsuit against Hirschl and Adler gallery and its president, Stuart Feld, over the sale of a $12 million portrait of another president, George Washington.

  • Jeremy Stowe, who had previously taken a leave of absence from his role as leader of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, has stepped down.


CORRECTION: Last week’s edition included a rumor that Blum & Poe’s Los Angeles headquarters would show collaborative works by Mark Grotjahn and Jonas Wood in September. In reality, the gallery will be presenting a solo show of works by Grotjahn, his first at the space since 2016. 


Data Dip

Asia Outbuilds Everybody

Graph from AEA Consulting’s Cultural Infrastructure Index 2020.

Auction sales weren’t the only metric where the Eastern art industry fought off the pandemic more ably than the West in 2020. For the first time ever, Asia completed more cultural infrastructure projects above $10 million than any other region, finishing 34 to North America’s 32 per a new report from AEA Consulting.

The study covers new builds, renovations, and expansions of museums, galleries, performing arts centers, multifunction arts venues, and cultural hubs or districts. Like Asia, Australia/New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa all saw either flat or increased numbers of new institutions open in 2020. Equivalent figures in North America and Europe both declined in a big way.

Still, this could be more anomaly than trend. North America announced 53 new cultural infrastructure projects last year—almost twice as many as anywhere else. But only time will tell whether the West will win the construction race, or just win the initial press conferences.

For more takeaways from the AEA report, click through below.


[Read More]


“We try everything. Since NFTs exist, we need to try them.”

Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, on its imminent fundraising auction of NFTs linked to works by Giorgione, Kandinsky, Leonardo, Monet, and van Gogh.


Express Checkout

The Feds Wage War on Chrismas + Three More Market Morsels


The FBI arrested notorious LA dealer Douglas Chrismas on charges of embezzling upwards of $260,000 from the bankruptcy estate of the now-shuttered Ace Gallery, which he founded in 1967 and lost ownership of in 2013. (The Los Angeles Times)

  • Chrismas, age 77, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all counts. He pleaded not guilty, with his trial scheduled to begin in September.


Marian Goodman gallery became the latest blue-chip gallery to announce a robust new leadership structure without mentioning the phrase “succession plan”; the headline moves include its namesake moving to CEO, and Philipp Kaiser becoming president and partner. (Press release)


The Artists Pension Trust, once seen as a promising new vehicle to stabilize artists’ finances, has provoked accusations of mismanagement, an official complaint to British regulators, and at least one lawsuit from its members. (The New York Times)


An insider’s look at the ascendant dealers and agents making Accra an art-market hotspot. (Artnet News Pro)


Work of the Week

Chris Burden’s The Hidden Force

Chris Burden, <i>The Hidden Force</i> (1995). © 2021 Chris Burden / licensed by The Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy Gagosian

Chris Burden, The Hidden Force (1995). © 2021 Chris Burden / licensed by The Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Courtesy Gagosian


Date:                      1995

Seller:                    Gagosian

Price:                     $2.25 million

Selling at:              Frieze Viewing Room, Los Angeles

Sale Date:              Through Sunday, August 1


Still believe a savvy dealer would only post modestly priced, easy-to-sell works in an online viewing room? Gagosian is challenging that myth yet again in its Frieze Los Angeles OVR dedicated to the late California visionary Chris Burden. Standing out amid an ambitious array of genre-crossing works is The Hidden Force, an outdoor sculpture consisting of three partially in-ground concrete pools  that function as monumental compasses. Thanks to one magnetized end, the elliptical object floating in each pool always bobs back to due north, giving viewers both literal and metaphorical guidance on their life’s journey.

Originally commissioned for the McNeil Island Corrections Center via the Washington State Arts CommissionThe Hidden Force was decommissioned when the prison closed in 2011. The Burden estate recently secured the right to recreate the piece and will consult with an acquiring collector or institution to ensure it integrates with its new home in a site-specific, site-responsive way true to the artist’s intent.

So why offer it here and now? “2021 would have been Burden’s 75th milestone year,” said Yayoi Shionoiri, the estate’s executive director. “While Burden created The Hidden Force in the 1990s, this work feels as timely as ever, and serves to remind us all of the power of art.” That it’s being made available in this context should also remind us that both west-coast collectors and the OVR are stronger than ever.


Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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