Lawsuit Alleges Leon Black Used a Fake Museum Gig as Bait in Abusive Relationship, Galas Go Back to IRL, & More Art-World Gossip

Which downtown hotspot did Met director Max Hollein hit up? What upstate gallery is opening a new Manhattan outpost? Read on for answers.

Leon Black speaks onstage at The Museum Of Modern Art Film Benefit Presented By CHANEL: A Tribute To Martin Scorsese on November 19, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Museum of Modern Art)

Every week, Artnet News Pro brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected].



Since he resigned under pressure as chair of MoMA‘s board in March amid scrutiny over his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, billionaire financier Leon Black has been keeping a pretty low profile. He has not been at any of the executive committee meetings for Apollo Global Management, the investment fund he cofounded that has $414 billion in assets. He was swiftly replaced at the top of MoMA’s masthead by Marie-Josée Kravis, and skipped out on the festivities surrounding Frieze New York. Plus, student groups at Dartmouth College, his alma mater, are pushing to get the school to change the name of the Black Family Arts Center, which was dedicated in 2012, according to Town & Country.

Now, a lawsuit filed by Guzel Ganieva, a former model, alleges that over the course of a few years, Black repeatedly sexually assaulted her and forced her into restrictive loan contracts and NDA agreements to force her silence. Through a spokesman, Black has denied “every spurious allegation” in the suit.  

Leon Black and Debra Black attend the 2018 MoMA Party In The Garden at Museum of Modern Art on May 31, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

Leon Black and Debra Black attend the 2018 MoMA Party in the Garden at Museum of Modern Art on May 31, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

“Ms. Ganieva endured a cycle of intimidation, abuse, and humiliation by Black that on numerous occasions included forced sexual conduct against her will,” the complaint reads. “In addition to causing intentional physical pain, Black engaged in these acts because he derived pleasure from humiliating and debasing Ms. Ganieva.”

The allegations are detailed and horrific, and can be read in the complaint that was submitted this week to the Supreme Court of the State of New York. Within the terrifying litany of claims, there’s a narrative alleging that Black used his considerable clout in the art world to coerce Ganieva into the relationship. 

During the years of alleged abuse, Black was using his billions to amass power in the cultural sphere. In 2012, he bought the boutique publisher Phaidon and spent $120 million to buy Edvard Munch’s The Scream, then the priciest work of art ever auctioned. In 2014, Black purchased the online art seller Artspace and invested in the startup Artbinder; a year later, he was named co-chairman of MoMA’s board. 

At the same time, he was allegedly making plans to set up a gallery of his own. As it’s put in the lawsuit: “Black’s persuasion tactics included endless promises such as: to help with Ms. Ganieva’s child’s educational opportunities; to finance a movie for her that she could produce or direct, after convincing her that acting was too difficult a business; to purchase a townhouse and turn it into an art museum that Ms. Ganieva could manage or be a director of.”

Later, the complaint mentions that Ganieva “was aware that Black had purchased an art gallery and hired another woman that he had been involved with to run the gallery.”

The former Knoedler space. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s International Realty.

No further details are given, but Black did buy a building that was once the home of a famous gallery: the century-old Italianate townhouse that Knoedler occupied for decades until closing amidst its very public art forgery scandal. Black paid $50 million, despite the fact that the space came with a $20 million reno price tag. Sources said he lived in the home and installed many of his masterpieces in the 17,000-square-foot space, but there have never been public signs he ever intended to open it as a gallery or museum. 

On Tuesday, Black’s spokesperson released a statement to the press, saying: “This frivolous lawsuit is riddled with lies, and is nothing more than a wholesale fiction. The truth is that Leon Black had a wholly consensual relationship with Ms. Ganieva for six years, and then, as we have previously advised the criminal authorities, Mr. Black was subsequently extorted by Ms. Ganieva for many years and made substantial monetary payments to her based on her threats to go public about their relationship and cause him reputational risk and harm to his family. Mr. Black emphatically denies each and every spurious allegation put forth in this lawsuit and looks forward to disproving them in court.”

Lawyers for Ganieva did not respond to comment. A press rep for MoMA, where Black remains on the board, declined to comment.



Ambience at Mr. Morgan’s Winter Gala at The Morgan Library & Museum on December 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Ostuni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

In the Before Times, Art Production Fund had a grand soirée at The Grill. It was the second week of March 2020, people were a little scared about everything, but everyone showed up. I mean, Emrata was there! Days later, the world shut down, and when that happened, Wet Paint—filing en route to an upstate bunker—couldn’t help but think of us all cocktail-sipping attendees as violin players on the increasingly vertical deck of the Titanic. As we wrote in that week’s column in an item entitled “ONE LAST GALA”: “Remember caviar? Remember laughter? Kindness?” 

Magnitude – Cartier Gala Dinner – Ambiance ©François Goizé

But now, as vaccination rates go up and masks come off, life is returning—and with life comes galas! So far the ones confirmed to be happening are Amfar Gala Cannes on July 16, on the Cap d’Antibes, featuring a benefit auction once again put together by The Journal Gallery co-proprietor Michael Nevin. Then, the Parrish Art Museum benefit will go down August 14 at its Southampton grounds. The Met will have a slightly scaled-back version of its famous Costume Institute gala on September 13, while the Skowhegan 75th Anniversary benefit will happen at the Rainbow Room, that glittery venue that floats above 30 Rock, on September 28. And on October 23, Yoshitomo Nara will be honored at the 22nd annual Two x Two for AIDS and Art benefit, which goes down at the home of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky in Dallas

The Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation’s Inaugurational Gala at Domaine Bertaud Belieu on July 23, 2014 in Saint-Tropez, France. Photo: Pierre Suu/Getty Images For LDC Foundation.

Get your tickets soon, people. And everyone who was planning on throwing more of those virtual galas… you really don’t need to do that anymore! No one liked them! 



Installation shot of Issy Wood’s show at the Schinkel Pavilion. Berlin. Photo courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa.

The most recent work of art put out by Issy Wood was not a painting but a collection of new songs, released on Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records, called If It’s Any Constellation. It’s really fantastic, chock full of bops, and worth repeat spins, but even a few hit tunes can’t overshadow how her paintings have been whipping collectors into a frenzy. In addition to the auction records being set over and over again, Wet Paint has gotten word that Larry Gagosian has been in hot pursuit of any Issy Wood paintings available—and, as Russell Tovey found out that one time, they are very, very unavailable.

Toad Hall. Ohoto courtesy Bruce Nagel + Partners architects.

And so when Gagosian does buy them, he puts them in prime real estate. Sources say that Gagosian has one hanging right now at his Holmby Hills mansion in Los Angeles. What’s more, he also has an Issy Wood painting hanging in the Hamptons house, his Amagansett beachfront Modernist manse known as Toad Hall. There, Wood’s painting is in the inner sanctum, hanging in Larry’s bedroom. 

A rep for the dealer at the gallery that bears his name did not respond to a request for comment. 



No winners! What gives! OK, try this on for size: Name the artwork, the owner and the dealer who sold it to said owner. 

Send guesses to [email protected] Winners will get a Wet Paint hat—more are coming!—and eternal glory.



Avery Singer in front of her work at the Met. Photo courtesy Avery Singer Instagra, stories.

Bernie Lagrange, the former Sotheby’s rising star who now works at Gagosian’s art advisory arm, and his father, the financier Pierre Lagrange, jointly donated Avery Singer’s Screen Burn (2019) to the Met—the painting was purchased at Art Basel in June 2019 from the booth of Berlin gallery Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, and now it is hanging in America’s most important institution … Il Buco Alimentari, the NoHo restaurant that was founded by David Zwirner, upped the prices of its cocktails from $16 to $25 … Sunday Jazz nights return to Cafe Altro Paradiso on June 6 … Matthew Wong will have his first major museum show when an exhibition of his paintings opens at the Art Gallery of Ontario in August, and it will be up alongside the first show of early Picasso works ever staged in Canada

Balcony magazine’s first issue. Photo courtesy Balcony.

Balcony, a new magazine founded by the writer and David Zwirner employee Audrey Rose Smith and the artist Vicente Muñoz, launches this weekend, go pick up a copy … P.P.O.W. will open a pop-up gallery in Provincetown in collaboration with Joe Sheftel Gallery, the first exhibition is a show of work by David Wojnarowicz, it opens June 25 … You can now watch Fire Finder, the short film that Rick Rocha directed starring Lucien Smith—it’s hyping up the partnership between Smith and Adidas, where the limited edition Smith-designed sneakers will be sold to the artist’s STP Creative Foundation Rashid Johnson bought an Anna Park painting from her show at Half GalleryJayne Drost Johnson, the founder of upstate’s beloved gallery JDJ Ice House in Garrison, New York, is opening a second branch of the gallery in Tribeca—it’s on the second floor of 373 Broadway, the building that also is home to the gallery that is named simply Broadway … The first known artwork by the dealer and Essex Street proprietor Maxwell Graham is being sold in the benefit auction to raise money for Printed Matter, there’s only one bid as of this writing …

A work of art by Maxwell Graham. Photo courtesy Courtesy the artist and Maxwell Graham/Essex Street, New York.



The Thinx ad. Photo courtesy Thinx.

*** Cover to Cover, an artists’ book that the publisher Primary Info made with the Canadian artist Michael Snow, in an ad for Thinx period underwear *** Artist Kenny Rivero at Lucien, having dinner with Eric N. Mack and Jacolby Satterwhite and the Los Angeles dealer Mills Morán, among many other art-world luminaries,  *** Timothy Taylor selling an Alex Katz painting to Kendall Jenner ***

Frances Beatty and Max Hollein. Photo courtesy Off-Paradise.

*** A rambunctious crew gathered at Forlini’s for the closing celebration for Off Paradise’s Ray Johnson-themed group show: Met director Max Hollein, Frances Beatty and Alex Adler from the Ray Johnson estate, along with artists such as Scott Covert, Peter Nadin, Matt Connors, Richard Hell, Olivia DiVecchia *** 

Darren Aronofsky, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard. Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk. Courtesy Pioneer Works

*** Celebrities coming out of their cocoons as parties re-enter out vaccinated reality—David Byrne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and Darren Aronofsky were at Pioneer Works for the Brand New Heavies Benefit, which supports the Red Hook art space’s residency program, and they checked out group show curated by Racquel Chevremont and Mickalene Thomas, with  work by Abigail Deville, Xaviera Simmons, and Rosa-Johan Uddoh *** Calvin Klein at Indochine Wednesday *** Swizz Beatz stopping by Nicola Vassell Gallery ***

Swizz Beatz and Nicola Vassell. Photo courtesy Nicola Vassell.


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