Artists Slap Dealer With Suit for Missing Payments, Brooklyn Museum Prez Tries to Block Bad Press, and More Juicy Art-World Gossip
Plus, what party drew Rob Storr and Alison Roman? What art-adjacent restaurant just got shut down for health reasons? Read on for answers.
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]
KOENIG ON THE RUN
Down under in Australia, a new art-world grifter may have emerged. Tristian Koenig, the force behind an eponymous gallery in Melbourne, has reportedly been missing-in-action since news broke that several artists are suing the gallerist through Melbourne Magistrates Court for artworks they say have gone missing.
The claims are plentiful. Seven artists—Elyss McCleary, Jiaxin Nong, Andre Hemer, Seth Birchall, Lara Merrett, Benjamin Barretto, and Marion Harper—moved forward to reclaim 39 missing works that they say were consigned to Koenig, plus $27,000 for works they say he sold but never paid them for. They claim that Koenig, whose website has gone dark, offered them a litany of excuses for delays in payment, including health problems, a bike accident, and even a spider bite.
But it doesn’t stop there. McCleary went so far as to attend and open house of the dealer’s onetime home, where she heard two of her works were hanging, and took them off the wall, according the the Australian outlet The Age. (Barretto, on the other hand, sent a friend to get his work.)
It didn’t take long for none other than Los Angeles-based art-flipper king Stefan Simchowitz to throw his hat in the ring and claim he had consigned works by Petra Cortright to Koenig that were worth $60,000. Koenig showed works by the internet artist back in 2017 on consignment from Simchowitz, the advisor said, adding that he wasn’t paid for any sold works, and didn’t get back the pieces that went unsold, either.
“I think it’s a widespread issue,” Simchowitz told Wet Paint over the phone from L.A. “It’s disappointing, but it’s not uncommon. I’ve been in situations where recovery and payment are not forthcoming, and I think oftentimes artists are just scared to take on a gallery.”
The artists involved are all working with Australia-based lawyer Alana Kushnir, who revealed to Wet Paint that since the allegations about Koenig made their way out, she’s been hearing from lots of artists and collectors.
“I have received feedback from a number of artists and galleries that this matter is encouraging them to put their consignment arrangements and gallery representation agreements in writing,” she said. “I think this is a much-needed step in an industry which in some ways is still stuck in its own version of the Dark Ages.”
Koenig could not be reached for comment.
BERLINER COVERS HIS TRACKS
Last week, news broke that David Berliner would be stepping down from his position as president and COO of the Brooklyn Museum in 2022, with Kimberly Panicek Trueblood due to take over the role. These kinds of position switch-ups happen often in museums, and typically, they’re reported in a pretty straightforward and unremarkable fashion. This one, however, proved to be an exception.
Wet Paint has learned that behind the scenes at several publications, reporters were peppered with calls and emails from Berliner’s publicist asking for changes in coverage. Why? Because Berliner’s legacy at the museum is hugely controversial, considering his past as a real-estate developer at conglomerate Forest Ratner, a firm associated with the gentrification of downtown Brooklyn. When protest group Decolonize This Place mounted its rallies at the Brooklyn Museum in spring 2018, Berliner was singled out: they called for his removal from the museum, but to no avail. Berliner was also named by demonstrators who said he failed to diversify the museum’s high-level staff.
(Maybe that’s why Trueblood launched a not-so-veiled barb at her predecessor in an interview with the New York Times in which she promised to work on “making sure the next 200 years are even more inclusive than the last 200.” Low bar, no?)
One reporter told Wet Paint they were subject to pushback from Berliner’s publicist, who harangued the journalist with several emails and an early-morning phone call after their story was published. The flack strongly suggested the article be updated to boast about—or, in P.R. speak, balance the story with—Berliner’s many accomplishments, including a $10 million gift he secured for a new gallery of African arts, and a $50 million gift he obtained from the city.
It hasn’t yet been announced what Berliner will be doing after he leaves the museum, but it must be something interesting, as he clearly is doing some damage control.
Through a rep, Berliner declined to comment.
*** Blaketheman1000 and Collina Strada-adjacent artist Angel Emoji staging an impromptu concert at the covered outdoor-dining tent at Ming’s Caffe in Dimes Square (never a dull moment down there!) *** Jeremy Strong, post Succession finale, strolling through Williamsburg with his baby daughter in tow, him in an all-brown outfit (broutfit?) and her clutching a pink balloon *** Cat Power making a winter-time playlist for Dan Colen’s Sky High Farm, which you can listen to online *** Bill Powers, Marcella Zimmermann, and DIS founder Lauren Boyle all in the same line to get tested for COVID-19 on Broadway and Broome street (Powers even let Wet Paint jump the line! Thanks Bill!) *** Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon sat outside The Odeon waiting for a table … Finally, designer Christine Rhee chopped and screwed the mildly unhinged letter Aaron Sorkin wrote in defense of Jeremy Strong into an Instagram post that looks like a Jenny Holzer truism ***
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All those Art Basel Miami Beach parties seem to have made the week a super-spreader event, and several people have told Wet Paint they’re infected, so please, go get tested and get boosted … Apparently, if you buy Yeezy’s from Adidas, part of the price includes getting an Uber from the store because the chances of you get mugged are incredibly high … Frieze’s new restaurant in London, Toklas, closed for the year due to the number of employees who have COVID (again, go get tested people!) … Jenna Gribbon cancelled her book signing, but not for COVID reasons, but because of a customs holdup: “Apologies if I’ve thrown off anyone’s holiday gift plans!”
WET PAINT IN THE WILD
The New York Academy of Art‘s yearly gala used to be called Take Home a Nude. Now it’s just called Artists for Artists (maybe safer considering some of the bad press they’ve gotten). Whatever it’s called, Wet Paint hauled uptown to Sotheby’s for this year’s event—which, full disclosure, took place before the Omicron variant started to do real damage in New York. The gala raised an impressive $800,000 through silent and live auctions, and surprised the evening’s honoree, Peter Saul, with a doctorate degree from the academy. So that’s Dr. Peter Saul to you, going forward.
Here are some snaps from the scene.
TA TA FOR NOW!
After a rollicking first few months of reporting for Wet Paint, I’ll be taking the next two weeks to do some recon and recovery, so I’ll see you all in the new year. Thank you all for tuning in and putting up with my antics, I couldn’t do it without you. Happy holidays.
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