Klaus Biesenbach Was Planning to Leave L.A. for a While, Kanye West Taps Artists for His Christian School, and More Art-World Gossip

Plus, which art heiress threw a Richard Prince-themed birthday party? And what gallery is doubling down in the East Village? Read on for answers.

Klaus Biesenbach attends the MOCA Benefit 2019 at the Geffen Contemporary on May 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images)
Klaus Biesenbach attends the MOCA Benefit 2019 at the Geffen Contemporary on May 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images)

Every week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops. This week, Annie Armstrong is back—for good! If you have a tip, email her at [email protected]

 

BIESENBACH SNEAKS OUT THE BACK DOOR 

Last week, the art world was stunned to learn that star curator Klaus Biesenbach would be leaving his post as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), to return to his native Germany to run the Neue Nationalgalerie and the future Museum of the 20th Century. Biesenbach himself told the New York Times, “I was surprised… Everybody was surprised. We are trying to wrap our heads around it. I understand everybody to be surprised because I am also surprised.” 

It seems that using the word “surprised” four times in one statement may be a sign that the director doth protest too much. Biesenbach told the newspaper he had received the offer last Friday and accepted it on the spot; Wet Paint understands that MOCA found out shortly thereafter. But the new position did not—like most top jobs—come entirely out of nowhere. (Museum directors: they’re just like you, interviewing for a new job without telling their bosses!) 

Biesenbach’s revelation came just days after Johanna Burton, the former director of the Wexner Center of the Arts in Ohio, was named as MOCA’s executive director; the two were supposed to share the gig, with Biesenbach handling the artistic and curatorial side and Burton overseeing management and operations. (“I don’t think it is one job,” MOCA’s board chair Maria Seferian told the Times when Burton was named.) Now, as of November 1, Burton will indeed take on the whole kit n’ caboodle, serving as the museum’s first female director. 

From left: Klaus Biesenbach, Maria Seferian, and former Tate curator Mark Godfrey attend the Broad's celebration for the opening of "Soul Of A Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–83" on March 22, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Broad Museum)

From left: Klaus Biesenbach, Maria Seferian, and former Tate curator Mark Godfrey at the opening of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–83” at the Broad on March 22, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Broad Museum)

The day before the news broke, Biesenbach was on hand to help inaugurate MOCA’s major Pipilotti Rist show at the Geffen Contemporary alongside an unknowing board. But sources say he knew more than he let on.

“I did have a premonition that this wasn’t going to be a new model for museum leadership,” Paul Schimmel, MOCA’s former longtime chief curator, told Wet Paint of the two-director arrangement. “I was at the dinner for [Rist] and it certainly wasn’t known by [the board of trustees] that Klaus had been to Berlin several times for interviews.” 

To be fair to Biesenbach—who did not reply to Wet Paint’s request for comment—German institutions are somewhat notorious for fast-paced hiring. A source told Wet Paint that, typically, the process works like this: a short list is made, that list is vetted, candidates are interviewed, and then the top choice gets a call. If they don’t say yes immediately, the museum moves to the next person on the list. (We don’t know for sure that this is the Neue Nationalgalerie’s process precisely, but it would follow suit with other local institutions if so.) 

It’s also possible that at least one board member knew what was up. German publication SZ revealed that it was collector Julia Stoschek, who Biesenbach added to the MOCA board soon after his arrival in 2018, who put him up for the gig. “When I was asked as a member of the board of trustees who I could imagine in this position, his name was of course on the slip,” she told the newspaper. 

Biesenbach’s new role presents its own set of challenges. The Neue Nationalgalerie is a state-sponsored institution in a country known for its robust arts funding, so he likely won’t be tasked with raising too much capital. However, that museum is reported to have a fairly small acquisition budget, while the Museum of the 20th Century is set to cost a whopping 450 million (about $530 million) to erect. 

I wish Klaus all the best as he returns back home (though I can’t say the non-Julia Stoscheks on the board feel the same). I just hope he and Hans Ulrich Obrist find some new spots to enjoy their semi-regular das Speiseeis.

 

KANYE SCHOOLS ARTISTS

Kanye West in a fancy fur. Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.

Back in 2020, rapper and prolific patron of the arts Kanye West teased videos of a school he was opening called the Yeezy Christian Academy. The video featured children, including his own with ex Kim Kardashian, clad in “YCA” t-shirts, repeatedly intoning “Dear future, I still believe in you.” The school’s core tenants were billed as “Faith, Music, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.”

News of the school bubbled up and then was overshadowed by West’s controversial presidential run (remember that?). Now, Wet Paint has learned that the school was not simply a PR stunt—and, in fact, West is currently reaching out to visual artists to furnish and design the facility. He’s invited at least two hip, downtown New York artists to participate in the build out.

Naturally, the project is very hush hush, and few details have been able to seep out of the facility’s unadorned, cave-like walls (I gathered much of this information from blurry iPhone photos passed around at a bar, so bear with me). From what I’ve been able to gather, the school is built in the minimal, monastic style embodied in West’s home with Kardashian, which was constructed by famed architect Claudio Silvestrin and designed with art dealer Axel Vervoordt.

This time around, West has swapped out the blinding white for dark walls, aesthetically mirroring the monochromatic black branding that has dominated the rollout for his latest album, “Donda.” (Because the only space more appealing for a child to learn in than a temple of white is a black box, right?) No details have been confirmed on where the school is, what age group it targets, or what the meat of its curriculum entails. West, predictably, could not be reached for comment.

 

SPOTTED

Sophia Cohen preparing for a birthday party for the ages.

Sophia Cohen preparing for a birthday party for the ages.

Sophia Cohen, the daughter of billionaire collector Steven Cohen, threw a Richard Prince-themed birthday party in SoHo last week, with Gagosian sales associate Lily Mortimer dressing as a Richard Prince “girlfriend,” several women, including the host, decked out in nurse costumes, and Marlborough scion Max Levai outfitted as a lawyer (Richard Prince does go to court a lot) *** Comedian Ziwe at Antwaun Sargent‘s Armory Week party at Electric Lemon in Hudson Yards *** The Weeknd at the wrap party for “Gossip Girl” at Fotografiska’s chapel-turned bar (the musician is rumored to be considering becoming a donor) *** Artist Aria Dean walking in Eckhaus Latta’s Fashion Week show in Brooklyn, and Jacolby Satterwhite walking for Chromat’s collaboration with artist Tourmaline at Riis Beach *** A sculpture at Yossi Milo’s Armory Show booth was knocked over by a fair attendee, completely shattering it on the floor ***

A shot of Yossi Milo's unfortunate Armory snafu, courtesy of a tipster.

A shot of Yossi Milo’s unfortunate Armory snafu, courtesy of a tipster.

Comedian Dave Chappelle with his arm out the window as he was being driven through Dimes Square in a Lincoln Town Car *** The funeral for the late, great painter Jackie Saccoccio in upstate New York drew attendees including Richard Armstrong, Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham, Yvonne Force and Leo Villareal, Huma Bhabha and Jason Fox, Alexis Rockman, Keltie Ferris, and Adrian Dannatt.

 

WE HEAR…

The first Chelsea home of Timothy Taylor, New York. Photo courtesy of Timothy Taylor.

Timothy Taylor is looking for a new space in Chelsea, which will mirror the size of the gallery’s sprawling 4,500-square-foot London space … On the topic of real estate, Half Gallery purchased the neighboring lot to its East Village location at 233 East 4th Street, which will serve as a project space; it will open in October with a group drawings show followed by a solo of work by Taylor Simmons …  An artist  bit three patrons at an Armory Week party, leaving hefty, visible bruises on two of their arms … The first biography of Land Art great Robert Smithson, titled The Passions of Robert Smithson, Art and Biography, is set to publish with University of Minnesota Press in fall 2022 … and Hauser and Wirth has recruited Vogue columnist and Instagram influencer Raven Smith to host a vlog series about his first time visiting Art Basel.

 

… AND NOW FOR INTRODUCTIONS!

Greetings! Annie Armstrong here, your new Wet Paint scribe. I couldn’t be more pleased to be here. I’ll be delivering the hottest gossip to you from the Brooklyn apartment that I share with my wiener dog, Weezy, in between evenings out sleuthing the elite world of art. Among the things I love to talk about are the madcap art market, how the superwealthy and superfamous spend their time, and ’90s slacker rock. Have a tip? Send it my way at [email protected] or reach me on Instagram and Twitter @anniesalright. And if you see me out in the streets, please say hi. I promise I don’t bite.

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