‘Free Peter Max’ Is the New ‘Free Britney,’ a Secondary-Market Dealmaker Pivots to Primary, and More Juicy Art-World Gossip
Plus, which artist hung out downtown with Tyler, The Creator? And which gallery is taking poetic license with its so-called "livestream" program?
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]
This week is a momentous one for Britney Spears, whose 13-year conservatorship may come to an end during a scheduled hearing in Los Angeles on Friday. On the opposite coast, a dedicated group is working to capitalize on the publicity generated by the pop star to call attention to what they say is a similar case of mistreatment: the court-mandated guardianship of 84-year-old legendary German pop artist Peter Max.
Max, who has Alzheimers, has been under guardianship since 2016, when a court ruled he needed protection from abuse by his second wife, Mary Max. Mary died by suicide in 2019; the guardianship—which, as we have learned from Spears’s case, is quite difficult to roll back—remained in place.
While Spears’s father served as her guardian until recently, Max’s custodian is not a member of his family. In fact, his own daughter, artist and activist Libra Max, has been leading the charge for his emancipation. Last month, she filed written testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding toxic conservatorships.
As the situation stands, Libra said, she is only permitted to see her father for one hour at a time, three times per week, on a public bench.
“At the twilight of my father’s beautiful life, he should be surrounded by love, family, hugs and kisses, warmth, gentleness, celebrations, and everyone familiar that he holds dear,” she wrote. “Instead, for over two years, my father’s court-appointed guardians have isolated my father like a prisoner, and I have to watch his lonely and disorienting life over FaceTime as he begs repeatedly for me to come and stay with him in my childhood home. There is no punishment more cruel.”
She goes on to report that her father’s health has been in rapid decline, with his weight falling under 100 pounds, and that he remains in forced isolation for “nearly 24 hours a day,” is prohibited from having visitors, and has no access to a phone, attorney, or any of his financial assets. (In a particularly cruel detail, she also claims that his rescue cats have been taken from him.)
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It’s a truly depressing turn for an artist who rose to fame in the 1960s for his bright, psychedelic pop art and designed the flyer for the famous 1967 “Be In” demonstration for pacifism in New York City. Max’s decision to plaster his work on everything from postage stamps to album covers to cereal boxes tanked his reputation in the high-end art world—but it also made him a small fortune. His portraits of John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan are on view in their respective presidential libraries; his work is also in the archives of the Museum of Modern Art. A native German and a Holocaust survivor, he immigrated to Brooklyn in 1953.
Last Thursday, Libra led a group of around 50 people to protest in front of the midtown offices of Phillips Nizer LLP, where Max’s court-appointed attorney Elizabeth Adinolfi works. The demonstrators held aloft images of some of Peter’s most famous paintings; several protestors sported #FreeBritney t-shirts and signs.
“The claims made by Libra Max and her allies are demonstrably false and defamatory to our firm and attorneys,” a statement on Phillips Nizer’s website reads. “We will address this at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum.” The firm declined to comment further.
Andinolfi, Max’s attorney, selected Barbara Urbach Lissner of Lissner & Lissner LLP as his conservator in 2019. (Libra noted that the family had no issues with her father’s previous two guardians.) Reached by Wet Paint, Lissner denied any mistreatment. “The allegations are absolutely untrue,” she said. “Peter is doing well, he’s speaking, he’s engaged, and he’s out and about to the extent you can be during COVID.”
When asked why his daughter is questioning his wellbeing, Lissner replied vaguely, “I can’t speak to her motivations, I don’t know why she’s acting this way. I have a few guesses as to why, but I don’t know.”
Libra, meanwhile, is holding out hope that the attention driven by Spears will bring eyeballs to her father’s case, as well as the 1.3 million other adults worth a combined $50 billion currently under guardianship. “Given the for-profit nature of the guardianship industry,” she wrote in her testimony, “the system is ripe for predatory individuals—who purport to act under the cloak of protecting the vulnerable—to instead exploit the citizens in their care by marshalling their assets for their own financial gain.”
Peter Max, you may not be surprised to hear, couldn’t be reached for comment.
VAN DE WEGHE RETURNS TO HIS CHELSEA ROOTS
How hot is the contemporary art market, you ask? So hot that even some of the most august secondary market dealers are getting in on the action—and moving downtown to better play the part.
The latest crossover is Christophe Van de Weghe, that intrepid blue-chip dealer of Richters, Mardens, and Warhols, as well as the recent buyer of a certain overseas Basquiat. Last week, he opened “Skinny Jeans, Flutter, Prime Mover,” a solo show of work by abstract painter Frederic Anderson at 521 West 23rd Street in Chelsea. (Born in 1973, Anderson isn’t exactly one of those zygotes at Phillips who doesn’t remember where he was on 9/11, but he’s younger than Brice Marden.)
Van de Weghe has actually owned the Chelsea space since 2000, but since 2010 has rented it out to different dealers (“no dealer of any significance,” he said). Moving forward, Van de Weghe explained, “I want to do mainly a contemporary program in that space.”
While the dealer was mum about what other artists he’s eyeing, it’s clear that the demand for new talent is a big part of his calculus. “You know, I have been buying and selling Basquiats for 30 years,” Van de Weghe said. “It’s my specialty. But it’s getting pretty hard! With those prices, its not easy. So I kind of have to go into that field.”
(He’s not alone: Note that LGDR, the forthcoming profit-making machine created by the union of Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, Amalia Dayan, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, recently took great pains to clarify to the Canvas that they’d still be working with primary market superstars like Mickalene Thomas.)
The space itself is something of a Chelsea legend—it was Larry Gagosian‘s very first gallery when he moved to New York in the early 1980s. Before relocating uptown, Van de Weghe showed Richard Serra, Basquiat, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly there.
The dealer will maintain his Upper East Side space for secondary market shows, but insists this step is necessary for the future of the gallery. “I have three kids, and it’s my dream to have my kids take over the gallery one day,” he said. “So, I feel like it’s important to be somewhat involved in the primary market.”
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*** Olivia Rodrigo, Gavin Newsom, and Anya Taylor-Joy at the er, eccentrically decorated wedding of Getty heiress Ivy Getty, where apparently Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi not only officiated, but really broke it down to the song “Miracles Happen” from the Princess Diaries soundtrack *** Jay Jopling, Maria Balshaw, Gregor Muir, Yinka Ilori, and Thomas Heatherwick at the gala for the late designer Lee Alexander McQueen‘s Sarabande Foundation at The Standard, London *** Blood Orange‘s Dev Hynes dining with Aaron Maine from the band Porches at Soho‘s Fanelli Cafe *** Author and collector Ben Lerner mingling with the crowd outside neighborhood haunt Rintintin *** Henry Taylor and Tyler, The Creator adorably hanging out downtown *** Lil Nas X, Jeff Bezos, Guillermo del Toro, and Miley Cyrus among the guests at the LACMA Art + Film Gala, which honored Obama portraitists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald alongside Steven Spielberg *** Bowen Yang at the restaurant opening of Win Son offshoot Bonnies in South Williamsburg ***
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Ever the coolest, collective DIS is co-curating the Moving Image Biennial alongside Andrea Bellini this week in Geneva … Pierre Chen may be the guarantor of the Macklowe‘s potentially record-setting Mark Rothko, Number 7 (1951), which has a $70 million “low” estimate … Kris Jenner owns one of Richard Prince‘s early joke paintings, according to Kim Kardashian‘s Instagram … David Zwirner‘s “Program,” the gallery’s biannual livestreaming series, isn’t actually always recorded live—apparently, Helen Molesworth‘s recent spot “was a mix of pre-recorded and live streaming conversations”… Experience art mecca Superblue is staffing up, with new additions including art-fair entrepreneur Max Fishko and Mathieu de Fayet, a founding member of the company that created Pokémon GO (this makes us contractually obligated to make a joke about Pokémon GO to Pace, even though we know they are separate companies so please don’t write us for a correction) … Market darling Shannon Cartier Lucy is selling posters of one of her most beloved paintings, The Autopsy (2021), for $60 a pop off Instagram … Hugh Hayden is making his curatorial debut with Public Art Fund this coming May at Brooklyn Bridge Park, incorporating his own work as well as that of Leilah Babirye, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis, and Kiyan Williams …
WET PAINT IN THE WILD
This week, Wet Paint traveled uptown on Saturday night for the opening of Arthur Jafa‘s new film, AGHDRA (2021), at the now-defunct, momentarily reborn Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. While Brown, now a partner at Gladstone, insisted that the space wasn’t reopening in any official way, that seems like an awful shame, as the evening attracted droves and the following dance party went well into the wee hours of the morning.
The very next morning, I splashed cold water on my face and hit the highway for Pine Plains, New York, to see David Roy aka BlackNASA‘s rocket launch from Dan Colen‘s Sky High Farms. You can imagine my frustration that I arrived to the farm just moments after the rocket was actually launched, but check out a video of the action on Roy’s gallery 56 Henry‘s Instagram.
WET PAINT QUESTIONNAIRE
Last week, I asked you lovely folks whether you thought NFTs would have a place in the fine art world in the next five years. Artist and critic Walter Robinson said, “A year ago I was ignoring NFTs and that was really working for me. Now that Kenny Schachter says he made $1M from his, I’m beginning to wonder.” Writer Helen Holmes wrote in, “If auction houses are to be believed, NFTs aren’t just shiny new toys; they’re paradigm-shifting commodities changing the way sales are conducted and reconfiguring how art is consumed. Art-world people have been pitching these things HARD, but in 5 years the spark may have faded. 15 years from now, though, you can bet they’ll come back around: trends are cyclical, and NFTs will prompt nostalgia.”
For next week, my question for you is this: What artist, living or dead, do you think would make the absolute worst dinner guest?
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