Mega-Collector Aby Rosen Fined for Contempt, Rachel Dolezal’s Art Looks, Um, a Lot Like Glenn Ligon’s + More Art-World Gossip
Which formerly incarcerated art dealer is back on the circuit? Which top CEO hung a Kehinde Wiley in her office? Read on for answers.
Welcome to Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by our crack team.
FAREWELL TO THE GRAMERCY?
While New York is starting to look a bit more like, well, New York, there are some Gotham icons that remain dark—including the Gramercy Park Hotel.
The downtown destination owned by preeminent art collector Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding group has long been a gathering place for the chic set during New York Fashion Week. Not so this season, as an ongoing legal dispute between Rosen et al. and the property’s landlord, Gramercy Park Partners, LLC, burns hotter than a Richard Prince sunset.
In recent months, nary a model, movie star, or mogul has laid eyes upon the hotel’s (read: Rosen’s) rotating art gallery, which boasts works by Basquiat, Twombly, and Hirst, as the hotel has kept its Julian Schnabel-designed digs closed to the public since March 2020.
RFR Holding, which Rosen founded with Michael Fuchs in 1991, began a 72-year lease of the iconic property in October 2006, which means they should be operating through 2078. But, alas, last winter, Wet Paint reported that the 1924 hotel—also home to New York City hotspots Rose Bar, Jade Bar, the Gramercy Terrace rooftop, and chef Danny Meyer’s Italian eatery Maialino—had occupancy in the “single digits” and the concierge had stopped taking reservations.
And not only that: According to a notice pasted on the hotel’s front door, Rosen’s company owed nearly $900,000 in back rent to Solil Management, which owns the land beneath the hotel and represents the estate of the late real-estate magnate Sol Goldman.
The saga continued into the new year with the landlord serving RFR a notice terminating its lease on the 2 Lexington Avenue property, effective March 17. This comes in addition to a demand for “all pre- and post-termination sums” due to the landlord to the tune of $79.5 million. (N.B., that would only get you 87 percent of Jeff Koons’s Rabbit at auction, but that still seems like a pretty penny.)
But wait, there’s more! On August 25, a New York Supreme Court judge ordered RFR to pay more than $3.9 million in overdue property tax and interest (and that’s on top of the back rent). And while it’s barely worth mentioning, Rosen’s holding group has also been fined $250 for contempt, and will be responsible for covering the landlord’s legal fees. We imagine the German-born tycoon is just about ready to pack up the Warhols and call it a day.
In additional documents obtained by Wet Paint, the landlord’s initial April 26 complaint claimed that Rosen and his RFR cronies “used the Gramercy Park Hotel for their own personal gain.” According to the landlords, Rosen’s mother lived rent-free for years in a three-bedroom suite at the hotel; the collector and his guests often enjoyed gratis meals at Maialino; and Rosen kept the hotel closed to paying guests and instead gave away free rooms to RFR employees so they could continue working during the pandemic “for the benefit of RFR and Rosen’s other real estate business ventures.”
Additionally, the landlord claims Rosen and Co. “extracted millions of dollars in profits” from the hotel to the detriment of the property, which they say has been “allowed to fall into a state of utter disrepair.” If that’s not enough, these documents also claim RFR and GPH Investors have received about $6.3 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020 and 2021 (though Wet Paint has not independently verified this claim).
Amidst this growing mountain of legal and financial woes, it could be curtains for the soignée hotel, which would spell the end of an era for both the New York nightlife scene and the art world. At the time of publishing there was no option to book a room; the hotel’s famed hospitality options—including Maialino—are listed online as “temporarily closed.”
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Even the Rose Bar’s Instagram page is frozen at the dawn of the pandemic. Their most recent post, dated March 11, 2020, shows five women dressed in various forms of high-waisted pant having what appears to be the absolute time of their lives.
But perhaps dancing at 2 a.m. on velvet banquettes beside cartoonish Kenny Scharfs should remain a pre-pandemic memory, not a post-pandemic night out.
Rosen’s attorney did not return a call or email for comment, and the PR company listed on GPH’s website no longer represents the property.
Remember Rachel Dolezal? She gained international notoriety when, in 2015, it was revealed that the former Spokane, Washington, chapter president of the NAACP was born to white parents, despite identifying as Black. This was also around the time the artist, activist, and former Africana studies professor was accused of plagiarism when her work The Shape of Our Kind was alleged to be nearly identical to J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 work, The Slave Ship.
Now, more than six years later, another work by Dolezal bears a more than a striking resemblance to the work of a famous artist. Anthology II depicts block lettering on a white background depicting names of Black Americans who have been shot by police officers. Artist Glenn Ligon posted a screenshot of the painting on his Instagram account. (If you felt the prospect of Rachel Dolezal appropriating the style of a prominent Black artist was on the nose, just wait until you see the work’s price: $2,020.)
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“Well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” wrote Ligon, who for more than 30 years has been known for creating large, text-based paintings in which a literary phrase or other words are repeated continuously, eventually fading into a haze. “Does that include blackface? Just asking.”
(The comments section includes an all-star lineup of famous artists expressing consternation, from Amy Sherald‘s “Oh lord not this ???” to Bisa Butler‘s reply, “This body snatcher needs to be stopped.”)
One doesn’t have to be an art history scholar to see the similarities. Asked about the uncanny resemblance, a representative of Dolezal declined to address the comparison directly. “[She] is an artist who explores a wide range of techniques, including sculpture, painting, cut paper collage, printmaking, and drawing,” the rep told Wet Paint. “Her two distress-textured word paintings Anthology and Anthology II contain over 50 names on each canvas of individuals killed by police brutality or neighborhood vigilantes in the United States.”
The rep continued: “Rachel uses her art to underscore the necessity of standing up against inequality and injustice. She remains steadfast in her commitment to ending racism and police brutality and supporting human rights causes.”
Ligon has not responded to a request for further comment.
The news comes on top of Dolezal’s announcement just two weeks ago that she was setting up an OnlyFans account. The website is mainly known for hosting adult content, but Dolezal promises subscribers who pay $4.99 a month conversations about fitness and hair, and above all, her art: “I bring the Art, you bring the wine/drinks. Watch me create & discuss my art.”
She also teases “things like foot pics, posts of me using stuff people buy from my Amazon wishlist (available on my OnlyFans), makeup tutorials, promotions of causes & care about, & maybe random tasteful other pics/vids ?.”
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A portrait of art dealer and curatorial dynamo Destinee Ross-Sutton by Kehinde Wiley has been given pride of place at the offices of Ariel Investments, the company led by collector and Lucas Museum cofounder Mellody Hobson, having been picked up at the Armory Show in 2019 … The media and art worlds united at the wedding of former Wet Paint scribe Nate Freeman and Lucy Poe, where guests included artists Chloe Wise and Laurie Simmons, New York Times scribe Joe Coscarelli, New Yorker writer Naomi Fry, art dealers Mills Moran, George Newall, and Lucas Casso, and many more (Mazel to the happy couple!) … Marking over a year out of prison, Mary Boone is, according to a recent Whitehot magazine essay, “happily dealing privately.”
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