Michael Xufu Huang’s Cecily Brown Gets Flipped (Again!), a Dealer Who Hates NFTs Is Making $$$ on NFTs, and More Art-World Gossip
Plus, which Hauser and Wirth employee got to enjoy the Super Bowl live? And Sarah Hoover takes us on a tour of her life.
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].
ROUND AND ROUND THE CECILY BROWN MARKET
Boy, does it pay to flip!
Last month, one of the art world’s most gossiped-about legal battles in recent memory was seemingly over after Michael Xufu Huang, founder of the X Museum in Beijing, got caught flipping a Cecily Brown painting from Paula Cooper over to collector Federico Castro Debernardi. Huang sued Debernardi for $1.3 million in reputational damages, but the pair settled earlier this month.
The saga began when Huang bought Brown‘s Faeriefeller from Cooper at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019 without revealing that he actually intended to transfer it immediately to Debernardi, who otherwise would not have had access to the picture. (Huang, you see, owns a private museum, a coveted placement for a gallery; Debernardi is just a regular Argentine farming scion with an art foundation.) Huang paid $700,000 for the work, and charged Debernardi a 10 percent commission. Debernardi also covered $5,000 of Huang’s travel expenses.
But just a few months later, word got back to Paula Cooper that the piece had since been routed through Lévy Gorvy, which sold it in March 2020. Paula Cooper, which until that point had no idea Huang had flipped the work, sent him a notice that it was prepared to file a lawsuit seeking damages of between $500,000 to $1 million. Why? Because Huang had violated the resale agreement, which stipulated that he could not sell the painting within three years of purchase without giving the gallery the right of first refusal.
Panicked, Huang sent Debernardi an incredulous message: “WTF??? Paula Cooper just emailed me this.” According to Bloomberg, which first reported the saga, Huang later privately settled with Paula Cooper for an amount “way over the ten percent I made” from the commission. “It was my fault for letting this happen, so I paid it and took responsibility,” he told Bloomberg.
The whole affair seemed to have ended after Huang issued an Instagram apology last week. But Faeriefeller, if you can believe this, is actually going up for auction!
That’s right, the picture will go back up for sale at Sotheby’s London on March 2 for a much bigger sum than Huang originally paid. It’s tucked into “The Now,” the house’s second-ever evening chapter dedicated to art made within the past few years. With an estimate of £2.2 million to £2.8 million ($3 million to $3.8 million), it represents as much as a 442 percent markup (!) from its original $700,000 selling price just over two years ago.
True, inflation is a total dog right now, and Brown’s market is hot hot hot. Four of her ten most expensive works, including the paintings in the second and third spots, sold just last year. Her auction record currently stands at $6.8 million, according to the Artnet Price Database, for a painting that’s about 100 inches square, and Faeriefeller is significantly smaller, at 71 by 67 inches. Still, a 442 percent markup? The secondary market—it’s something, isn’t it?
The listed provenance also suggests just how much this work got around. It came from Paula Cooper, went to a private collection, then to another private collection, and then, thanks to Dominique Lévy and Brett Gorvy, into the current owner’s hands—all in less time than it takes to get a master’s degree.
(It’s unclear if Christie’s is counting Huang and Debernardi as one “collection”; Debernardi may have sold the picture to someone else, who sold it to Lévy Gorvy, who sold it to the current seller, described by Sotheby’s as an “Important American Collection.” A source previously told us the gallery facilitated the sale on behalf of a major auction house—what a tangled web we weave.)
In Huang’s multi-frame Instagram apology, he said he had “accumulated over 800 works since I started collecting at the age of 16. As I said on Bloomberg, I can ensure that apart from 2–3 pieces, everything is still firmly in my museum collection and exhibited in our museum’s exhibitions or loaned to other institutions.”
So does the art world make of that?
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“He was likely ‘dickmatized’—I think that’s the technical term—by Federico,” collector Scott Lorinsky told Wet Paint. “I think sitting by the pool at the Edition or other places with Federico had its charms, and Federico was very happy to use those charms.”
But Lorinsky doesn’t buy the remorse. “No, this is not an acceptance of responsibility,” he said. “It just gets into bravado. He says, feel free to check, all of my stuff is at the museum. Which is a little off for an apology.”
Dealer Robert Dimin, who knew Huang back in their college days together at the University of Pennsylvania, is in agreement. “Oh poor Micheal—or rather, poor, rich, very confused Michael. I don’t really believe the apology. He is still very young and confused about capitalism, his role in our industry, and his relationship with China.”
“Anyone who claimed they didn’t know he was selling work is full of shit,” he added. “I don’t think we realized to the extent, and at what level.”
He also vowed never to sell Huang works by any of the artists on his roster, adding: “I know that flippers’ circle.”
Neither Paula Cooper Gallery nor Huang responded to requests for comment.
LINDEMANN CONVERTS NEW CRYPTO COLLECTORS
This past weekend, Adam Lindemann’s uptown enterprise, Venus Over Manhattan, opened “Snowfro: Chromie Squiggles,” the first exhibition of generative NFT works by Snowfro (aka Erick Calderon) and the first digital art show that the well-regarded and traditional art-world gallery has hosted. Not everyone was pleased.
“I texted one collector, ‘Hey, what do you think of this idea, it’s kind of interesting, right?’ And they texted me back that I was being pushy! I don’t usually hear that,” Lindemann confessed to Wet Paint. “One very influential art-world person said, ‘I’m not set up for that.’ I thought that was actually a clever way to put it.”
Lindemann set out to do the show with one goal in mind: sell 10 NFTs by Calderon to 10 collectors who had never bought a piece of digital art before. He succeeded. But not without some pushback.
“I’m not trying to tell someone that a Bored Ape is a piece of art. But a Squiggle is a form of art, and a collectible, and a digital animated computer file. It’s all these different things together, but the simplicity is what made me feel like this was a good place to start. They’re artful in their simplicity.”
So how did he get these things sold? A range of price points helped. On the low end, the Squiggles sell for 9 ETH, or around $27,000, which is pretty inexpensive compared to Bored Apes that sell for about $250,000, or CryptoPunks for about $200,000. But there’s a wide spectrum, with “rarer” squiggles like Hyper Bold raking in as much as $2 million. So there’s a low-risk margin if you want to just dip your toes into Web3, or you can go for the high end.
“Some [collectors] just thanked me,” Lindemann said. “They appreciated the fact that I was giving them access via this artist to something you couldn’t otherwise get. It was exciting and fun, which is what it’s supposed to be.”
At the opening last Saturday, there was a line around the block. Lindemann described it as Venus Over Manhattan’s “Yayoi Kusama opening,” a nod to the out-of-control lines that typically follow the artist’s highly Instagramable Infinity Rooms. The crowd veered far younger than a typical Venus Over Manhattan joint.
But before we get too excited, Lindemann still isn’t a full convert. “Most of these projects I personally find awful—I can’t even look at most NFTs. So I’m not really that different from the rest of the art world. But I do take a step in the direction of wanting to learn about it.”
Yet since the craze first began, he’s picked up NFTs by Urs Fischer, Tom Sachs, Lucien Smith, and is a participant in Damien Hirst’s “The Currency” project. (Did he ever think about selling? “Uh, yeah!”)
“I think this idea of NFTs and art was created by the auction houses to make money,” he said. “So I don’t really care much about that part of the dialogue. I’m not giving up my paintings or my sculptures for a computer screen on a wall. But it’s interesting to follow the NFT market and understand it.”
Christie’s has laid off its entire strategic partnerships team (does this mean no more Ruinart at auctions?) … Prankster artist Seth Fountain opened the Museum of Art, a guerrilla gallery space out of his SoHo apartment … Amid seemingly every New York gallery announcing an L.A. space, the beloved Dimes Square-based designer Bode has also joined in the cross-country dialogue, opening a location in Hollywood … Meanwhile, Shoot The Lobster has apparently signed a lease for a space in New York, and dealer Polina Berlin is set to open a new location on the Upper East Side … An artist was approached by Kanye West to create a papier mache bust of Pete Davidson’s head to be used (probably not flatteringly) at some sort of West event (the artist politely declined) … Skarstedt has named Martin Klosterfelde as senior director in London … Artist Louisa Gagliardi has formally signed with Eva Presenhuber …
*** Jerry Saltz showing up on the final day of the Whitney’s Jasper Johns survey, regaling attendees with facts and anecdotes about the art and the artist *** Katie Holmes strolling past the crowd at Fanelli Cafe *** Actor Max Greenfield at the opening of The Hole’s new location on La Brea *** Ebony Haynes sitting next to Wet Paint on our flight to Los Angeles for Frieze, where she may very well be reading over my shoulder as I type this, if so, hi Ebony! *** Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Chace Crawford and Sebastian Stan were grabbing a coffee at the beloved Go Get ‘Em Tiger *** Ottessa Moshfegh, Aria Dean, and Alix Vernet on the runway in New York’s fashion week for Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Eckhaus Latta, and Puppets and Puppets, respectively *** Heji Shin photographing Kendall Jenner against a painting by Josh Smith—and if that’s not a Mad Libs for our times, I’m not sure what is *** Hauser and Wirth’s royal director Princess Eugenie at the Super Bowl with her cousin, Prince Harry *** Kaitlin Phillips and Theta owner Jordan Barse butting heads on Twitter over whether Galerie Buchholz associate Nick Irvin is the voice behind the Sober Canal, a satire of the downtown rag the Drunken Canal ***
WET PAINT IN THE WILD
I’ve admired Sarah Hoover’s Instagram presence from afar long before I met her. To my delight, when I finally had the pleasure a few years ago to visit the surf shack-cum-sculpture that she and her husband Tom Sachs own in the Rockaways, I found her exactly as I’d imagined: full face of makeup, bright purple bikini, scrolling through emails while balancing two plates of pasta on either knee. The moment couldn’t have been more Hoover-esque. It was with true delight that I passed her my disposable camera for this week. Let’s see what she got up to…
WET PAINT QUESTIONNAIRE
I wish I’d known in advance what sleuths you all are! The outpouring of responses to last week’s question—what’s the best artwork inside someone’s apartment that you can see from the street?—has me thinking I ought to throw together a map of everything on Google Street View.
Writer Ben Sutton has a great one. “When I bike back to Brooklyn at night across the Manhattan Bridge, I’m often mesmerized by a glowing, shifting blue-purple-pink light orb installed very prominently in one of the upper-floor apartments of 1 John Street in DUMBO. No idea who it’s by or who it might belong to. I know Mr. Chow founder Michael Chow used to own a penthouse in that building, but I think this Turrellian artwork is on a slightly lower floor.”
Martin Aguilera, a sales director with Mendes Wood, chimed in about a living room ceiling painting by Otto Zitko in a West Village pad. Artist Ondine Viñao volunteered a very bizarre and terrifying hologram of a dinosaur in the window of a hotel on 35th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, while Blake Lyon pointed out a “wonderful Leidy Churchman (and Joe Bradley) painting in a Greenwich Village apartment window.”
My question this week is: which living artist has the best namecheck in a television show? Email your responses to [email protected].
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