Wet Paint: West Coast Power Broker David Kordansky Expands to New York, Cryptopunks Buyers Revealed, & More Art-World Gossip

What consignor saw their Jonas Wood increase in value by 14,000 percent? What fair has a new Asia edition to reveal next week? Read on for answers.

At left, the facade of David Kordansky Gallery in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mid-City; at right, Kordansky. (Both images courtesy Getty Images.)

Every week, Artnet News Pro brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected]

TINSELTOWN STAR GOES BICOASTAL

Nearly 20 years ago, a young art dealer named David Kordansky opened a small gallery in a building in Chinatown in Los Angeles. His fellow tenants were Daniel Hug (now the director of Art Cologne) and Joel Mesler (now a dealer and artist whose work sells for over $200,000 at auction.) Kordansky then expanded to a larger space in Culver City, then Mid-City, and then last year he unveiled an expansion by the architecture firm wHY that gives the gallery nearly 40,000 total square feet. He’s assembled a murderer’s row of artists, picking up market heavyweights such as Jonas Wood and Rashid Johnson and recontextualizing giants in the field such as Sam Gilliam and Fred Eversley. He also recently signed up-and-comers Lucy Bull and Derek Fordjour—as well as Mesler, his old roommate, whom he gave a show to this year, causing Mesler’s market to go supernova.

What’s more, last Sunday, the David Kordansky Gallery got a visit from none other than Michelle Obama, who has been quietly meeting with prominent dealers in L.A. and New York as she and her husband, Barack Obama, move to become major contemporary art collectors.

David Kordansky and Jonas Wood in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Kevin Tachman/amfAR2017/Getty Images for amfAR)

It’s clearly Kordansky’s moment, and the perfect time for an expansion. Sources tell Wet Paint that Kordansky has long been looking to expand to another city, and in recent months has set his sights on the Big Apple. No lease has been signed—but it’s close. Two weeks ago, the dealer toured more than two dozen potential white cubes while in town for a few days, and is currently choosing between neighborhoods.

But the process is far enough along that hiring has begun, and partners at the gallery have already started to interview candidates for the position of New York director. Another tipster sent Wet Paint the NYFA listing, which does not name DKG but instead refers to the space as “an established contemporary art gallery based on the West Coast” and explicitly lays out the role as “the senior staff member at the gallery’s New York location.” (The deadline is today—apply away!)

Kulapat Yantrasast. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for LACMA)

The search is being conducted alongside wHY, the forward-thinking design firm founded by Kulapat Yantrasast, which will eventually handle the design and build-out of the space. It’s a natural evolution of the partnership between Kordansky and Yantrasast, who together oversaw last year’s expansion of the gallery into a multi-building facility complete with terraces, outdoor corridors, and a sprawling sculpture park. Naturally, Yantrasast has been closely involved in looking for the new space in Manhattan—wHY has long had a full office in New York, and is currently involved in various projects in the city at the Met and the American Museum of Natural History.

One potential snag for the new location could be the fact that a good number of Kordansky’s artists already have New York representation, which would in theory prevent the City of Angels bigshot from showing many of his stalwarts in Gotham. But that also allows for new programming to emerge—and for a director to shape the identity of the gallery’s new branch in their own way.

Kordansky could not be reached for comment.

 

CHRISTIE’S GETS CRYPTOPUNKED

An algorithm-derived set of images made by Larva Labs. Photo courtesy Christie’s.

One of the more disconcerting moments of the otherwise rah-rah, the-boom-is-back sale of contemporary art at Christie’s Tuesday was the moment when the hammer went down on lot number 11. The work in that slot was 9 Cryptopunks: 2, 532, 58, 30, 635, 602, 768, 603 and 757 by something called Larva Labs, and it consisted of nine heads drawn by an algorithm coded by two programmers. The heads do not exist in the world as artworks, strictly speaking, but to the extent that they exist in a digital sense, they are in an edition of 10,000. When they were first released, they were given away for free on the blockchain.

And yet, the computer-made, relatively common pixelated heads are now worth almost $17 million—a bidding war on lot 11 ensured that the price skyrocketed past the high estimate of $9 million. (Larva Labs are no longer giving these things away it seems: founders Matt Hall and John Watkinson were the consignors, and thus made a few million each.) The next lot in the sale was Kerry James Marshall‘s moving, masterful portrait of Nat Turner, Nat-Shago (Thunder) (1991), and the market has decided that paintings is worth… four and a half cryptopunk head things. A round of applause for all you NFT cheerleaders, this is what you’ve wrought.

Noah Davis. Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Who exactly bought this surely soon-to-be-worthless group of digital bobbleheads? The winner was on the phone with Alex Marshall, who beat out the underbidder on the phone with Noah Davis, the newly crowned Christie’s head of digital sales—a slight improvement on the title mentioned in a recent New York magazine story: “Head of Cryptoart.”

(In the same story, the modest Mr. Davis—who was going to be profiled this month by your Wet Paint scribe until, for some reason, the Christie’s spox pulled the interview—compared himself with a straight face to Pandora, Faust, and, Michael Jordan.)

Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris. Photo courtesy Twitter.

As for who was on the phone with Marshall, sources pointed Wet Paint to the Twitter account of sports gambling sybil Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris, who was on a social media tear during the sale, posting the look-over-here eyes emoji when Christie’s announced that the set of pixelated noggins had sold for the equivalent of 32 Rolls-Royce Phantoms. Voulgaris—who also has the quixotic title of director of quantitative research and development for the Dallas Mavericks, having been personally offered the job by team owner Mark Cubansent out a tweet referring to Alex Marshall as “our guy Alex” in a response to high-roller poker player Jonathan Depa, who said, creepily, that the “Christie’s phone girls are something else.”

Other sources clarified that, while Voulgaris was the most vocal chest-thumper to brag about the sale, he’s simply the largest shareholder in a collective of investors who bought the work, paying (or, really, “paying”) using Ethereum coins. Voulgaris is said to have put up roughly half of the Ether needed for the purchase of Cryptopunks, while others put in as little as a few coins.

Larva Labs co-founders Matt Hall, at left, and John Watkinson.

And these guys aren’t acting like normal collectors. They’re more like gamers, adrenaline junkies addicted to the rush of collecting objects that will—maybe, hopefully—accrue value. As soon as he won Crytopunks at auction, Voulgaris began offering to trade shares of the alleged artwork for other assets. These assets could be other NFTs, or other collectibles such as basketball cards, or straight-up crypto. It’s telling that many of the investors are professional gamblers.

Then again, they might not be all that different from your classic speculating collectors. It turns out that the nine Larva Labs heads that sold for $17 million are actually some of the more common of the 10,000 heads that were minted by an algorithm—and that, insofar as anyone can appraise NFTs in the Wild West era, $17 million is a wildly inflated price to pay for semi-common Cryptopunk heads. Sources with deep knowledge of the world couldn’t help but speculate: What if both the bidder and the underbidder are in possession of some of these actual rare heads—rare heads that are even more valuable now that less-rare heads got headlines alongside a hefty price tag?

Christie’s did not return a request for comment. Voulgaris couldn’t be reached.

 

POP QUIZ

Good job readers! A good number of you knew what the clue last week was The Speller, Jonas Wood‘s marvelous painting of his friend Mark Grotjahn. Here are the first 10 to get it correct: Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte; collector and patron Scott LorinskyDan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley; Henri Neuendorf, contemporary art specialist at Artnet; the artist Edward HollandBrian Balfour-Oatts, director of Postwar and contemporary art at Archeus Post-ModernWilliam Leach, a former trusts, estates & valuations coordinator at Phillips; John McCord, a senior specialist at Phillips; Sarah Goulet, the owner of Sarah Goulet Communications; and Art Firm Adviser‘s Therese Lepine. Congrats to all the winners!

This week’s quiz is a little different. Who’s the artist that owns these spices from the late, great Dean & Deluca? And where exactly is this spice rack?

Winners will get eternal glory and a fresh, new, bright orange Wet Paint hat!

 

WE HEAR…

Jonas Wood, Two Tables with Floral Pattern (2013). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Alberto Chehebar was the consignor of the Jonas Wood that sold for a record $6.5 million at Christie’s Tuesday—Chehebar announced the installation in 2014 by Instagramming the work with the caption “The baby is finally home”—and that he sold the work after its value had increased by more than 14,000 percent, as when Chehebar bought it in fall 2013, prices for large Wood paintings were around $45,000 (as per Christie’s, the provenance notes that the work’s only owner bought it from Wood’s show at Shane Campbell Gallery in 2013) … The 2022 edition of Frieze Seoul—first broken to the Western World by critic Andrew Russeth after the local correspondent spotted a blurb in the city’s rad progressive rag Hankyoreh—will be officially announced next week, further pushing the seat of art-world power in Asia away from Hong KongMetro Pictures communications director Christine McMonagle has found a new job at Hauser & Wirth, newly the home to former Metro artists Cindy Sherman and Gary Simmons

Joel Mesler at work in his studio. Photo courtesy Levy Gorvy. Photo by Matthew Herrmann.

Joel Mesler scored a show at Levy Gorvy at the insistence of Brett Gorvy, who has long been a fan  … Lehmann Maupin is opening a pop-up gallery in Taipei, yet another sign that Hong Kong is not the place to be these days … Writer and man about town Arty Nelson is opening a gallery in L.A. called One Trick Pony—the space is on Fairfax Avenue, and the first show opens tomorrow with new work by Wes LangGagosian very secretly opened a Richard Prince show in the small gallery in the back of the bookstore on Madison Avenue—it’s the remaining works from his Desert X project in 2019 that weren’t stole, defaced, or destroyed … Henry Taylor will be having his first stateside show with Hauser & Wirth at the seasonal Southampton space, it opens July 1 …

Henry Taylor Untitled (2018). Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard.

 

SPOTTED

Two views of Bemelmans Bar. Photos by Nate Freeman.

*** A smattering of art dealers and advisers at Bemelmans Bar, the greatest gin joint this side of the Atlantic Ocean—it’s now gloriously reopened (but booked up through the start of June), and also there sipping martinis was former Sotheby’s press rep Darrell Rocha, who was seated with Politico scribe Tara Palmeri *** Lucien Smith filming a commercial for his new Adidas shoe that he designed, with cameos by Zac Bahaj, the owner of Lucien (the restaurant), critic Anthony Haden Guest, and yours truly *** The old guard has finally descended upon to Dr Clark’s: Marc Glimcher and wife Fairfax Dorn got dinner at the downtown hotspot Thursday during Frieze Week with Emmanuel Di Donna and his wife, Christina Di Donna, as a 40-person dinner of younger art worlders—including what might have been one or two of Di Donna’s and Glimcher’s former or current staffers—sat nearby ***

Azaelia Banks. Photo courtesy Instagram stories.

*** Azealia Banks at art-world red sauce joint Forlini’s *** A very secret mysterious shoot for a major global fashion brand happening over the weekend on the unassuming corner of Essex and Canal, stay tuned for more details *** Lisa Schiff, finally back at her Tribeca office, with a wonderful Kenneth Anger in the window to boot *** Tico Mugrabi, Colby Mugrabi, and PC Valmorbida at their usual perch at Atla on Lafayette Street *** François Ghebaly hosting a gallery opening dinner downstairs at Bacaro Friday ***

Klaus Biesenbach and Agnes Gund at Gund’s house in Connecticut. Photo courtesy Instagram.

*** Klaus Biesenbach at Aggie Gund’s house in Connecticut after spending the week walking the Winklevii through Frieze *** Artist Rachel Harrison and writer Eric Banks at Williamsburg bistro Le Crocodile *** Professional gadfly Derek Blasberg hosting the pre-sale festivities on the Christie’s livestream Tuesday, looking a bit dazed as he started off at the gigantic Urs Fischer sculpture and and noted, blankly, “I think I see a Louis Vuitton bag in there” *** Ryan McNamara hosting a late-night dance party at the East River Park bandshell *** Official guided tours taking downtown-curious tourists through Dimes Square, rolling right by Clandestino, sigh ***

“While not technically a square, the name comes from the local restaurant Dimes, on your left, and is a play on the more famous, but less cool, Times Square. In a recent column in the New York Times…” Photo courtesy the photographer and videographer Leia Jospé.

 

PARTING SHOT


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