Wet Paint: Emily Ratajkowski Actually Commissioned That Richard Prince Portrait She Said Was ‘Taken From Me,’ and More Art World Gossip
Which former SNL star was at California's newest cultural hub? Which artists are getting in on the World Series of Poker? Read on for answers.
Every week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by our crack team of reporters. This week, we welcome reporter Annie Armstrong to the mix… .
RATAJKOWSKI SAW IT COMING A MILE AWAY
Model and writer Emily Ratajkowski made headlines this spring when she jumped onto the NFT bandwagon and sold a work through Christie’s as a way to buy back her image. In fact, that was the title of her non-fungible token—Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution—which sold for $175,000 (with premium) at the auction house’s May contemporary art day sale.
In her announcement for the auction back in April, Ratajkowski framed the sale of the NFT—which is a picture of her in front of a Richard Prince work that reproduces one of her Instagram posts (whoa, there’s a lot going on there!)—as an attempt to take control of her likeness not only from Prince, but from all male artists who (lazily) use women as their inspiration.
Why should “pictures of unnamed muses sell for millions of dollars and build careers of traditionally male artists, while the subjects of these works receive nothing,” she wrote on Instagram.
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Her post pointed back to her viral (and truly excellent) story in the Cut from last September, in which she details how Prince—a “fancy artist worth a lot more money than I am”—appropriated several of her Instagram posts and sold them as his own works a half-decade ago.
Journalists covering Ratajkowski’s Christie’s sale generally followed her lead in assuming that the Prince work at hand was made without her knowledge or consent.
“As somebody who has built a career off of sharing my image, so many times—even though that’s my livelihood—it’s taken from me and then somebody else profits off of it,” she told the New York Times.
As our own headline had it: “Model Emily Ratajkowski Blasted Richard Prince for Stealing Her Image. Now, She’s Taking It Back—and Selling It as an NFT.”
As it turns out, that’s not the full story. Why? Because what Ratajkowski did not say, and which Wet Paint can exclusively reveal, is that she actually commissioned the Prince portrait in 2015.
First, let’s get our timeline down. In 2014, Ratajkowski and then-boyfriend Jeff Magid saw Prince’s “New Portraits” show at Gagosian in New York. The exhibition included a black-and-white portrait of Ratajkowski that was taken from her Instagram account and transformed (I use that word very generously) into a Prince “painting” (again, I’m being very generous, because these are not even painted portraits) that was on sale for $80,000.
“Everyone, especially my boyfriend, made me feel like I should be honored to have been included in the series,” she wrote in the Cut.
She says that Magid (whose name never actually appears in her story) convinced her to buy the work with him, going Dutch on the picture. But, alas, it had already been sold. “But,” she adds, “it turned out Prince had made another Instagram painting of me, and this one was still available.”
The reason he made it? Because she and Magid had asked for it.
According to an invoice issued by the Prince studio on March 17, 2016, Magid and Ratajkowski commissioned the work for $81,000 at a 10 percent discount from its original price of $90,000. “The payment terms have been agreed upon that half will come from Emily Ratajkowski and half from Jeff Magid,” the invoice says.
Contacted by Artnet News, the Prince studio confirmed the commission, and said that Ratajkowski, like other commission subjects, did not get to pick the Instagram image the artist used to make the work.
A publicist for Ratajkowski did not reply to Artnet News’s detailed requests for comment.
Now, first things first. The Prince works are creepy, and Ratajkowski wasn’t the first one to notice. In 2019, Zoë Ligon, a Detroit-based sex worker who was also the subject of works in the same Prince series, told Artnet News that the pictures “resembles revenge porn and harassment more than anything else.” And in 2015, Selena Mooney, the founder of Suicide Girls, protested Prince’s works by recreating them and selling them for $90 each to benefit a digital rights’ group.
“The digital terrain should be a place where women can share their likeness as they choose, controlling the usage of their image and receiving whatever potential capital attached,” Ratajkowski wrote in the announcement for her NFT. True, but are NFTs really the solution? Ratajkowski—who cannot be hurting for cash—sold her image through Christie’s for $175,000, which is a far cry from what Beeple got for his outlandish (and offensive!) $69 million NFT. Compare the prices and you get proof of what we knew all along: NFTs are a rich man’s playground.
THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
The dialogue between the New York and Los Angeles art scenes is intensifying, as three of the biggest names on the West Coast are planning to open spaces in New York. We all know about David Kordansky‘s planned Big Apple splash. Now, Nicodim and Nino Mier are also in on the mix, and are in different stages of minting new galleries in the City That Never Sleeps.
First up, Nicodim—an L.A. stronghold since 2009 with another space out in Bucharest—will open on Lispenard and Canal in Tribeca at a 3,500-square-foot space this October with a solo show by Simphiwe Ndzube. “When I defected from Romania in 1983, New York was my first home in the States,” said the gallery’s founder, Mihai Nicodim. “I had no money, but the galleries were free to attend. I saw Kippenberger, Basquiat, and felt all the energy around them. It was infectious! Walking around Tribeca and SoHo during Frieze New York this year, I felt this same energy once again.”
“I’m a bit nervous to come out to my parents as bi-coastal, but our artists have been so excited and supportive, it’s difficult not to get swept up in it,” said Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, the gallery’s global director.
A bit more distantly, Mier, who has four spaces (Los Angeles, Brussels, Cologne, and Marfa) is hoping to open in Chelsea about two years from now. “At this point it is most definitely not the first thing on my mind, as I am focused on the birth of our first child,” Mier said. (Mazel tov, Nino!) “But I can confirm it is something that I am looking into. If all the pieces fall into place for such an expansion to be as seamless as the Brussels expansion was, I think there is a chance down the line. The right space, the right neighborhood, the right leader, and the right energy are all factors in this decision.”
Kordansky, who has yet to comment on his New York ambitions, once again declined any details to Wet Paint.
And the cross dialogue is coming from both directions, indicating that many dealers consider a bicoastal presence to be essential for business. On the heels of Brooklyn’s Clearing gallery opening this past winter in Beverly Hills, East Village gallery Karma is planning to open within the next year in West Hollywood.
“It’s exciting! It’s a great city with great museums, great artists, and great collectors,” said Brendan Dugan, the gallery’s founder. “It seems like a right fit, especially with all of these other galleries moving to Los Angeles.”
This all comes together while the art world has been rumbling for months now about the imminent opening of David Zwirner’s Hollywood space. Word on the street has it that Zwirner has been looking to hire staff from the blue-chippers already stationed in Los Angeles, including Blum & Poe, Gagosian, and Kordansky.
Writer Jeremy O. Harris recently added a work by Carrie Mae Weems to his collection … Molly Shannon and her artist husband Fritz Chesnut were seen getting their crystal auras read at the new arts center Compound in Long Beach, California … Rapper Ja Rule has been buying up works by Nicole Nadeau … Comedian Eric Andre was spotted wandering around Felix Art Fair’s V.I.P. opening, but remarked that he likely wouldn’t buy anything, before turning around to high-five someone he called “Mr. 305!” (it was not Pitbull) …
Actor Jesse Williams, on the other hand, did buy at Felix, scooping up two works from Nicodim’s booth, one by Mosie Romney and another by Simphiwe Ndzube … Meanwhile, upstairs, Jonas Wood, Mark Grotjahn, Adam Alessi, Grant Levy Lucero were all playing poker at the World Series of Art Poker alongside professionals like Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey (unfortunately, Leo DiCaprio, who is known to be a poker buddy of Wood’s, was nowhere in sight) … Caroline Polachek was at a party thrown by Matthew Brown and Clearing alongside her artist boyfriend Matt Copson …
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