Francesco Bonami Faces Backlash Over Bizarre Video, Sneakerhead Flips Nikes for Record Price, & More Juicy Art World Gossip

What collectors were at Larry Gagosian's starry bash in Capri? Which billionaire bought a $23 million Christopher Wool? Read on for answers.

Francesco Bonami attends the opening of the New Contemporary Art Centre in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***
Francesco Bonami attends the opening of the New Contemporary Art Centre in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***

Every week, Artnet News 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]

 

COMMENTERATI SEZ ARRIVEDERCI TO CURATORIAL CONSIGLIERI

The curator Francesco Bonami is no stranger to controversial exhibitions, flagrant self-promotion, and ultra-randy speech—no one who attended Damien Hirst’s dinner for Dan Colen during Frieze London 2017 will ever forget Bonami’s fabulously anatomical 10-minute digression on the physical importance of Colen’s manhood. 

But The Bonamist found himself in extra hot water last week. An article in the Art Newspaper entitled “Why are top jobs in Chinese museums going to white men?” noted that, recently, a bunch of white men landed museum appointments in China (some of whom don’t even live there!). That list includes Bonami, who was recently named the director of By Art Matters, a new institution in Hangzhou, nearly two decades after he emerged as a star-making exhibition maestro by helming the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003.

In response, Bonami posted a video to Instagram and attempted one of his absurdist provocations, giving a (hopefully?) tongue-in-cheek explanation as to why he should not be described as a European male.

“For example in my case, I often, often, feel, inside myself, to be, sometimes, a 35-year-old Iranian lesbian,” Bonami said, straight-faced. “So they don’t know what I feel inside.”

The 10-story headquarters for the new institution By Art Matters in Hangzhou. Photo courtesy By Art Matters.

It wasn’t the only joke to get lost in translation. Bonami went on to question what the Art Newspaper story meant by calling himself, UCCA curator-at-large Peter Eleey, and Modern Art Museum Shanghai artistic director Shai Baitel “white”—perhaps, Bonami mused, it had something to do with the fact that they all had, to some degree, white hair?  

Many commenters did not see the irreverence.

“Seriously???” wrote Xiao Zong, a New York-based curator who just finished her masters at the School of Visual Arts. “Are you too arrogant to assume that Chinese people don’t know what ‘white’ means in contemporary context? Or are you too privileged to know what ‘white’ means yourself???”

The Victoria, Australia-based writer Jinghua Qian called Bonami an “imbecilic troll who you wouldn’t put in charge of directing rubbish disposal inside a xiaoqu (apartment building), let alone an art museum.” 

“Posting this on the same day that dozens of LGBTIQ WeChat accounts have been deleted, leaving young queers in China w/o vital info & support—for shame,” Jinghua said. 

Francesco Bonami at the 54th International Art Biennale at Fondazione Cini on June 1, 2011 in Venice, Italy. Photo courtesy Getty.

The most pointed response came in the form of a petition that was written by an anonymous member of the art word—and, Wet Paint can reveal, has been signed by a number of prominent gallerists and artists. It reads:

Are we to assume that [by] announcing his non-binary identity he is effectively resigning from his current job in Hangzhou, given that he could not hold such a senior public-facing role in China as a young Iranian lesbian woman[?] Of course not. He is a white cis male to the bone. For Mr Bonami, gender identity seems to be a disposable party hat with no trauma attached. He does not appear to care about the real-life experience of discrimination and homophobia suffered by many, nor that homosexuality in Iran is illegal and punished with imprisonment and even execution.

So far, there are nearly 50 signatories of the petition, including dealers Emma Astner, Chiara Repetto, Francesca Kaufmann, Carol Cohen; the curator Valeria Biondo; and the artist Paulina Olowska

To be fair, Bonami did have his defenders. The Italian television personality Costantino della Gherardesca said: “The Chinese people I know, from all walks of life, have absolutely no problem with your directorship of one of their thousands of museums.”

And Jerry Saltz at least kind of went to bat for Bonami, saying: “I ❤️ your decrepit unafraid giant-prostate mind.”

Asked about the blowback, Bonami held firm. He told Wet Paint (all sic):

As i said in my video be serious focus on serious issues but don’t take yourself too seriously . Plus in 2019 there where 5132 museums in China how 3 white male curators are taking the job of 5129 other people ? Finally since 2013 Hou Hanru born in China and a friend of mine is the artistic director of the most important public institution in Italy the MAXXI he has a position it could have been mine why i cannot a position in China and not in a public institution but a private one ? Regarding the 35 years old iranian lesbian who are those 50 people who signed the letter to tell me or anybody else how to feel . They are free to write what they feel as i am free to do the same since i am not offending anybody in working in china or somewhere else

When i did my venice biennial in 2003 i gave sections to an egyptian a slovenian a chinese a argentinian a french a mexican and utopia station god only knows how many other nationalities and genders so please these people should be first informed before embarking in a senseless letter or petition

 

SNEAKER FLIPPER AND SOTHEBY’S MAKE SAUCE OUTTA PIZZA SHOES

Nike Air Force 1 Hyperstrike Scarr’s Pizza. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Anyone who’s spent time in the hallowed district that is Dimes Square knows about Scarr’s, the beloved slice joint that slings some of the city’s greatest ‘za and blasts Dipset in a space meant to evoke the slightly shabby lamp-lit ’70s-style pie palaces.

It’s a neighborhood spot. And the vibes are so strong that, in 2019, Nike asked Scarr Pimentel, the shop’s owner, and Scarr’s employee Audie Villot to design a limited edition run of one of its most famous sneakers, the Air Force 1

While cooking up the design, Villot and Pimentel asked hip hop legend DJ Clark Kent to collaborate, and they dreamt up a sick colorway that’s washed in the Scarr’s hues and riddled with references to city iconography. They made just 48 pairs, and instead of having ridiculous influencers spread it all over the ‘gram, the team handed them out just to close family and friends, never expecting anyone would think of the shoes as much more than an ode to their go-to pizza place. 

Scarr’s. Photo courtesy YouTube.

But then, a never-worn pair ended up on the block at Sotheby’s during its Fine Watches & Rare Sneakers sale last week with a crazy-high estimate of $12,000—nearly double the price of any AF1 ever sold at auction. It didn’t sell for $12,000. It sold for $121,000, making the Scarr’s AF1s the fifth-most expensive sneakers ever sold at auction. 

How did these AF1s made by a DJ and two pizza parlor owners get to Sotheby’s in the first place? Wet Paint can reveal that the consignor was Paul Givelekian, a Stamford-based rare kicks dealer said to have one of the most complete collections of AF1s around. He first showed off two pairs of Scarr’s AF1s on Instagram in June 2020. Signed by Pimentel, Villot, and DJ Clark Kent, the two pairs, of the 48 total, were gifted to him personally.

At first, Givelekian didn’t say anything about selling. By August, his tone had shifted—he posted pictures of two other pairs of Scarr’s AF1s and said, “Please DM serious offers. 💰💰💰💰💰.” (“Geez,” DJ Clark Kent said in a comment.) By September, Givelekian had added two more pairs to his collection, one new and one worn. 

Scarr Pimentel with a customer. Photo courtesy YouTube.

Sotheby’s offered Givelekian a client base that couldn’t be drummed up by a single dude on Instagram. The consignment came about, Wet Paint understands, when Sotheby’s head of streetwear Brahm Wachter—who, incidentally, is the son of Sotheby’s chairman North America George Wachter and sister to Sotheby’s senior vice president Jackie Wachter—convinced Givelekian to sell the 11.5-size AF1s that he’d been gifted in mid-2020. Also involved was Puneet Singh, who also has a sneaker store in the King of Prussia Mall

And while the sneaker community was understandably psyched to see the world’s oldest auction house getting in on the grail game, some were a bit shocked when the Scarr’s kicks went for more than 10 times the high estimate. As the writer Russ Bengtson said in a comment on Givelekian’s chest-thumping post of the auction result, “Hahahahahaha. Happy for you but man all this is way too much.”

Sotheby’s said it would not comment on clients, Pimentel offered no comment, and Givelekian could not be reached.

 

POP QUIZ

Two weeks ago, we showed you a Pop Quiz clue, and that clue was Michael Heizer’s North South East West (1967–2002) at Dia Beacon, given to the Dia Art Foundation by the Lannan Foundation in 2003. The Lannan foundation has also been footing the bill for a big chunk of Heizer’s City, his masterpiece, since Patrick Lannan got smitten with the unrelenting artist in the early 1990s. 

Here are this week’s winners: Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte; collector and patron Scott Lorinsky; See/Saw founder Ellen Swieskowski; Artnet contemporary art specialist Henri Neuendorf; Artnet senior specialist Jason Rudnick; Gagosian Geneva director Cyprien David; and Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin

Also a shout out to Gagosian’s Adam Cohen, who correctly got the Cady Noland clue the previous week, but went unmentioned. Our fault, Adam, many apologies!  

Sadly, this is the last Pop Quiz from this proprietor. Because we’re leaving a bit abruptly and we don’t have the time to make new hats, unfortunately not every single winner will be getting a hat. This may be disappointing, but hey, perhaps the next Wet Paint scribe will make new hats! We’re going to be getting in touch with the people who have won the most quizzes, and send the remainder of the hats to them. So if you are a repeat winner, look for an email from us. 

And the final clue is: Name the artist who made this painting, the name of the painting, the subject of the painting, the owner of the painting, the place where the owner bought the painting, and the price paid for the painting. You need every element to win. 

Send guesses to [email protected]. Winners will get their names printed in the final Wet Paint column by its original scribe! 

 

WE HEAR…

The facade of Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. (Photo by Gotham/Getty Images)

Il Buco Alimentari got $2.8 million in pandemic aid through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, while many downtown restaurants applied to the fund and got absolutely nothing—Il Buco Alimentari is, of course, co-owned by David Zwirner, and his galleries bring in nearly $1 billion a year …. It was Steve Cohen who was on the phone with Larry Gagosian when the mega-dealer bought Christopher Wool’s If You (1992) for $23.7 million in 2014, as Cohen’s daughter Sophia posted an Instagram in front of the work at the family’s East Hampton home … A new documentary about the late artist Dash Snow will be released next month, in theaters and on demand …

Gisela McDaniel, Speaking Seeds (2020).

The Pérez Art Museum Miami acquired Gisela McDaniel’s Speaking Seeds (2020) from Pilar Corrias, prolonging a pandemic-era hot streak for both Corrias and McDaniel—others who bought from last year’s show include Mike Ovitz and the Samdani Art Foundation … A new gallery in L.A.’s Chinatown, Blossom Market, will stage an epic group show called “Return of the Dragons” devoted to the spate of galleries that sprouted there from the late ’90s to the mid-aughts, featuring artists such as Ry Rocklen, Henry Taylor, Jonas Wood, Mary Weatherford, and more … Richard Prince has the greatest book collection ever assembled, according to Harper’s proprietor Harper Levine—the ever-expanding bookseller turned dealer reveals that and much much more on this week’s episode of Nota Bene, listen hereAnthology Film Archives, the East Village film mecca founded by the late Jonas Mekas, is planning to reopen for the first time since March 2020 …. According to the artist Pentti Monkkonen, Matthew Marks has hanging in his bedroom Merlin Carpenter‘s painting The Opening: The Black Paintings: 8 (2007), a blank canvas onto which Carpenter painted—while at the opening of the show, quite famously—the words “DIE COLLECTOR SCUM” …

This sort of fancy cocktail stuff would be annoying most places, but at Bemelmans, it’s so sick. Photo by Nate Freeman.

Bemelmans Bar is now open for walk-ins for the first time since March 2020 (it was Resy-only for months and all the slots sold out in seconds, and god how wonderful it is to stroll in, as your scribe did the other night, knock back martinis and have various stop-and-chats while Earl Rose tickled the ivories in the background, greatest bar on planet earth) … YiXiao Ding, the shadowy Shanghai collector who splurged a mind-blowing $1.4 million on a painting by Emily Mae Smith at auction last month, also snapped up Salman Toor’s Visitation (2016) at Christie’s earlier in July, albeit for the slightly more modest sum of of $346,000 … Karma’s new East Village gallery, in the hallowed former Ideal Glass space at 22 E. 2nd Street, is now open, with a show of Lee Lozano’s works of paper … 

Lee Lozano No title [it won’t bite] (1962-63). Photo courtesy Karma.

SPOTTED

*** Larry Gagosian hosting a dinner for Jenny Saville at Casa Malaparte in Capri, with the whole crew in tow: collectors Bill and Maria Bell and Patrick Seguin; artists Alex Israel, Anna Weyant, and Miles Greenberg; Serpentine chief executive Bettina Korek; and the gallery’s rising star director Antwaun Sargent *** Travis Scott posing in front of a painting by Marc Horowitz *** Doug Aitken unveiling a new work in Venice as part of the Saint Laurent S/S menswear show *** James Nares unveiling new work for the Valentino Des Ateliers show, also in Venice *** Art advisor James Shaeffer opening his new space, GEMS, in a former jewelry store on Canal Street *** Lily-Rose Depp at 56 Henry for the opening of “Ladyfinger & Fig McFlurry,” a delicious group show featuring work by Karen Kilimnik, Jessica Craig-Martin, Cynthia Talmadge, and Tom Burr ***

Gladstone Gallery director, writer, all-star podcaster, and Regret Counter proprietor Alissa Bennett hanging with Quentin Tarantino at his house in L.A. *** Nan Goldin at the Midtown sports bar Legends cheering on England in the Euro final, even though “it” did not end up “coming home” *** Sam McKinniss at the opening of “Sarah Charlesworth and Luke O’Halloran”—a two-person show that pairs the up-and-coming O’Halloran with Charlesworth, the Pictures Generation great—at Winter Street Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard (full disclosure, Charlesworth was the mother of my fiancée, who helped put the show together, but it’s legit newsworthy!) *** Gavin Brown setting off a bonkers amount of fireworks by the banks of the Delaware River during a Fourth of July celebration at his Hancock restaurant Unclebrother, the Thai spot with a gallery space where a fabulous new group show curated by Danielle Cardoso-Shaeffer and Danny Baez opened the same day ***

 

PARTING SHOT


Follow Artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics