Wet Paint: Ken Griffin Buys Barnett Newman Masterpiece, In-Demand Painter Opens Downtown Gallery, & More Art-World Gossip

What artist got a studio visit from Drake? What actress has a painting show at a gallery in the California desert? Read on to find out.

Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, testifying in front of a Senate committee. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, testifying in front of a Senate committee. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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]

 

THE WHALE, THE MEGA-DEALER, AND THE RAINMAKER

Whatever happened to Tobias Meyer? It’s been four years since the hall-of-fame rainmaker—dubbed “The Seller of the Century” in the English rags—made his last public appearance as advisor to the family of S.I. Newhouse, the former Condé Nast chief who died in 2017, leaving behind one of Gotham’s primo stashes of contemporary art. The collection brought in $216.3 million at Christie’s, and the $91 million Jeff Koons sculpture Rabbit made Koons the most expensive artist alive. Instead of any public appearances, there have just been whispers that Meyer, who once ruled the perch of the biggest evening sales on earth, has been quietly arranging nine-figure mega-deals from his cushy office on the 25th floor of the Seagram Building

Now, Wet Paint can reveal one such mega-watt deal that was organized by Meyer, alongside a very special mega-dealer partner: Iwan Wirth. Reliable sources confirm that Meyer and Wirth teamed up to put together a top-secret once-in-a-generation deal that landed the great Barnett Newman masterpiece Uriel (1955) in the collection of billionaire Ken Griffin

Auctioneer Tobias Meyer auctions off Robert Longo’s “Untitled (November 2)” and other art from Lehman Brothers’ collection. Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

No price was given, but sources said we can safely assume the work, which is currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, is pricier than the record-breaking Black Fire I (1961) that sold at Christies in 2014 for $84.2 million. Not only is it a gargantuan work—eight feet by 18 feet—it holds a haunting place in the Newman oeuvre: it was the only work he made during the period he referred to as his “blackest years” following his friend Jackson Pollock’s death in 1956, and a heart attack in 1957 that almost killed him. (In a long essay dedicated to the work in the Brooklyn Rail, artist Jim Long makes a convincing argument that Uriel is perhaps Newman’s masterpiece.)

Uriel installed in the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo courtesy Pinterest.

The seller who entrusted Meyer and Wirth with the responsibility of off-loading this masterpiece was Reinhard Onnasch, one of the first German dealers to open a gallery in New York. Wirth and Onnasch have been close since the early 1990s, and Hauser and Wirth staged an exhibition of work from the incredible collection at its New York space in February 2014. Uriel was included in the show, but the gallery said at the time that none of the work was for sale. The work was previously in the collection of Alan Power, the son of E.J. Power, perhaps the first serious contemporary collector in London

Robert Murray, Jonathan Holstein, and Newman in front of Uriel (1955) at the Front Street studio. Photo by Robert Murray.

The purchase brandishes Griffin’s well-earned reputation as one of the biggest whales in the collecting game. The founder of the hedge fund Citadel has in the past few years become the king of the nine-figure buy. In 2016, he snapped up two masterpieces from David GeffenWillem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) and Pollock’s Number 17A (1948)—to the tune of $500 million. Last year, he bought Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (1982) for $100 million, and placed it on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago. Other works in the collection include Jasper Johns’s False Start, bought from Geffen for $80 million 2006 but surely worth way more than that now, and Cézanne’s Curtain Jug and Fruit Bowl (1983) in 1999 for near $100 million when adjusted for inflation. 

For context, Griffin is worth $16 billion, and in 2019 bought the most expensive house in America for $238 million, and has yet to live in it.

As of now, the Newmanwork still resides in the Art Institute’s marble Modern Wing, though whether it will one day go to one of Griffin’s houses remains to be seen. 

Griffin’s rep at Citadel didn’t respond for comment, and Hauser and Wirth declined to comment. 

 

JAMIAN’S LOISAIDA SPACE

The interior of 55 Avenue C. Photo courtesy Cityfleet.

There’s a long history of artists opening galleries in the East Village. John Krushenick founded Brata Gallery at 86 East 10th Street in 1957 and gave Yayoi Kusama her first solo show. Starting in 1961, Claes Oldenburg sold his works out of a gallery he called the Store at 107 East 2nd Street. Meyer Vaisman founded International With Monument in 1984 at 111 East 7th Street, gave world-historical first solo shows to Jeff Koons and Peter Halley, and gave early support to Sarah Charlesworth, Richard Prince, and Laurie Simmons

Jamian Juliano-Villani. Photo courtesy Massimo De Carlo.

Jamian Juliano-Villani. Photo courtesy Massimo De Carlo.

Next in line with that grand tradition, the artist Jamian Juliano-Villani is opening an East Village space of her own. It’s called O’Flaherty’s, the name recalling a cozy Irish pub, and it will occupy a 2,000-square-foot ground floor space at 55 Avenue C. The gallery is opening in the fall, and will show artists such as Ashley Bickerton, Wendy Carlos, and the art collective Bobo. There’s also another show unmentionable in these pages that sounds totally incredible. It’s hard to overstate how wild of an addition O’Flaherty’s could be to the downtown gallery circuit. 

A work by Bobo. Photo courtesy Jamian Juliani-Villano.

Naturally, Juliano-Villani will continue to make work as one of the most gonzo-brilliant artists out there, reflecting the branded world back at us with anarchic glee. She currently has a solo show at the Kunsthall Stavanger in Germany, and it’s up through June 6. 

 

POP QUIZ

We made it a little easier, and then a few of you got it right. The answer to the Pop Quiz from two weeks ago was David Hockney’s sketched portrait of the great actor Sir Michael Caine, while sitting at the restaurant Langer’s, which Caine co-owned. The actor sold the work at Sotheby’s in London in 2018 for $1.1 million. 

Here are the four people to get it right: Charles Towning, a former associate specialist at Sotheby’s; Loreta Lamargese, associate director at Bortolami Gallery; Blake Koh, a director at Phillips Los Angeles; and Lock Kresler, senior director at Helly Nahmad London—and, incidentally, a guest on last week’s edition of Nota Bene, listen here!

Congrats to the winners. Hats will come. Here’s this week’s clue. Name the artist who made the work, and the artist depicted in the work. 

Send guesses to [email protected]. Winners will get hats and eternal glory.

 

WE HEAR

The new American Art Catalogues storefront. Photo courtesy American Art Catalogues.

American Art Catalogues has opened a bookstore and storefront space at 56 East 4th Street, the East Village bookstore scene might be the best in town … Chapter NY is moving from the Lower East Side to Tribeca—starting in September the gallery will be taking over the storefront at 60 Walker Street found for them by the king of Tribeca art-world real estate Jonathan Travis as the complete neighborhood takeover continues …Deli Gallery has decamped from Bushwick to Tribeca, taking over a space at 36 White Street that was, once again, found for them by Travis … Todd von Ammon, the former Team director and proprietor of the great Washington, D.C., gallery that bears his name, is opening a pop-up Catharine Czudej show at 24 Elizabeth Street, only up for the weekend, swing by … Alia Shawkat, star of the cult favorite streaming show Search Party, has a show of her painting up at Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Desert, California … Collecting couple Jason Budde and Patrick Moran have put their L.A. mansion on the market for $10.85 million …

105 North Rossmore Avenue. Photo courtesy Redfin.

 

SPOTTED

Jonas Wood and Drake. Photo courtesy Drake’s Instagram stories.

*** Drake hanging out at the studio of Jonas Wood, perhaps Champagne Papi be among the bidders when the artist’s Two Tables with Floral Pattern (2013) goes up at Christie’s next week with an estimate of $2 million to $3 million *** Director Eugene Kotlyarenko shooting a music video at Lucien for a new song by his wife, Sofie Fatouretchi, with some key downtown figures making cameos *** Akeem Smith collaborating with Kanye West on the memorial service for DMX held at Madison Square Garden *** A large number of artists, writers, dealers, gallery owners, actors, models, at a party at new Tribeca rooftop bar Happy Be celebrating a certain art world gossip column ***

 

PARTING SHOT


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