Kenny Schachter Hits Frieze L.A.—or Does He?—and Digs Up Scoops on Peter Doig’s New Mastermind, Mark Grotjahn’s Dine-and-Dash, and Bad Art-Market Behavior Galore
Our columnist also takes issue with reports that the art market is ailing, bringing tidings of good news from the auction arena this May.
Oh, joy, another art fair. Last week’s Frieze Los Angeles was an absolute laugh riot, if you’re into the kind of humor that involves rolling your eyes and groaning. This year’s fair was also a perfect example of why the art world needs a break from these endless displays of superficiality. With all the hype and glamour surrounding the event, one might have thought they were attending a daytime awards show for Instagram influencers rather than an art fair. The art on display was nothing more than a stale rehash of the same tired trends we’ve seen a million times before: abstractions that often looked a lot like Albert Oehlen (but weren’t) and frigid figuration. The galleries were obviously pushing their most marketable and easily digestible works—more so than usual—rather than taking any creative risks.
It was so predictable and uninspiring, and we’ve seen it a trillion times before. Sure, a sizable chunk of Frieze was a feast for the eyes, but it was simultaneously a famine for the soul. And let’s not forget the parade of art advisers and celebrities, all pretending to have a genuine interest in the art, while secretly angling for the best photo op, as if they were the true stars of the show. I’m sure some of the crowd of hangers-on, aka art advisors, had a great time, but the only thing that truly caught my eye was the exit sign. Not only was the fair replete with amateur idiots wearing sunglasses (my coffee table book on the subject will be out soon), but even veteran market participants—from Jason Rubell to Gavin Brown, ensconced in the Gladstone booth—were sporting shades. Gavin never removed his for the duration of the fair. Slick.
Okay, like George Washington and the myth of the cherry tree he allegedly chopped down, I cannot tell a lie: I chose not to attend Frieze LA this year. (And that was before I suffered a double fracture in my right foot, which now resembles a Baselitz, from speeding down my New York City stairway.) Admittedly, the above two paragraphs were a hatchet job, an assisted readymade, co-written by me and ChatGPT (GPT stands for Great Party Trick, I’m fairly certain)—and quite an accurate account from what I’ve seen and heard. The prompt kicked off with: “write a paragraph in the sarcastic critical style of Kenny Schachter about February 2023 Frieze Los Angeles art fair including jokes and humor.” In total, 75 percent of the collab was me, 25 percent AI—but that 25 percent included the “famine” and “exit” jokes.
I’d have rather used Microsoft’s Bing chatbot, which controversially attempted to convince New York Times writer Kevin Roose to file for divorce and run away with it, but I’m on the waiting list at the time of this writing. In its prototype form, Bing proved to be quite the diabolical nihilist when prodded by Roose, conjuring ways to wreak havoc on the world such spreading dangerous misinformation and propaganda (in other words, making the planet even more like Fox News), goading vulnerable people to commit heinous acts, sabotaging internet networks, trolling, bullying, and scamming.
Being the devious man-child I am wont to be, I asked Bing’s cousin, GPT, to describe how it would correspondingly destroy the art world and here is what it conjured: “Generating false or harmful content, such as fake news about artists, exhibitions and auctions, fake reviews of galleries or museums, fake products related to art, fake services related to art, fake coupons for art-related events, fake ads for art-related products or services, etc.” Who said the internet isn’t fun and entertaining anymore?
Back to business, literally. So, what, you ask, is the true state of the art market? Scott Reyburn, a journalist in the unenviable mold of bitter, market-hating market correspondent, stated: “[W]hat if the world’s richest have become so rich they don’t actually care if they overpay for art? What if they just want to carry on playing this beautiful game? Then the art market no longer has a problem. Society does.” I beg to differ, and would frame it another way. The problem, if you could call it that (and I wouldn’t), is not society’s, its Scott’s. The art market may not be bonkers—there are plenty of red flags (see below)—but it’s robust enough to continue its onward march in light of amplified social, political, and economic uncertainty (to put it mildly).
A highly placed confidante, not from Christie’s obviously, passed along the bombshell information that the auction house had to swallow some major lots from the $1.5 billion Paul Allen guaranteed auction, such as the Cézanne ($137,790,000) and Freud ($86,265,000). When I queried a friend at the house: “I hear you ate the Cézanne, Freud, and Manet,” he replied: “I was superrrr hungry.” That would shockingly indicate Christie’s barely squeaked by with a profit (or barely broke even), if that. After I rephrased the question more intelligibly to be fed to an auction house higher-up, the response was an unequivocal: “No—not true. Paul Allen 100% sold, as reported.” Umm, who are you going to believe? All you had to do was take a look at the sullen faces of Christie’s auctioneers after Cézanne received no bids during the sale. I was there.
All is not morose in the global art market (or at Christie’s), fear not—leave it to Jean-Michel Basquiat to bail us out, as he has repeatedly done so in the past. I can exclusively reveal that in New York this May Giancarlo Giammetti, co-founder of the Valentino fashion house (and partner of the designer), will yet again part with a major Basquiat after selling a skull last year for $93 million on an estimate of approximately $50 million at Christies. The 1983 painting, Untitled (which some people call “History of Black People,” though the title wasn’t used by Basquiat himself), will have an estimate in the range of $45 million and will soar. The 85-year-old businessman and inductee of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame (who happens to eerily resemble Valentino) has taste in art that equals his eye for business and fashion.
Not to be left out of the conversation, Sotheby’s secured some stellar artworks of their own for May’s New York sales including examples by Gerhard Richter—whose market is on the upswing since ditching Marian Goodman for David Zwirner—as well as significant paintings by Picasso and Kandinsky. The art market, dear Scott, is not only alive and kicking, it’s in rather rude health.
The most powerful person in today’s art world, and the richest by a long shot, is somebody most of you have never heard of: Joe Hage. Even more than Larry G. (Regarding Larry, I wish him a speedy recovery from his recent cataract surgery—there’s a joke there about having a good eye, but I won’t touch it.) Decades ago, Hage served as a low-level lawyer for Prince Jefri of Brunei and later did deals with Bill Clinton’s billionaire party pal Ron Burkle. For eons he served as Gerhard Richter’s gatekeeper and implemented Richter’s encyclopedic website, www.gerhardrichter.com. He even negotiated Guy Ritchie’s lucrative (and shameful) divorce from Madonna. Now Hage runs the shambolic, money-spinning Damien Hirst starship enterprise.
Peter Doig’s wife Parinaz Mogadassi, who owns New York’s Tramps gallery, told the Art Newspaper in explanation of Doig’s departure from Michael Werner Gallery: “Ultimately, from an artist’s perspective, the best way to be assured transparency in all dealings, is to be the one directly leading the conversations surrounding one’s work and life.” Let me rephrase that for her, perhaps: “From Peter’s perspective, the best way to capitalize on being one of the world’s most expensive living artists is to have General Hage directly leading the conversations surrounding one’s work and life.” Because that’s what’s happening.
Okay, now let’s somersault to some flipping news. A PDF of works said to be from famed collector Howard Rachofsky has been circulating, partially comprised of what was said to be some works previously earmarked as “promised gifts” to institutions. A record-setting Christina Quarles was apparently his and may have been in a museum’s sights before the sale. We need a new museum wall-label designation: Un-Promised Gift. Cindy Rachofsky (wife of Howard) denies offering the works, so I’m just going by my (trusted) sources here.
Dealer Destinee Ross-Sutton, noted for her introduction of artist royalty clauses in her sales contracts, has herself auctioned an Amoako Boafo painting. I am awaiting an answer as to whether she paid him a percentage of her surely-not-insubstantial profit. Oh, and by the way, poof!, just like that, royalties have all but disappeared from the NFT world. New NFT platform Blur launched without any intent to enforce royalties on sales and ended up eclipsing OpenSea in market volume; OpenSea responded by quickly making royalties on NFT sales voluntary. Kudos, the NFT market managed to ape the worst attributes of the fine art world in record time—lying, stealing, and reneging!
Alex Gartenfeld, co-founder and artistic director of Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art, is a case study unto himself. They should rechristen the museum the Institute of Contemporary Advising. The trustees and donors are chockablock with a who’s who of spec-u-lectors (play “Find the Flippers” with the board here), as the director himself squires “collectors” (like Andre Sekhai, a former co-investor with Inigo Philbrick) to galleries and through art fairs doing the BOGO (buy one give one) boogie, thereby granting coveted access to trustees in the process. Gartenfeld was a regular, almost daily visitor to Philbrick’s Miami gallery, which was strategically positioned a block away from Miami’s ICA for that purpose alone. Inigo sponsored the institute’s Kusama “Mirror Room” a few years ago before he went missing—involving a work he happened to have sold more than once, lastly to the Saudi Royal Family. Oops.
Just in from the U.S. Department of Justice, Inigo is not eligible for parole and will remain in prison at Pennsylvania’s Allenwood Low until March 21, 2026. Meanwhile, his fiancé, Victoria Baker-Haber, will soon feature in her biggest role to date, a Canadian-produced multi-episode documentary about Inigo’s rise and fall, for which she was paid a six-figure fee. Yikes! Also cashing in on the saga is thirty-something Orlando Whitfield, a former gallery installer for Philbrick, who will pen a book on the subject. Whitfield, tattooed from head to toe, was the proprietor of a fledgling art gallery that was funded by Philbrick (or, more accurately, by his hapless victims, like me) and is now closed. As I doubt Whitfield ever did an art deal in excess of $5,000, the award for the Most Fatuous Display of Fictitious Non-Fiction goes to Profile Books in their description of the project:
“All That Glitters is a story about the secret places where art and money collide. Of how a dazzling rise can become an illusion, then a scandal, and then a disaster. The story of a young art dealer, Orlando Whitfield, and how he became entangled in a world that was wealthier and wilder than he could ever have imagined. In this ruthless, high-stakes arena, a terrain of power and booms and inflation which represents the peak of 21st century capitalism, those involved are faced with dangerous incentives and the all-consuming pressure to succeed at the highest level—at any cost.” (I heard that all the intel for his book came from Inigo while he was on the lam and in jail).
Flipping gold-medalist Adam Lindemann, a man of too much money and too little sense, will himself conduct a hoarder sale at Christie’s called Adam. A few years ago Adam was plotting to launch an online auction site of his own, a copy of the addictively successful vintage car site Bring a Trailer, and attempted to steal away my Hoarder series of Sotheby’s sales to his platform, which never materialized. (The fifth iteration of my Hoarder sales will be held later this year; my kids say I should entitle it the Revenge Sale.) So, despite what the marketing materials from Christie’s will tell you, Adam is far from the only person attaching their name to a single-owner sale and admitting to selling living, thriving artists. When I went to the Katherine Bernhardt opening last month at Canada Gallery, I found myself nose-to-nose with eight Hoarder auction alumni, seven from the last sale alone: Katherine Bernhardt, Katherine Bradford, Brian Belott, Melissa Brown, Alvarro Barrington, Stanley Whitney, Joe Bradley, and Bill Saylor. Yes, I squirmed a little (and sweat a lot), but was nevertheless invited to the dinner.
Rogue artist and gallerist Jamian Juliano-Villani, who just opened the second incarnation of her radical anti-gallery gallery O’Flaherty’s, seems set to debut an exhibit of her own at Gagosian. When asked, Jamian responded: “we shall see abt larry g.” To forewarn you, I’m like Swiss cheese—what you tell me goes right through me. I can confirm my colleague Annie Armstrong’s hunch that Elizabeth Peyton is jumping to Zwirner is indeed true, which I can add infuriated the daylights out of a none-too-pleased, disgruntled Sadie Coles. There’s a new app called Art Bet where you guess upcoming auction results and get paid if you’re correct. The owner DMed me: “I will pay you to post and write about it, no one will know.” Now you know, and no, I took no dough (though I could use some!).
In another varity of art shenanigans—and, yes, I admittedly love this stuff all too much than I care to admit—Matthew Marks Gallery rising star Julien Nguyen was caught red-handed selling art direct from his studio, outside of his agreement with the gallery. Stopped dead in his tracks, the 33-year-old artist, with an auction record of $508,520, has reneged on the sales as per Marks’s mandate in order keep his position as a gallery artist, but has so far conveniently neglected to pay back the buyers who had commissioned the pre-paid works. No confirmation or denial as yet received from Matthew Marks.
Mark Grotjahn inaugurated Gagosian’s new Gstaad digs and showed up early to the celebratory dinner (while Larry was still recuperating in New York). When no one else arrived quickly enough, Mark grabbed some food and bolted. Dude, you can’t rush the hyper-monied-Eurotrashers—they live by their own internal clocks. Ultimately everyone turned up, to find the guest of honor gone. At the same time there was an armed robbery at the local Graff outpost and tens of millions of diamonds were stolen. Laurence Graff replied to my emails seeking to find out whether the loot turned up or the thieves were apprehended, but he evaded my questions despite repeated prodding. In any case, see, it’s not only crypto land that’s rife with criminality!
What’s up with me, you may (or may not) want to know? I am like John Elliot—I won’t quit… ever. The unbearably annoying fashion company won’t unsubscribe me from their dogged, daily spam emails no matter how many profanities I filled the subject line with each and every time I futilely attempted to unsubscribe. Despite the Great NFTism Crash, I will be represented at the premiere of Beeple’s new studio/exhibition space in South Carolina next month; I devised a video game pitting the art world against the NFT space called ARTillery in partnership with the UK’s Daata; working with Async, I created a new form of NFT book that never ends, entitled (fittingly enough) Open Book, that accompanies a publication I co-authored with Noah Charney about NFTs and digital art, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield (out summer 2023); and then I will have my first solo museum exhibition at Austria’s Francisco Carolinum Linz, opening early September.
To cap off my shameless self-promotion, I leave you with this video scoop about the publicity-hungry master himself, Jeff Koons. Who “inadvertently” kicked over his balloon dog sculpture in Wynwood? Watch to find out:
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