Eddie Murphy Outs Himself as the Owner of Ernie Barnes’s ‘Sugar Shack,’ Why the Whitney Is the Worst Party Venue Ever, and More Juicy Art World Gossip

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A TALE OF TWO

A riddle for my readers: if a scintillating Wet Paint scoop got mainstream airtime on one of late night’s most-watched television shows but no one from the art world was there to watch it, did it really happen? 

The answer? It sure as hell did. That’s right: It was on an episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” that Eddie Murphy dropped some premium-quality intel on Ernie Barnes’s famous painting Sugar Shack, which I’m sure you’ll recall sold for a whopping $15.3 million at Christie’s to energy scion Bill Perkins last year. 

“You have that painting, the one from the beginning of ‘Good Times,’ right?” asked Jimmy Kimmel, budding investigative art-market journalist. Murphy nodded. “You still have it?” Kimmel asked. “I thought you sold it?” This, of course, implied that maybe Murphy was the consignor to Christie’s, and not Los Angeles art collector Jim Epstein, as my colleague Katya Kazakina revealed

But no, Murphy has held on to his version of Sugar Shack, and he averred that the piece sold at Christie’s was actually an identical second edition of his original painting. “It was $16 million for the duplicate,” before adding with a grin, “But I have the real one.”

Okay, mic drop. Not only is it news that the five-minute bidding war with 22 prospective buyers was over of Sugar Shack, but that in fact it is comedy legend Eddie Murphy who (quite smugly) owns the original. Murphy went on to say that he paid around $50,000 for the painting straight from the estate of Marvin Gayewhich makes sense when you remember the lively tableau also served as the cover art for his 1976 album I Want You

I went to Christie’s with this information, and inquired why it wasn’t made known that there were two Sugar Shacks in circulation. The house confirmed that it is indeed in the auction catalog, albeit a bit confusingly stated. Midway through the essay, the painting is referred to as Sugar Shack II, and then refers to a “sister painting” that was featured on Gaye’s cover art and displayed in the intro sequence of “Good Times.” I also reached out to Perkins to make sure he was aware that his piece was a duplicate version, and he gave me the full scoop via text: “Barnes painted two that’s well known one for Marvin Gaye and then painted another one after Marvin freaked out and wanted the painting. A reproduction implies fake. It’s not fake.” 

Regardless, as Barnes’s market continues to be red hot, it’s perhaps good to know that there are indeed two of his most famous paintings out there in the world. I even heard the rumor that at least one of them will on view in Los Angeles during Frieze. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the original, and maybe it’ll be on offer. (For what it’s worth, Murphy was recently joking to the press about how expensive his daughter’s wedding was.) Or not! Happy hunting! 

IS THERE ANY FUN TO BE HAD IN CHELSEA ANYMORE? 

The Whitney Art Party. Photo by Annie Armstrong.

This week at the annual Whitney Art Party, I could not help but notice that much if not all of the small talk among the artists, scenesters, and micro-celebrities at the party revolved around one topic: is the Whitney Museum of American Art the worst possible venue to throw a party? 

Since the Whitney moved from what is now known as the Met Breuer to its newfangled building in the Meatpacking District in 2016, people chatter about how different it is to view the museum’s programming in the new space. A common refrain is that the ambitious architecture of the new Whitney often outshines the art on view. It’s often said that more muted shows—like, say, the current exhibition of Edward Hopperis dwarfed by the grandiose interiors and flooding sunlight. 

What’s more of a concern to the likes of me is that the new space—particularly the airport-like lobby—can not support a party to save its life. It just doesn’t work, ergonomically.

“This party sucks,” said one prominent artist whose name I can’t reveal, but has had work shown at the Whitney within the last three years. “I feel like art parties used to be fun like five years ago, but now it’s never that fun. Like, I’d never advise someone come to this party.” 

Another artist standing nearby corroborated this assertion. “The only person who seems to be having fun here is Scott Rothkopf, and he’s just over by the DJ booth recording it on his phone,” they said. 

Here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault but the building’s. The evening had everything going for it: Rachel Rossin, an artist whom I factually know to be very fun, was hosting it, and other exciting people like Katerina Tannnenbaum, Kimberly Drew, Chloe and Brooke Wise, Josh Citarella, and Aria Dean were floating around wearing bespoke temporary tattoos by Rossin and sipping tequila. Questlove was DJing and that guy generally knows what he’s doing. We had free reign of the museum, and I saw more than a few people sneak in some rather choice party favors to get the ball rolling. 

Still though. This dog just would not hunt. 

Within an hour of my arrival, two people I was excited to talk to left because they were “over it” by 10 p.m. “Are you having fun yet?” was a common refrain heard throughout the evening. Mostly, people were complaining that the bar was too hard to get to, and its central location made it difficult to squeeze past to get to the dance floor, which, left unattended, did kind of have a bar mitzvah feel to it. 

“Isn’t it weird that there’s only one bar on the main floor, and the other one is in the elevator, but you’re not even allowed to bring drinks into the galleries?” one employee of a competing museum whispered to me. The galleries are strictly surveilled too: a friend of mine nearly had her arm cut off when she took her Juul out of her purse while looking for her phone. As the evening puttered forward, people were wondering where the next location ought to be. See, if the Whitney were still uptown, I hear the old parties used to close out at Bemelmans, which sounds fantastic. Now that we don’t even have the Rusty Knot, nor the recently converted Jane Hotel to cap off the evening, I’m not convinced there’s much of a beating heart left in the neighborhood. 

So we beat on, calling a string of Ubers, borne back ceaselessly into the Square of Dimes.

 

WE HEAR 

 

 

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Jonas Wood’s very popular show of prints up at Gagosian opened the same week that it was reported the artist closed on a $10.3 million mansion in Los Angeles where both Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol previously hung their hats—what a coincidence!… A documentary spanning 25 years of Lonnie Holley’s life is set for release on February 10th… The High Museum of Art has bestowed Ebony G. Patterson the 2023 David C. Driskell PrizeJerry Saltz’s tweet asking artists whether they’d prefer to spend one hour having sex or making art has gotten appropriately roasted by working artists, for most of whom the answer is quite obvious… Greene Naftali has picked up representation of sculptor Brandon Ndife… The snooty members-only club Casa Cruz, a hotspot for gallery dinners, was temporarily shut down for operating without a license… 

SPOTTED

Mary Boone, Walter Robinson, Leo Koenig, Per Skarstedt, Barbara Gladstone, Nicole Berry, and Yvonne Force-Villareal at the opening of Nino Mier’s New York location, a selection of paintings by Jana Schröder, which I hear sold out on the first night *** Karen ElsonTracy Anderson, and Candace Bushnell were among my favorite people I spotted at the Whitney‘s annual Art Party *** Zac Bahaj, Rachel Rabbit White, Lolita Cros, Lauren Servideo, and Gabriel Florenz at Bacaro to celebrate a brand new list of cool New Yorkers (thank god there’s another one of those!) by Newco Studio Practice *** Isolde Brielmaier, JiaJia FeiAntwaun Sargent, and Everette Taylor at Hannah Traore‘s birthday party in Fort Greene *** Theaster Gates and Thelma Golden holding court at the Odeon, while Morgan Aguiar-Lucander hobnobbed over at the bar *** Speaking of the Odeon, did you know that you can check your painting at the door? I didn’t, so I followed a host into the employees-only room where he showed me an Arnold Brooks painting that someone entrusted him with ***

WET PAINT QUESTIONNAIRE 

Last week, I asked what artworks in New York City museums are the most overrated. I made my stance known by labeling both Gerhard Richter and Raymond Pettibon overrated museum-grade artists, which angered many and delighted many more. Monsieur Zohore wrote in the “Dieter Roth shit bunny at MoMA,” Emma Bowen, director at Kasmin Gallery, suggested Alex Da Corte‘s stunt commission from the Met‘s roof from 2021, writer Alina Cohen condemned any museum that would spend money on a piece by Dan Colen, and artist James Cherry chimed in to add that Robert Delaunay‘s work is “so ugly, even for it’s time,” and that MoMA “has a really bad one.” I’m glad you all got to air your grievances!

My question for next week: Who is the most stylish museum director? Email your responses to [email protected]

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