THE ART WORLD’S PATRON SATAN, REDEEMED?
It seems that most people who flew from New York to the City of Angels this week for Frieze watched on the plane. The documentary, made by the producers of , purports to capture “a diverse group of compelling young artists on the brink of unimaginable success or failure as they challenge systems, break barriers, and risk it all with the goal of making it in an industry where all the rules are currently being rewritten.”
Like most of these movies about the art world, it chooses its heroes and villains with biases so overt it’d give Werner Herzog a run for his money. This time around, the heroes were SPRING/BREAK co-founders Ambre and Andrew Gori, Jerry Gogosian memester Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, artists Jenna Gribbon, Charles Gaines, and Chris Watts, and *checks notes* Anton Kern. The villains were, naturally, my colleague Kenny Schachter, mega-galleries at large, and the most obvious art world villain of them all, Stefan Simchowitz, who, if you’ll recall, was infamously dubbed the “art world’s patron satan” by T in 2014.
The film opens with our beloved Simco stepping into the Felix Art Fair in 2019. Filmed with a forced perspective akin to the attack sequence in , the art world’s patron satan approaches all of the mid-tier gallerists and takes their photo. (“How do I look?” asks Ellie Rines in a widely circulated screengrab. “Beautiful as always,” he responds.)
I couldn’t help but think about that scene when I saw Simco at Felix this year, still toting his camera, still turning heads. While he may have had a villainous aura a few years ago, word on the street is that in the year 2023 he’s regarded as more of an antihero elder statesman than the snake-in-the-grass of yore
Indeed, just a few months ago, I was reporting a story that referenced one of the scurrilous tales from the profile that gave him his nickname. An exceedingly vexed Simchowitz called me nearly out of breathe, confessing to how exasperated he is of having the reputation that he does, and defending his very genuine love of art by finding unique ways to support struggling artists’s practices. The shake in his voice and the litany of examples he gave inclined me to at least give him the benefit of the doubt, to think that maybe he had changed his ways.
One prominent art advisor confirmed my suspicion, telling me that Simchowitz’s fangs have been filed over the past few years, saying, “Oh, I mean he’s kind of harmless now. Would I do business with him? Probably not. But I don’t think he’s a bad guy.”
Over at A Hug From The Art World’s buzzed-about booth with Jeffrey Dalessandro’s action figures of art world luminaries, Adam Cohen joked that many of the dolls were bought by the people they portray, but said that others “may end up being used as voodoo dolls.” Simco was, of course, a subject in his signature tan rawhide hat, and I wondered aloud if his might be one that people would want to subject to some black magic. But, no, Cohen confirmed to me that the doll was actually a gift to Simchowitz from years ago from Dalessandro, and Cohen was quick to jump on the Simco defense train. “Who’s more honest than Stefan? And he’s not really bad, especially when you get him to not take himself so seriously.” In fact, Cohen is showing two of the artists Simco represents at his space in New York this spring: Brandon Deener and Shana McCoy.
One collector, who the day before had bragged to me about flipping a painting by a young painter of surrealist abstraction for a 6,328 percent uptick, told me, “He’s a complicated guy. He’s not a straightforward flipper—he believes in buying art to allow [struggling artists] to continue making art.” From a car on his way over to Frieze‘s VIP opening, the collector added, “He does still buy a lot of art, but less than he used to like he did with Amoako Boafo or a lot of other artists. I don’t think he’s doing as much of that now. Some people think he’s doing God’s work, others think he’s the devil in disguise. I’m not going to pass judgement.”
All of this is well and good until you talk to an unrepresented artist who has recently sold work to Simco. And that I did. Under a request of anonymity, a painter who sold directly to him in the past few months told Wet Paint, “I feel good about selling to him because it was only one painting. It was a pretty professional interaction and his gallery director called me to learn more about myself which was really pleasant.” (It is unusual that Simco buys only one piece, as he’s been known to buy out the entire stock from an artist’s studio and either pump it directly into the auction circuit—a particularly blunt form of flipping—or rent it out through his eponymous company.)
This artist elaborated, “I still wouldn’t feel comfortable to sell too much work to him, but it was a pleasant experience. I did feel a bit like a drop in the bucket when I heard he has another company where he rents out work from his collection. But he seemed to have a genuine interest in my work and still does, which I appreciate, regardless of his intentions.”
KANYE WEST RETURNS, UNINVITED, TO THE ART PARTY CIRCUIT
On the topic of personae non gratae, there was a very unexpected celebrity spotting at an art world party during Los Angeles Frieze week. This Wednesday—an evening that was almost implausibly jam-packed with events—I received the following (harrowing) text:
That’s right, a man once beloved by the art world (or at least by a handful of artists like George Condo, Vanessa Beecroft, Arthur Jafa, and Takashi Murakami, all of whom collaborated with him during his heyday) rocked on up to the Hollywood Edition this week during Fairchain’s cocktail party (I thought this company was supposed to be ‘deliberately unsexy’?), and I was not present to witness it.
Those I spoke to at the party weren’t surprised to see the disgraced rapper out and about, however. According to the co-founders of Fairchain, Max Kendrick and Charlie Jarvis, the event was star-studded before Ye dropped by, with Mickalene Thomas and Alfre Woodard hobnobbing over some Moët, and that Kanye and his posse just “came in and said they were here for the event,” according to Kendrick, who added, “I don’t know how he got there. It was cool but also the anti-semitism stuff is real. Idk…” Jarvis added “The guests were unfazed,” joking that “it felt normal given the history of Fairchain parties.”
It would make sense that the art world would be unfazed by Kanye’s presence, if only because it’s notable that after basically self-destructing his career—and probably deep-sixing what would have been his almost definite appointment at Virgil Abloh’s successor at Louis Vuitton—by speaking admiringly of Hitler and burning bridges with basically everyone except the alt right, none of the artists he’s collaborated with have stepped forward to condemn the anti-semitic, racist, and generally horrific remarks he’s made over the past few months. (Years ago, I remember asking Takashi Murakami about his relationship with Kanye after a lesser PR disaster struck. He told me that knowing Kanye is like feeling loyal to your high school sweetheart you fall for again and again—they break your heart over and over again, but you can’t stay away.)
Upon further snooping, guests at the cocktail party revealed that they overheard Kanye—who was there with his rumored new wife, Bianca Censori—talking about horse racing and, actually, about Fairchain. (The specifics of what he said could not be gathered.) Maybe his next gobsmacking reinvention will be as an advocate for the rights of artists on the secondary market? It’s better than Nazism, that’s for sure.
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The new generation of Wet Paint hats have been released via Kiko Kostadinov‘s brand Otto958, and you can pick one up here … Keith McNally is publishing his memoir this coming November, with a title as ornery as he is, … That the word around Los Angeles this week is that Frieze Week is so crammed with actual fun art activity that it feels like the good ol’ days of Art Basel Miami Beach before the crypto hordes descended and ruined all the parties… Remember the renegade prankster who stink-bombed the Whitney Biennial party last year? Apparently they struck again at a Nike party during fashion week… Swiss gallery Gowen recently hosted a buzzy group show curated by advisor Rachel Cole, with work by Genieve Figgis, Jesse Mockrin, Flora Yukhnovich, Louise Giovanelli, and Ewa Juskiewicz—but would-be buyers weren’t thrilled to find out that the works were not for sale but were rather loans of pieces she placed years ago with her collectors, most notably Rahul M. Sabhnani… O’Flaherty’s is back, thank goodness, opening with a show (or an “O’Flattering,” as they’re terming it) by the legendary performance-based collective Gelatin… While the rest of the world is panicked over the price of eggs, New York gallery directors mewled about being sent to LA via JetBlue… A “high-profile art world family” is looking to pay someone $65,000 to $95,000 a year for various services including managing “dog systems,” organizing “closet systems,” and writing thank-you notes…
Hans Ulrich Obrist and George Condo. Not too much to unpack here but what does Hans keep in that lil backpack? pic.twitter.com/L83FG8eL0S
— GEMS 💎💎💎💎 (@dakota_gems) February 15, 2023
Hans Ulrich-Obrist was wearing a notably tiny backpack at Hauser & Wirth’s opening for George Condo *** The two best fashion week parties I went to were Eckhaus Latta’s art-star studded afterparty at Jean’s, where Aria Dean, Jeanette Hayes, Coco Gordon-Moore, and Sarah Nicole Prickett danced into the wee hours, and the dinner for Helmut Lang’s collaboration with Antwaun Sargent and Hannah Traore, which hosted Cameron Welch, American Artist, and JiaJia Fei *** Charles Gaines, Jason Rubell, and Haley Mellin hitting the courts at Artadia’s very elite and competitive annual tennis match (Ellie Rines was in the audience taking bets, naturally) *** Henry Taylor, Anton Kern, Lisa Edelstein, and Lake Bell on the roof of the Beverly Hills Maybourne to fête Joel Mesler‘s new show “Hopes & Dreams” with A Hug From the Art World (the next day, Mesler and AHFTAW founder Adam Cohen were posted up in the lobby doling out free hugs) *** The ladies of the lesbian backgammon mafia noodling over who can buy Andre Leon Talley’s Prada backgammon board from his Christie’s auction *** A few days after Harmony Korine announced he’d be represented by both Hauser & Wirth and Gagosian, he collaborated with another major entity, Kim Kardashian, on a Spring Breakers-themed campaign for Skims ***
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WET PAINT QUESTIONNAIRE
Last week I took off from the questionnaire to invite my dear and darling readers to my party in Los Angeles this week, and what a night we had! Which prompts me to ask: Email your response to [email protected]