‘What Are You Going to Do About It, Fat Boy?’: How a Hamptons Feud Between Two Uber-Privileged Art Dealers Exploded Into an All-Out Turf War

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They say good fences make good neighbors. But a good fence, when damaged by the art world’s resident meme lord during a booze-fueled easter egg hunt, can also catalyze a brawl between neighbors culminating in criminal charges. But that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

The fence incident now looks to be the watershed moment in a protracted neighborly dispute that saw two art-world scions come to blows (or something approaching blows) last month in an incident we will henceforth refer to as The Shove Heard Round the Hamptons. More on the fence later.

Slap fights between grown men aren’t usually novel, or even newsworthy. This is an exception because of the cast of characters: 35-year-old Max Levai, the nightclub-owning former heir-apparent to a gallery dynasty, and 62-year-old Adam Lindemann, a collector and art dealer who might be a billionaire. Their properties out East are separated by only the historic, two-lane Old Montauk Highway.

The Shove went down on July 5th, when Levai was holding a private event at his gallery The Ranch, and Lindemann, perhaps innocently and perhaps not, appeared on the premises. Unpleasantries were exchanged. Push came to shove, as it were, when Lindemann shoved Levai with both hands, while demanding to know, “What are you going to do about it, fat boy?” Levai called the cops, and Lindemann was booked on criminal trespass and harassment charges.

While the altercation wasn’t particularly violent (no one was hurt), the petty skirmish split the Hamptons art crowd into “Team Max” and “Team Adam.” Ostensibly, the former is composed of the scenesters, artists, cool kids, and youth brigade out East, while the latter reflects the more buttoned-up Hamptons type that bought a slice of peace and quiet out there for a serious price. Several weeks out from the inciting incident, most have chosen their side.

But before getting into that let’s retrace our steps…

DIVIDED LAND

To be fair, Lindemann got there first. The dealer has maintained tony vacation homes designed by starchitects and filled with blue-chip art in Montauk for decades. His current Montauk residence is Eothen, the ranch formerly owned by Andy Warhol, that he bought from former J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler in 2015 for $48.7 million. Drexler had listed it for $85 million, according to the New York Post.

In the summer of 2020, Lindemann got a new neighbor.

Levai has been nicknamed a “prince of the art world,” and is a prominent figure in New York nightlife. He ran the now-shuttered nightclub Happy Ending and owns the sushi restaurant/nightclub Juku, where artwork by Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe and Roe Ethridge adorned the walls before Levai decided it would be too much of a liability, given that clubgoers there tend to dance into the wee hours and even smoke cigarettes inside. 

Once the heir apparent to the international Marlborough gallery, which has spaces in London, New York, Madrid, and Barcelona, Levai and his father Pierre became embroiled in a series of murky lawsuits with the gallery in 2020. Max Levai alleged that the gallery’s board was staging a “coup ’d’état,” improperly ousting both Levais; the gallery countered with a suit alleging that Max’s management had led to “substantial economic and reputational harm” for the gallery. 

When the dust settled, the younger Levai was ready to start anew away from his family’s legacy. That’s when he spoke to Drexler about the swath of land that Lindemann didn’t care to buy back in 2015: Indian Field, a 26-acre former horse ranch that had been split off from the Eothen parcel. Lindemann had turned it down at $25 million.

Levai bought Indian Field for $8.2 million in August of 2020, nabbing an early-pandemic discount. Levai then moved out East full-time to start The Ranch, a mixed-use commercial gallery and personal residence on the property. There, he could get some distance from the New York-scene while still hosting parties, and maybe sell a seven-figure Frank Stella lawn sculpture to one of the moneyed Hamptonites who wandered up his driveway. 

Lindemann’s background is both similar and very different. His reputation in the art world rests on not only the art-dealing business handed to him by his father, the billionaire financier and collector George Lyle Lindemann, but his fastidious work ethic (and probably more acutely, his ability to manipulate the art market in his favor). By working closely with auction houses—the commercial force widely understood to stand in opposition to the loftier intentions of the gallery circuit—Lindemann has made splashy resales from his own collection that grabbed auction records for works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons, among others.

This past March, Lindemann sold $31.5 million worth of art from his personal collection (many of which were made by living artists, which can jeopardize an artist’s market) in a sale at Christie’s titled “ADAM.” The sale came just a few months after it was announced he was attempting to sell Eothen with a $65 million asking price. The eight-figure sales and offerings of trophy-like assets spurred speculation that Lindemann had hit hard times financially. 

I (GOT) ANDY WARHOL

Adam Lindemann and Anthony Casalena at the opening of The Ranch. Photo by David X Prutting/BFA.com © BFA 2023

The Ranch opened in July 2021 with a show of Peter Halley paintings. That same month, Lindemann and his wife, fellow art dealer Amalia Dayan, opened their joint gallery/art foundation called South Etna less than a 10-minute drive away from Eothen in a quaint, cottage-style house. The tension between the two began then, sources said, when Levai marketed The Ranch as being on Andy Warhol’s farm. 

Levai’s claim about the property’s provenance angered Vincent Fremont, the former manager of Warhol’s studio who spent serious time at Eothen. He drove out to The Ranch to set the record straight.

“Indian Field, which Max Levai has, that was Rusty’s,” Fremont told Artnet News over the phone. (Rusty refers to Rusty Elgort, the cowpoke who managed Indian Field.) “Andy and Paul [Morrisey]’s place starts beyond that…We had nothing to do with Indian Field, but we did go on horseback rides around there.” 

“I talked to Max about it, and he said it was just a PR thing. It was all fine,” Fremont said. “I just said, ‘Build your own name out here.’” Fremont’s daughter, Casey, was also present for this visit, and added, “My father’s frustration was more about how it’s an ongoing trend with Warhol where people make up their own realities, then the news picks up on it, and it just spreads untruths….Max received that totally respectfully and well.” 

Levai quickly settled the debate with the Fremonts, and press outlets that had covered the opening issued corrections about the affiliation with the Warhol legacy. According to those behind the scenes, however, the misrepresentation rubbed Lindemann the wrong way, as he was the one who actually bought the place where the pop artist famously hosted The Rolling Stones, Halston, Jackie Kennedy, and John Lennon. 

One neighbor in Montauk said Lindemann would have been better served to buy both properties. “If you buy the house, you’ve got to buy the barn. That was my opinion on whoever could afford the house…You’ve gotta buy the barn.” 

Seemingly, Lindemann doesn’t want either. After failing to find a buyer in the summer of 2020, when it was asking $65 million, his Montauk estate is now listed on upscale Hamptons-specific website Out East as a short-term sublet at a price of $350,000. Mega-collecting couple Dasha Zhukova and Stavros Niarchos are among those who have rented it out, sources said. 

Lindemann’s footprint in Montauk is diminishing. South Etna is also no longer in its former location; an Australian clothing store called Venroy took over the space. Lindemann denies that it is closed permanently though, and this month he is organizing an exhibition down the street at the Carl Fisher House using the South Etna name. 

NIMBY NEIGHBORS

Two versions of Jamian Juliano-Villani’s Running of the Bulls at the Ranch, Montauk. One version was won by an 8-year-old at an easter egg she organised for the show’s opening night on September 10, 2022. Photo courtesy of Jamian Juliano-Villani.

Conflict isn’t inevitable between two antagonistic personalities, but when huge property values and huge egos are involved, it’s rarely avoided. “Montauk is the ‘end of the world,’ and there’s these two big-wigs out there…what do you expect?” said the artist Jamian Juliano-Villani, who has shown with Levai and sold work to Lindemann.

Her account of where the dueling dealers’ problems began starts a bit later, in September of 2022, when she had a joint show at The Ranch with the late Mike Kelley. As part of the opening, she came up with the idea to host an easter egg hunt on the grounds of The Ranch. The finder of the golden egg would get a painting by Juliano-Villani titled Running of the Bulls, which is worth an estimated $150,000. An eight year-old eventually found the egg after a rigorous seven-hour hunt. But along the way, the artist Brad Troemel ventured all the way onto the neighbor’s property in search of the egg, ultimately breaking Lindemann’s fence. 

“I know that Brad Troemel breaking the fence didn’t help,” Juliano-Villani said. “I wanted to fucking kill him! I would be pissed off too.”

“We were going to get them a Carvel cake that said ‘BURY THE HATCHET’ because we saw all this shit bubbling up between them,” she said. But the olive branch by way of ice cream cake was never extended, and according to those involved, the fence’s injury brought the neighborly dispute to another level. 

Lindemann has run afoul of neighbors previously. In 2011, he displayed a 15-foot sculpture by Franz West called on a bluff of his former property that had “an unmistakable resemblance to an erect male penis.” This angered his rarefied cohort of neighbors, which included the photographer Peter Beard, musician Paul Simon, and fellow art dealer David Zwirner. The chatter at the time was that the statue was phallic retaliation against a resident building a house that would infringe on Lindemann’s view.

This time around, Lindemann chose the path of least resistance and paid for the fence damages himself, while a different neighbor went to the town of East Hampton with a complaint against Levai, claiming that he had the wrong permits to be hosting commercial events and parties at The Ranch. Levai will appear in court this month to address the complaint.

In the meantime, openings at The Ranch now partially take place at a former toy store on the dock next to Gosman’s Seafood Restaurant, where you can get Mahi Mahi tacos for $20 bucks. It’s about an eight minute drive from The Ranch around Lake Montauk, and billed as an extension of The Ranch.

PUSH COMES TO SHOVE

On July 19 of this year, 10 months after the Easter egg hunt, the news that Lindemann had been arrested at Eothen surfaced in local papers. The police report: “According to East Hampton Town Police, at 3:30 p.m. [Lindemann] entered a private property — through an open driveway gate with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign on it — and went into a building used as an art gallery without permission. Police said he also pushed another man in the chest with both hands. He was issued an appearance ticket for a later court date.” 

Lindemann’s attorney, Edward J. Burke, initially confirmed to Artnet News that Levai was the recipient of the shove, and Lindemann the aggressor. Lindemann, however, adamantly denies that he pushed Levai. His only comment on the matter: “There’s no story. You’re taking advantage of a nothing fracas.” 

Other opinions differ. According to several sources who were present that day, Lindemann came to The Ranch during a private opening with a friend, and when Levai saw Lindemann, he became incensed and asked why he was there. Lindemann refused to leave per Levai’s request, and hit him with the aforementioned “fat boy” line.

Eventually, though, Lindemann did leave the premises to return to Eothen, and Levai called the police. Cop cars escorted Lindemann from his home to the police station in East Hampton, where he was booked for three charges: criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, and harassment. Burke seemed to suggest that zoning violations drove his client to shoving. “Mr. Levai apparently has several issues with the town of East Hampton related to violations of the zoning code…These frustrations should be addressed to the town, and not my client. I’m very confident that these charges will be dropped.”

The charges have not been dropped as of press time. Lindemann’s court appearance is scheduled for August 16.

Meanwhile, Levai is doubling down on raucous live art events, zoning be damned. Next month, to carry on Gavin Brown’s “Drunk Versus Stoned” tradition, he is planning a show with all artwork created under either form of inebriation. “In an examination blurred by pot smoke and beer goggles, Drunk vs. Stoned 3 will monitor the effects of these two altered mind states to determine what promise, if any, they may still hold in relation to making and thinking about art,” the invite reads.

Rumor has it there will be a corresponding soccer game, with one team drunk, and the other stoned. The jury is not yet out on what the protocol will be if a ball goes flying over the fence. 

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