Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News 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]
A ROSA BY ANY OTHER NAME
At some point in 2020, a medium-sized painting believed to be by Raymond Pettibon was being offered by its owner to advisors on the secondary market. It certainly looked like a Pettibon. The work for sale was one of his gigantic works on paper depicting a cascading wave, a little surfer hanging ten amid the curl. The waves are certainly Pettibon’s most famous series—they constitute nearly all of his top-selling works at auction—and this one even featured one of his trademark koan-like text inserts at the top. At a show David Zwirner‘s gallery in Paris a few months earlier, gigantic Pettibon waves were selling for $1.2 million. Slightly smaller than his biggest works, this particular wave-on-paper asking price was around $1 million, a markup from recent primary-market prices.
But dealers who saw images of the work became suspicious when they noticed that there was a seemingly strange yellow-green blended into Pettibon’s normal cobalt blues. And while there’s often text that overlays the top of the wave, this text seemed to be written against a part of the sky that may have been erased. And the handwriting, while striving for the artist’s signature scrawl, seemed a tad too polished to them.
Now months later, Wet Paint has learned more about the backstory of the mysterious Pettibon—because it appears that it wasn’t really a Pettibon, at least not entirely. Art-world figures suspect it was an unfinished work completed by a different artist, who possibly took the work from Pettibon’s studio without him noticing.
Multiple sources told Wet Paint that they believe the ink-and-watercolor on paper was an unfinished work that was likely taken from Pettibon’s studio by the artist Christian Rosa, who then allegedly finished the work himself and consigned it to the secondary market as the owner as if it were a genuine item, made entirely by the real artist’s hand, seeking to sell the painting for seven figures.
Since raising the alarm over the possible forgery late last year, parties involved tipped off the Federal Bureau of Investigation, sources claimed. Messages left on the voicemail of the New York field office of the FBI were not returned by press time. It is not clear whether the accusations leveled against Rosa would amount to criminal conduct or whether there is an innocent explanation for how the painting was created and got into his possession.
How did these two rock star artists, who had been close friends for years, get embroiled in such a potentially explosive snafu? Let’s back up a little bit. Christian Rosa is an artist who, for a few years in the early ‘10s, was one of the hottest artists on the market. He studied at the Akademie der Künste Bildenden in Vienna with Daniel Richter, and soon after graduating in 2012 he began appearing in taste-making group shows, including an exhibition at New York’s the Hole that had duos of artists swap portraits with each other. Rosa asked Raymond Pettibon to profile him and vice versa—the two struck up a mentor-mentee relationship, and would continue to big-up each other in interviews over the years.
Rosa’s market peaked in the fall of 2014, when a painting sold at Christie’s in New York for $209,000, and he was the toast of Berlin Gallery Weekend when his show at Contemporary Fine Art sold out easily, as the artist made a name for himself as the life of the party there and, subsequently, in New York and Los Angeles, or in London and Paris, wherever the ever-traveling art world hootenanny went to next.
The honeymoon period with the market didn’t last long. A year later, a similar Christian Rosa painting sold at Sotheby’s for $30,000. Five works came to auction in the last year, and none topped $50,000. But Rosa has maintained a presence on the scene and become a reliable fixture in the (pre-pandemic) international art world, often popping up during the froth of a splashy international art fair alongside one of the many artists with whom he has remained close.
Meanwhile, Pettibon has finally become fully blue-chip decades after emerging from the punk scene of New York and Los Angeles—his brother, Greg Ginn, was the founding guitarist of Black Flag, and Pettibon’s first exposure came from designing the band’s classic covers as well as the sleeves for acts such as Sonic Youth, OFF!, Minutemen, and others. Now, Pettibon is represented not just by Zwirner, but by other powerhouses such as Regen Projects in Los Angeles, Sadie Coles HQ in London, and Contemporary Fine Art in Berlin. His wave drawings routinely sell in the seven figures at auction, and have topped off at more than $1.5 million.
Sources said Rosa seems to have come into possession of the unfinished painting in the first months of the year, and they suspect he took it from Pettibon’s studio in New York’s SoHo—although none have first-hand proof. Pettibon routinely has half-done work lying around. As he told the late Glenn O’Brien during a 2013 studio visit: “there’s a lot of half-done or partially done work … there’s nothing finished here.” (Rosa posted an image of from Pettibon to his Instagram in late February 2020, but sources said the picture was actually taken in September 2019, and it was not Pettibon’s normal studio, but one set up for him to finish works for the show at David Zwirner in Paris.) Those who first saw the work and claimed that Rosa was the seller assumed that it was acquired through a trade with an artist he has a public friendship with, and assumed that Pettibon was clued into it, aware that his one-time mentee was selling it.
But after being alerted to the fact that it may have been partially forged, advisers said they believed the text element seemed to be done by someone other than Pettibon, and that the wave was fleshed out with a color that they believed that Pettibon does not use.
Pettibon’s studio became alerted to the fact that the work was being offered, and alerted the authorities. The current location of the painting is unknown.
The Pettibon studio declined to comment further on an incident that’s currently under investigation, and referred the question to Andrea Cashman, the Zwirner director who works with Pettibon. A spokesperson for Cashman at Zwirner did not respond to a request for comment. Rosa did not respond to multiple messages and attempts to reach him through friends.
BILLION DOLLAR BAILOUT MAKES BIG-TICKET ART BUYS LOOK LIKE BUPKUS
We’re still trying to grasp the fallout of the Reddit-powered run on GameStop stock, which caused shares of the beleaguered video game retailer to rise to a high of $469 a share Thursday morning before the prices dropped after Robinhood restricted any more transactions as a risk-management precaution (starting Friday, it once again allowed users to increase their stocks and options in GME in a limited capacity). But it’s poised to have an unexpected impact on the art market. Two of the biggest collectors in the world were forced to spend billions bailing out a hedge fund, saying ta-ta to moolah that very well could have been spent on nine-figure masterworks at Art Basel, Christie’s, or Sotheby’s.
After watching its short play on GameStop blow up in its face, Melvin Capital Management needed a steep infusion of cash in order to survive. Enter two hedge fund giants: Kenneth Griffin’s Citadel and Steve Cohen’s Point72. Together, the two firms injected $2.75 billion to save the struggling Melvin—an investment that surely neither had in mind when the week began. In addition, the New York Times reported Wednesday that Point72 is already down 15 percent on the year, meaning that a large chunk of its $19 billion in managed assets disappeared in a matter of weeks.
While both Griffin and Cohen have many billions left in the bank, such payouts dwarf their biggest art purchases… which also happen to be among the biggest art purchases in history. In 2015, Cohen bought a Giacometti at Christie’s for $141.3 million, making it the most expensive sculpture ever sold. The next year, Griffin bought two paintings from David Geffen—Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) and Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A (1948)—for $500 million, making it the biggest private art transaction in history. Not too shabby! But the amount of money spent Tuesday outranks such blockbuster art sales many times over.
It’s unclear if the GameStop losses will affect either of their buying habits, as both have remained quite active in the art trade even with other financial distractions—Cohen, for instance, needs to figure out how to get the New York Mets into the World Series come September. A spokesperson for Citadel said she would pass along the request for comment to Griffin, and a spokesperson for Point72 left us on read.
After a week with no correct guesses, we zoomed out a bit on the clue, and few people finally got it right. The work is Barnett Newman’s Here III (1965–66), and it is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art. It’s currently installed on the seventh floor of the Meatpacking District building, which is why you can see the World Trade Center in the bottom right corner.
Here are the winners: Whitney curatorial assistant Roxanne Smith; the artist Steve DiBenedetto; Cyprien David, exhibition coordinator at Gagosian; Dan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management; David Simantov, communications manager at Lisson Gallery (who just started in that new position—congrats David!); and friend of the column Tom Lee. Congrats to the winners! There will be a crucial Wet Paint Hat Update in the next column.
Here’s this week’s clue. Name the artist who made the work on the right, and the film it’s in!
Winners will get eternal glory and the coolest baseball cap ever to grace an art expert’s head!
David Hammons personally approved a design for a new pair of Chuck Taylor’s emblazoned with his work, Untitled (African American Flag) (1990), with his signature scrawled on the back of the tongue—as you can see from the screenshots of Hammons texting with the shoe’s designer, Tremaine Emory, we now have the first-ever evidence that one of our greatest living artists does indeed have some kind of a cell phone—though maybe it’s the transcription of a voice message (actually this is all still pretty mysterious) … Gagosian’s Chelsea locations are still closed … Jeff Koons’s show at Dakis Joannou’s Slaughterhouse art space on the Greek isle of Hydra has been postponed until June 2022, a full two years after it was initially supposed to happen … A new issue of the Drunken Canal, the gloriously unhinged real-ink-on-newsprint chronicle of life in Dimes Square, comes out February 5—looks for drops around Clandestino … Lucien Smith‘s non-profit Serving the People is opening a pop-up shopping experience at Basic.Space, the area of Miami’s Design District that recently played host to Virgil Abloh’s collaboration with Vitra … Aby Rosen has sold the debt he holds in the Gramercy Park Hotel for $75 million to an anonymous investor just weeks after Wet Paint revealed that Rosen owed hundreds of thousands in rent to the owners of the land lease …
Style icon Luka Sabbat at Fanelli with a number of art-world luminaries, passing through the eternally cool restaurant that become an essential mid-pandemic SoHo spot with so many other places closed *** Critic Rosalind Krauss in the New York Times letters to the editor section saying that, linguistically, the paper of record should refer to the font of lies come from Republicans not as “conspiracy theories” but as “conspiracy fantasies” *** Artist Al Freeman on Instagram offering to sell access to her very popular account—over 22,000 followers!—to the highest bidder *** Sterling Ruby making his debut at Paris Couture Week Thursday with a new collection created in his studio, debuted via a video shot in Los Angeles, featuring more of his instantly iconic looks that could be made by no one but Sterling Ruby ***
*** A number of artists and dealers at Dr. Clark, where the beloved Hokkaido restaurant hosted a small outdoor celebration for the opening of the Honor Titus show at Timothy Taylor, spread across several tables *** Tico Mugrabi back at his neighborhood haunt Atla, this time joined by fellow collector-slash-dealer, Venus Over Manhattan proprietor Adam Lindemann *** No parking signs indicating that Succession has once again begun filming in Gotham ***
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