Top Tennis Player Fined Over Gallery Sponsorship, Art Basel’s Last-Ditch Effort to Keep Dealers From Fleeing + More Art-World Gossip

Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops by our crack team of reporters. This week, we welcome Julie Baumgardner into the mix… 


Usually fashion lays claim to tennis as its sport, but there’s news out of the U.S. Open that crashes into the art world. American singles player Reilly Opelka recently was fined by the United States Tennis Association for sporting a pink tote bag from Belgium’s Tim Van Laere Gallery.

No, the problem wasn’t that tote bags are contributing big time to the climate crisis. It was that the branded bag was “unapproved” (under USTA rules, players cannot wear any gear on the court with logos that exceed four square inches). Opelka—the highest ranking American men’s player in the U.S. Open, who has been deemed the “next great hope” for U.S. men’s tennis—was summarily slapped with a $10,000 fine.

It didn’t take long for the situation to catapult this little pink tote into a blurry confluence of art project, practical object, cult status symbol… and, as Venus Williams joked on Instagram, a $10,000 asset for which she got in at the “seed round.” (In reality, Reilly gave her one of the now-cult bags as a gift.)

Opelka is the only professional tennis player with a gallery as a sponsor—and his tote marked the first time an art organization has been visible on the court.

The partnership derived from the two men’s shared passion for art and tennis. While Opelka is a dedicated collector, Van Laere played tennis professionally for two years after playing in college (“at a lower level,” the dealer clarifies). The only other art-collecting men’s tennis player to come to mind is, of course, John McEnroe. And the comparisons between the two Americans have already started, with McEnroe himself calling Opelka “a dangerous” player.

Under the terms of their arrangement, Van Laere sports a gallery patch on his shirt sleeve and uses the branded tote to carry necessary equipment (like shoes for third, fourth, and fifth sets, we’re told).

The gallery pays Opelka in exchange—Van Laere declined to state how much, but assured us it’s not at the level of a sportswear brand. Opelka and Van Laere “prefer to call it a partnership not a sponsorship,” the gallerist says, seeing it as an opportunity to elevate the arts through tennis. “It’s not about money, it’s about being creative in our collaboration and finding more opportunities to mix both worlds,” Van Laere explains.

Both men were scandalized by the pricey slap on the wrist. “Reilly was just in Toronto for the Open final. He brought it [the tote] in the French Open, everyone thought it was cool,” Van Laere recounts. “He didn’t have a problem. Only in the U.S. Open did he get fined.” (Opelka, for his part, groused on Twitter: “U.S. open ticket sales must be strugglin this year.”)

The art-tennis crew may have gotten the last laugh. Van Laere rallied some of the artists Opelka collects, who also happen to be tennis players themselves—Rinus Van de Velde and Friedrich Kunath—to toss in a bit of performance-protest.

Kunath, who traveled from L.A. to watch his friend play, turned the bags inside out and scribbled in marker, “UNAPPROVED.” Opelka debuted the modified version in his match against Lloyd Harris in the Round of 16. Sadly, Opelka is now out of the Open, but the pink bag will live on (and it’s probably already tripled in value).


A visitor arrives at the 2019 edition of Art Basel, the last in-person version of the fair. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.)

A visitor arrives at the 2019 edition of Art Basel, the last in-person version of the fair. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.)

While the flurry of fair activity descends upon New York as the Armory Show settles into its new home at the Jacob Javits Center and Independent sets up shop at Cipriani South Street, the buzz around town isn’t just about the revival of these fairs and how weird it is to see people from the top of the nose up. Instead, Basel is the word on everyone’s lips—and speculation about who’s going and who’s not has become a guessing game with deeper implications. Last weekend, a reliable tipster urgently told Wet Paint, “a mega-gallery is pulling out of Basel, expect the news to drop on Monday.”

Around the same time, a group of galleries—led by Lisson—sent a letter to Basel organizers asking that the show not go on. (The gallery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

We spent all weekend furiously texting the majors to get ahead of the news. A representative for Gagosian said, “We are packing and shipping works as we speak, so it would seem we are going.” A sales director for Hauser & Wirth responded, “We’re packed and have our hotel rooms booked, so yes I am definitely going.” A representative from Pace flat-out denied any rumor, and while David Zwirner’s official channels have yet to comment, an employee said, “I’m looking at a shipping list so if we aren’t going, that would be weird?”

We went further afield. With the news that Lévy GorvyAmalia Dayan, and Salon 94 are forming a conglomerate and pulling out of all fairs but those in Asia (all the better to reach newer, younger collectors), it would seem rather obvious that one gallery (or all three!) wouldn’t be attending. Last we checked, Europe isn’t Asia—but LGDR also doesn’t formally debut until next year. Salon’s Jeanne Greenberg, who apologized for being occupied with Rosh Hashanah dinner, said, “we’ve shipped the works, so we better be there!” while a rep for Lévy Gorvy assured us that their original Basel plans have not changed. Denials also came in from more than half a dozen other dealers.

In the end, Basel may have managed, by the skin of its teeth, to keep dealers in line with the announcement of a $1.6 million “Solidarity Fund” designed to help participants offset some of their potential losses after the fact (but only, of course, if they don’t pull out).

In a conversation with Wet Paint, Art Basel’s global director Marc Spiegler confirmed that more than a handful of galleries had the intention of calling it quits. But “every single gallery,” he said proudly, “is now confirmed. We met fears with facts and we stepped up in an uncertain moment to calm the market. That came from being in dialogue with our galleries, and the ones who were planning to cancel or had reservations about attending are now enthusiastic and on board.”

With only two weeks ’til the show goes up—and many artworks already in transit—the window for any gallery on the fence to play Humpty Dumpty is closing fast.


A screen shot of Cynthia Talmadge's work on Platform.

A screen shot of Cynthia Talmadge’s work on Platform.

***When word got out that work by in-demand artist Cynthia Talmadge, who has an impossibly long wait list at 56 Henry, had sold out within 20 minutes of going live on Platform, the David Zwirner-backed e-commerce initiative, it perplexed some buyers who logged onto the site the minute the batch went live, only to find them unavailable. Mystery solved: Wet Paint has learned that Zwirner provides participating galleries with VIP pre-sale codes so that preferred buyers can get in early. One dealer likened the arrangement to “an art fair where you pre-sell works” —which sure is all fine and dandy, except that Zwirner himself told the New York Times back in May, “We’re not sitting there and saying, ‘You get to buy it and you don’t.’ It’s first come, first served.” The gallery did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

*** Speaking of Platform, the art world’s hottest bachelor appears to be gallery scion (and Platform honcho) Lucas Zwirner—who was apparently dodging suitors at former Wet Paint scribe Nate Freeman’s recent wedding, with one reveler calling it “the groomsmen effect.” Another insider revealed that Lucas has been spotted multiple times a week at his family-backed restaurant Il Buco with “a different brunette” (the exception being recent dinner companion/ex Sienna Miller, who is blonde).

*** The gallery [On Approval], which has space in San Francisco‘s Minnesota Street Project gallery hub, is—appropriately for Silicon Valley—pivoting to an app. Founder Andrew McClintock, who also runs Ever Gold [Projects], has developed an online platform for “communal ownership” of contemporary art. Currently the app is in beta, and we hear they’re being particularly picky about which collectors they’re letting test out the concept.

*** In June, Wet Paint discovered that Mendes Wood is slated to open an upstate gallery in Germantown—turns out, they’re not going alone. They’re partnering with frequent collaborators Blum & Poe on a shared space a few doors down from the famed tavern Gaskins.


A sculpture by the artist Hugo Farmer at the Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. (Photo by Barry Lewis/In Pictures via Getty Images)

A sculpture by the artist Hugo Farmer at the Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. (Photo by Barry Lewis/In Pictures via Getty Images)

*** Which untouchable Minimalist master (who would’ve rejected that moniker) had a torrid affair with the country’s now-top art critic just back when they were getting their start? *** Which power dealer had a Rashid Johnson installed in their child’s New York University freshman dorm—which, according to a classmate, the spawn didn’t even like? *** Which 57th Street dealer has earned the nickname “Son of Sam” due in part to his father’s name, and also to his reputation for being rather terrifying to deal with? ***


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Here’s What’s Selling at Art Basel’s Semi-Exclusive ‘Pioneers’ Online Viewing Room, Which Includes Only 100 Dealers

The contemplative atmosphere of Art Basel’s first online viewing room (OVR) of 2021 felt positively serene after weeks of frenzy over the newest vanguard in the digital art market, NFT drops. The trimmed-down presentation at Art Basel’s sixth OVR offered a notable counterpoint to a digital scene already glutted in crypto-art. It included only 100 select galleries who offered highly focused presentations of artists who have broken new ground in their respective categories, spanning Arte Povera, modernism, and some of today’s contemporary rising stars.

Dealers reported strong enthusiasm for “OVR: Pioneers,” including some consistent sales. The fair, which ran from March 24 to March 27 was a cool survey of some powerful artistic voices. These ranged from from clear favorites like Claes Oldenburg and James Lee Byars (the latter timed to a major show currently on view at the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing) to overlooked artists like Pati Hill or outsider artist trailblazers like Vaginal Davis.

The curated recipe seemed to have worked well, at least in terms of engagement, which was reported to be strong from all galleries who reported to Midnight Publishing Group News.

Still from James Benning’s 11 x 14, (1977). courtesy neugerreimschneider.

Air de Paris, which showed a presentation by the long-overlooked US artist Hill, who passed away in 2014, was very pleased to have an opportunity to spotlight such an artist. “Most galleries have been quite thorough in selecting artists that are real pioneers,” said owner Florence Bonnefous. “Limiting the selection of participants is also a good idea in light of the onset of digital fatigue.”

The gallery reported that it was happy with sales of individual works, which were going for €5,000 ($5,897).

Beschriebene Kombinationen (2011) was available for between $1 and 2 million at Galerie Konrad Fischer. Courtesy Galerie Konrad Fischer.

Beschriebene Kombinationen (2011) was available for between $1 and 2 million at Galerie Konrad Fischer. Courtesy Galerie Konrad Fischer.

Now in its sixth iteration, it seems that many of the Art Basel regulars know what works when it comes to OVRs and what doesn’t. Presentations were limited and focused—and expectations were moderate from the outset. “The most successful online viewing rooms are ones that amplify exhibitions that are on real walls in real spaces,” Gordon VeneKlasen, co-owner of Michael Werner Gallery, told Midnight Publishing Group News.

At the same time, collectors and dealers have become more fluent at transacting online. No sales over $350,000 were reported, and the majority of sales were around or under $100,000.

Cherry-picking artists for the “Pioneer” framework worked well for collector engagement. “Interest in Italian Post war artists is on the rise, as evidenced by the recent auction results,” Joe La Placa, senior director of Cardi, told Midnight Publishing Group News, adding that the gallery had opened with a wave of enquiries for works in its presentation, called “Pioneers of the earth and the skies,” which included Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mixed-media work Uomo dal cappello giallo e verde (Man with a Yellow and Green Hat) from 1973 with a price tag between $500,000 and $750,000.

Still from Richard Kennedy's video work Masc Off (overture to "You Can’t have no BBQ sauce unless you get some chicken McNuggets"), (2020). Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin.

Still from Richard Kennedy’s video work Masc Off (overture to “You Can’t have no BBQ sauce unless you get some chicken McNuggets”), (2020). Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin.

Dealer Javier Peres told Midnight Publishing Group News it was “the most productive” Art Basel OVR that the gallery had participated in.

“I think the more focused approach at this time of the year was a very smart move,” he said, noting strong interest and sales in a vibrant array of paintings that the Berlin dealer had included in its booth. The gallery had opted to show contemporary artists from its program—including artists Donna Huanca and Richard Kennedy who each work between painting, sculpture, and performance. Peres Projects also showed canvases and a touching video work by Manuel Solano that included archival footage from his upbringing in Mexico.

Several dealers, including Peres, said that one of the major highlights of the fair was the well-organized walkthroughs with VIPs. For this iteration, Basel had been touring clients through the physical galleries on video. “Waking up and being ready to go super early one morning was a really fun and welcome change,” Peres said. He had individual tours from the regions of Spain and Portugal, Latin America, as well as Australia and New Zealand. “These should be an additional offering from fairs moving forward,” he noted.

Penny Siopis Shame (2002-2005). Courtesy Stephenson.

Penny Siopis’s work consistening of 165 paintings, called Shame (2002-2005). Courtesy Stephenson.

Thomas Rieger from Galerie Konrad Fischer echoed this sentiment, adding that the gallery was “surprised” by how strong the enthusiasm was for this iteration. The gallery had a daring presentation of mostly works over $1 million, including Carl Andre and Bruce Nauman. The gallery was also spotlighting Alan Charlton, whose work is in many important institutions but has not yet been on collectors’ radars, in the lower price of under $100,000.

Kasmin Gallery presented a series of early sculptures by the kinetic art pioneer George Rickey, spanning 1951-60. Three were reported sold so far at prices ranging from $150,000 to $200,000.

George Rickey, <i>Diptych The Seasons (Hanging)</i> (1956). Image courtesy Kasmin Gallery.

George Rickey, Diptych The Seasons (Hanging) (1956). Image courtesy Kasmin Gallery.

Kasmin Gallery senior director Eric Gleason said in an email: “Art Basel’s ‘OVR: Pioneers’ started with a thoughtful premise, and it’s been a pleasure to craft our presentation of early George Rickey around their curatorial concept. The platform also allowed us to show video of these works in a way that has not been done before, which is crucial in order to understand the kinetic nature of the sculptures.”

Blum & Poe gallery sold several works at Robert Colescott for $195,000 each. And Brazilian gallery Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel sold Leda Catunda’s mixed-media Dourado (2018) for around $50,000.

303 Gallery reported selling two works by Tala Madani, including an as-of-yet untitled 2020 work, and Light Exposure (2021), for $40,000 each.

Altman Siegel sold works by Trevor Paglen including two editions of, We….,(2020), a pigment print on archival paper for $40,000 each, and A Standard Face (2020), an ink on paper, for $12,000.

Paula Cooper sold Claes Oldenburg’s Notebook Page: Study for Sculpture in the Form of the Alphabet Good Humor Bar (1972) in a price range between $100,000 to $150,000.

San Francisco gallerist Jessica Silverman sold Matthew Angelo Harrison’s Relic for Disruption I (2021), a spear with tinted polyurethane resin, for $40,000.

Chicago-based Kavi Gupta sold Deborah Kass’s silkscreen and acrylic-on-canvas Seven Ghost Yentls (My Elvis) (1997), for $350,000 to a private museum in Canada.

Galleri Nicolai Wallner of Copenhagen sold Poul Gernes’s Untitled (dot painting) (1966) for $110,000 to a private collection in Europe.

Petzel Gallery reported selling a set of five lamps by Jorge Pardo for $125,000 and an enamel-on-linen painting by Joyce Pensato, Hello (2019), for $120,000.

Los Angeles gallery Roberts Projects sold two works by Betye Saar for $150,000 each: Banjo Boy (2015) and Dark Times (2015). Both were mixed media on vintage washboards.

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From Bernie Sanders Memes to Art Basel’s Postponement: The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week

Behind Botticelli’s Beauty – You may think you know the celebrated artist’s work, Primavera, but we’re here to highlight some lesser-known facts about the painting.

It’s the Final Countdown – In 2016, artist Matthew Barney installed a giant clock counting down the days until Trump left office. Now, it’s finally gone dark.

Trump Balloon Heads to the Museum – The Museum of London has acquired the giant “Trump Baby” blimp that soared over the city as part of a protest during his presidency.

Berning Up the Internet – The star of this week’s inauguration was none other than Bernie Sanders, who ended up getting photoshopped into a slew of art-historical memes.

Honoring Madame Vice President – Seven artists of color created a moving video to celebrate her historic victory.

A Royal Discovery – Archaeologists in Egypt discovered more than 50 painted sarcophagi and the temple to an ancient queen.

Inside Biden’s Oval Office – One of the first orders of business when Biden took office was to switch out Trump’s art—and we’ve decoded all the symbolism of the new administration’s aesthetic.

What We Hope for in 2021 – Midnight Publishing Group News asked artists, curators, and gallerists what changes they hope to see in the industry this year.

Robert Storr Takes Aim – As he publishes a new book of essays, the esteemed curator and critic is taking shots at art-world heavyweights.

Art Basel’s Swiss Edition on Ice – The juggernaut art fair has opted to postpone its IRL edition in Basel until September, and to roll out online viewing rooms in the meantime.

Fire in Brussels – A fire broke out at the Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, though firefighters managed to tamp down the flames before any art was damaged.

Trump Pardons Art Dealer – In one of his final executive acts, former president Trump pardoned art dealer Helly Nahmad, who was sentenced to prison in 2014 for co-organizing an illegal gambling ring.

Dealer Convicted of Selling Fake Albers – A Milan-based art dealer was convicted for attempting to sell a forged Josef Albers painting that the artist’s foundation deemed fake years ago.

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