julian schnabel

The Back Room: Billions and Billions Served

Every Friday, Midnight Publishing Group News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.


This week in the Back Room: Billionaires give and take, Banksy prints go berserk, bidders chase youth, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,913 words).



Top of the Market

The Billionaire Dilemma

MacKenzie Bezos attends the SEAN PENN J/P HRO GALA: A Gala Dinner to Benefit J/P Haitian Relief Organization and a Coalition of Disaster Relief Organizations at Milk Studios on January 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

MacKenzie Bezos attends the SEAN PENN J/P HRO GALA: A Gala Dinner to Benefit J/P Haitian Relief Organization and a Coalition of Disaster Relief Organizations at Milk Studios on January 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Today, most people tend to view every fortune of a billion dollars or more like telepathy or the ability to fly: whether its owner is a superhero or supervillain all depends on how they use it.

This is especially true in the U.S. (and increasingly, U.K. and E.U.)  art industries, where a steady decline in public funding has handed mega-philanthropy a vital role in sustaining nonprofit institutions.

This principle was reinforced on Wednesday, when MacKenzie Scott, the novelist and philanthropist formerly known as Ms. Jeff Bezosannounced she was doling out $2.7 billion in unrestricted donations to 286 organizations across the country—including many affiliated with the arts, such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, the New England Foundation for the Arts, and United States Artists.



But is the promise of “Good Billionaires” like Scott actually hurting art and culture?

That’s the question I worked through thanks to journalist and author Anand Giridharadas’s incineration of beloved plutocrat Warren Buffett last weekend. And I think the answer is yes, on both the nonprofit and for-profit sides.

What provoked Giridharadas was a bombshell ProPublica investigation showing that America’s very wealthiest—even mega-philanthropists like Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates—have been legally exploiting the tax code in a unique way to pay next to (and sometimes literally!) nothing to Uncle Sam.

Mega-philanthropy has been the best camouflage for the damage, Giridharadas argues. What makes donations from “supposed Good Billionaires” more insidious than donations made by “the crooks and the scoundrels and the people manifestly looking for quick P.R. highs” is that they give so much more—and their public images are so much cleaner.

For instance, the late mega-collector/mega-donor Eli Broad wasn’t always the philanthropic angel he was often portrayed as. Carolina Miranda of the L.A. Times noted that he may have stuck LACMA with $5.5 million in additional construction costs on a building he otherwise financed on its campus (a Broad spox denied it), refused to endow that building for upkeep, and of course ultimately kept his collection to open his own museum.

The grand irony is that mega-donations from the Broads and Scotts of the world have become so important to art institutions partly because the U.S. is sacrificing trillions of dollars in tax revenue (see: potential public funding) to enrich the billionaires signing those fat philanthropic checks.



The Good Billionaire myth is hurting the art market, too. Why have the middle-class collectors who once sustained a more equitable version of the industry become an endangered species? Partly because the costs of simply getting by, let alone getting far enough ahead to acquire artwork, have risen so much.

According to Bloomberg, the cost of college and the median home price in the U.S. are each about 50 percent higher for millennials than they were for boomers, yet millennial wages are up only 20 percent. Full-time employment and robust benefits (pensions, healthcare, paid family leave) have become vanishingly rare too. Public programs are not well funded enough to pick up the slack.

And part of this has been enabled by the narrative that the superrich will take care of the rest of us, including when it comes to art and cultural spending. Even though some deserving folks occasionally win the Good Billionaire lottery, it’s a losing trade most of the time.



The Bottom Line

I sincerely think MacKenzie Scott is trying to help nonprofits with her wealth. But her would-be remedy is only treating a symptom, not the illness—namely, the tax system that enabled her ex and his billionaire peers to build their fortunes. Until or unless that system is reformed, prepare for the institutional sector and the art market to become even more grossly polarized than they already are.

[Read More]



Market Moment

Banksy Prints Are Printing Money

Banksy, White Idiots, or maybe it’s called Idiots (White), who can really say these days. Courtesy Burnt Banksy’s Twitter account.

You can get the god’s eye view of Banksy’s prints market in three annual auction-sales totals:

  • 2011: $1.7 million
  • 2020: $10.3 million
  • 2021 (to date): $33.6 million.

Whether that growth qualifies as robust or cancerous depends on your perspective. What’s undeniable from Eileen Kinsella’s deep dive is that the street-art legend’s editions market has transformed in multiple ways over the past 10 years.


How It Started

Around 2002, Banksy released his first commercial prints through multiple print galleries: primarily Tom Tom (which later became Art Republic) and Pictures on Walls, run by Banksy’s longtime right-hand man Steve Lazarides. (The two have since split. Sources say it wasn’t pretty.)

Prices were around £200 to £300 each. Editions rarely came with certificates of authenticity (COA). Sometimes buyers didn’t even get a receipt!

Fun Fact: “Some dealers would pay 50 students £50 each to be in the queue with a bonus if they got something.” —Brian Balfour-Oatts of London dealership Archeus/Post-Modern.


The Turning Point

In 2007, total auction sales of Banksy prints leaped 10x year-over-year, from about $127,000 in 2006 to $1.3 million.

The next year Banksy launched Pest Control to authenticate his works and police fakes. After 2009, every genuine Banksy came with a Pest Control COA. The outfit can retroactively issue certificates for works made before its founding too.

The artist also took more control of his primary-market sales, sometimes offering works through random lotteries. Fun Fact: In 2010, Banksy directly offered a now-popular print, Choose Your Weapon, showing a figure in a hooded sweatshirt walking a Keith Haring-style dog. After the hours-long line got hooligan-ish, he released a supplemental “queue jumping” edition for the fans who were boxed out.


How It’s Going

It’s wild! Mainly for three reasons:

  • Speculation
  • Major auction houses’ influence
  • Overseas buyers piling in (particularly in Japan and Korea)

Since Banksy has not run a random lottery for some time, demand can only be fulfilled through auctions and resale dealers. Christie’s and Sotheby’s now each hold two dedicated Banksy print sales per year, “many of which have been 100 percent sold,” Eileen writes.  

Balfour-Oatts relays that “some of the mega-galleries handle Banksy works quite often, but are very coy about saying so.”

No wonder Pest Control is inundated with requests—and sometimes slow-walks COA issuance for recent prints to combat flippers. This has led some Banksy collectors (and even smaller auction houses) to trade prints with the promise of a COA to follow—which is not normal! (Other evidence of authenticity, such as emails trails, are often substituted, but still…)

Fun Fact: This March, one of the queue jumping editions of Choose Your Weapon sold at Sotheby’s for £201,600. So don’t expect this rocket ship to run out of fuel anytime soon.

[Read More]



Data Dip

Follow the Money to Youth

© Artnet Analytics 2021.

© Midnight Publishing Group Analytics 2021.

If you’ve ever laid awake at night wondering how genre-by-genre auction sales in May fared before, during, and after COVID, today is your lucky day. (Also, may I recommend considering a spa vacation, or at least switching to herbal tea after lunch?)

With the return of the traditional slate of premier May auctions in New York, it’s no surprise this year’s biggest resurgences were in the Impressionist-Modern and postwar-contemporary categories. (We define these by artist’s birthdates: Imp-Mod covers artists born from 1821 through 1910, and P.W.C. covers artists born from 1911 through 1974.)

But the most interesting story in the data is the pronounced shift toward youth over the past two years. While Imp-Mod sales came in more than $322 million lower (about 25 percent) this May compared to the same month in 2019, postwar and contemporary sales were down a mere $76 million (roughly six percent) in the same face-off.

P.W.C. works also outsold Imp-Mod works by more than $162 million this May, flipping the script from the 2019 May sales. Sales of ultra-contemporary works (made by artists born in 1975 or later) ascended almost 250 percent over this two-year span, from $35.7 million to $86.2 million last month.

Look for the push toward present-day talent to continue as the market keeps gathering strength in the months ahead.


“What does every rich and famous person want more than anything? Relevancy… You have a Warhol Marilyn? Cool, we know you’re rich. But if you have, say, Christina Quarles, you’re of our time.”
—Anonymous dealer on the allure of the young artists being added by mega-galleries. (For details, check Nate Freeman on Gagosian’s farm team.)



Express Checkout

Anonymous Online Sales Aren’t Just for Crypto + Three More Market Morsels


LiveArt Market, ex-Sotheby’s dealmaker Adam Chinn’s peer-to-peer platform enabling buyers and sellers to transact anonymously, went live by invitation. Anna Brady unpacked how it works. (The Art Newspaper)

  • The platform reported $5 million in sales during the early days of its soft opening.
  • Works by Amoako Boafo and Ed Clark went for six figures each.


Can Paris unseat London as the top Euro art market? Melanie Gerlis dons a beret to investigate. (ARTnews)


London Gallery Weekend was a “smashing success” but will it kill off art fairs? (Midnight Publishing Group News Pro)


The Robert Indiana estate reached a settlement with its biggest backer after three years of legal hell. (Midnight Publishing Group News)



Paint Drippings

Here’s what made a mark in the latest Wet Paint (and elsewhere).

  • Skarstedt will open a Paris gallery (and poached Maria Cifuentes from Phillips Paris to run it.)

  • Cady Noland secretly installed her first new work in decades at Galerie Buchholz in NYC.

  • The Nasher Museum at Duke University acquired a painting by Korakrit Arunanondchai.

  • Julian Schnabel will be the subject of the Brant Foundation’s September show.

  • McArthur Binion is now represented by Xavier Hufkens, with his first solo exhibition at the gallery set for fall 2022. (Binion will also continue working with Lehmann MaupinMassimo De Carlo, and Richard Gray.)

  • Ashley Bickerton joined the stable of Various Small Fires.

  • Blum & Poe added ceramicist Kazunori Hamana to its roster and will solo-show him in L.A. this September.

  • NYC’s Company Gallery now reps the Women’s History Museum collective founded by Mattie Barringer and Amanda McGowan.

  • Christie’s will open pop-up spaces in Southampton (this month) and Aspen (July 3).

  • König debuts its showroom in Monaco (at the Villa Nuvola) today.


[Read More]


Artwork of the Week

Gio Swaby’s Love Letter 5

Gio Swaby, Love Letter 5 (2021). Photo courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York.

Gio Swaby, Love Letter 5 (2021). Photo courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York.


Date:                     2021

Seller:                   Claire Oliver Gallery

Price Range:         $25,000 to $50,000

Acquired By:         The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Gio Swaby is on a trajectory unimaginable to the art market a generation ago. A 29 year-old interdisciplinary artist hailing from the Bahamas, she is still in the midst of her M.F.A. studies at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design University. Yet she joined the roster of Harlem’s Claire Oliver Gallery last year without ever meeting the dealer—after curator Danielle Krysa brokered an introduction via Instagram. Her inaugural solo exhibition at Oliver’s space was arranged remotely during the shutdown.

That exhibition, “Gio Swaby: Both Sides of the Sun,” celebrated Black womanhood through threaded-line portraits and silhouettes where textile patterns echoed the models’ natural curves. It also sold out before the end of its run on June 5. Private buyers included author Roxane Gay and actor Hill Harper, and Swaby’s waiting list now swells beyond 100 names.

More impressively, eight institutions acquired work (pending final board approval). A gallery spokesperson confirmed that one of those eight, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, even reworked its upcoming exhibition “Fabric of A Nation” to include Love Letter 5, which it officially acquired this week. Just imagine what Swaby can do now that she can meet people in person again.


Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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Wet Paint: Julian Schnabel Is Having a Baby at 70, Market Goes Gaga for Long-Dead Surrealist, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip

Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News Pro 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]



Julian Schnabel, perhaps the most famous American artist alive, is about to enter his eighth decade on planet earth. But he’s not slowing down—he’s had three shows at Pace in the past year, two in New York and one in Palm Beach, and he’s the primary force behind a 570-page doorstop of a monograph that’s forthcoming from Taschen. (Clasped in a clamshell cover that’s the same pepto-pink hue as the Palazzo Chupi, “it’s the most generous opportunity to experience Schnabel’s art outside of meeting it in person,” per Taschen spox.) The tome costs $1,500, and all 1,100 copies produced have been sold. You just can’t stop Schnabel.

Julian Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg walk the red carpet during the 76th Venice Film Festival. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

In fact, Wet Paint can reveal there’s another big development in Julian world: another little one is about to become part of his illustrious brood. That’s right—the 69-year-old is having a daughter, his seventh child, with his wife, the writer and designer Louise Kugelberg.

Sure, it’s 2021, and science be praised, Mick Jagger is out here having his eighth kid at 73—but it’s worthwhile to note that Julian became a grandfather just a few months ago, when his daughter Stella Schnabel had her first child.

Taschen’s new Julian Schnabel book. Photo courtesy Julian Schnabel.

Schnabel baby will be eight years younger than her closest sibling, Shooter Sandhed Julian Schnabel Jr., whom the artist shares with Danish model May Andersen. (That baby shower is a big act to follow: last time the stork came flying in, Peter Brant and Stephanie Seymour hosted a bash where Schnabel the Elder unveiled a 20-foot-tall painting of his pregnant paramour.)

Sources say that lucky number seven is due in a few months, meaning things must be busy in New York’s more Schnabel-heavy precincts, on West 11th Street in Manhattan and the tip of Long Island in Montauk. All snark aside, the members of the Schnabel family are really some of the nicest people in the game, so this column gives a hearty welcome to the new kid. Mazel to Julien and Louise.

The artist did not comment through Pace.



Gertrude Abercrombie, Giraffe (1954). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Plenty of trend lines emerged from the auctions last week—we’ve already told you this stuff, but if you happen to have any A-plus works by, say, the Dallas-based self-taught neo-expressionist Jammie Holmes, maybe go call upon your local local art dealer.

But the newest, hottest artist to come out of auction week isn’t a young figurative painter. It’s Gertrude Abercrombie, a Chicago surrealist who was barely known outside of the Midwest when she died in 1978.

Gertrude Abercrombie. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Since 2018, there’s been some market action around Abercrombie bubbling up slowly. The artist had not been shown in New York since the 1950s when Karma, the beloved and expanding art and publishing concern in the East Village, staged an acclaimed survey of her work with curator Dan Nadel.

The accompanying book fleshed out the narrative: Abercrombie was a surrealist who acted as a pivotal member of the Windy City’s bebop scene—Dizzy Gillespie was a close friend and muse—and acted as a key source of inspiration to the city’s Imagist movement that emerged in the 1960s. The paintings were undeniably gorgeous, but with no market established, prices were in the four figures.

Gertrude Abercrombie show at Karma. Photo courtesy Karma.

But now, with a giant retrospective at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh on the horizon, Amercrombie works have become manna for in-the-know connoisseurs. The demand is such that, when an Abercromie came to auction Wednesday at Sotheby’s with a $15,000 high estimate, it hammered at $290,000, or $365,000 with fees.

Sources say that some of the collectors who purchased work by Abercrombie below the $10,000 mark a few years ago are now looking to sell. The sale Wednesday took place in a non-marquee American art sale. Expect the next one to be in a major evening sale—perhaps on the cover of a digital catalogue.



The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Photo courtesy Felix.

A year ago, the experts were saying we could never shake hands again, and the idea of entering an enclosed space was terrifying to most Americans. Fast forward to May 2021, and we have art fairs again. (Vaccines are magic.) While TEFAF may have scotched its much-delayed September edition in Maastricht, in the better-vaxxed purple mountains majesty there will be wet hot American art fairs this summer and fall.

First up is Felix, the Los Angeles fair that opens its doors in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on July 29. It’s focusing on galleries with local outlets, and the exhibitors list is a ‘27 Yankees of La La Land art shops. There’s the big guns such as David Kordansky, Gagosian, Blum & Poe, Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Francois Ghebaly—all first-time Felix exhibitors—and younger outfits like Chateau Shatto, Matthew Brown Gallery, Chris Sharp Gallery, and Parker Gallery. Plus, there’s rumors of a party hosted by a certain art-world gossip column happening that week… consider leaving the Hamptons just this once for some West Coast action.

The new site of Independent. Photo courtesy Independent.

Then, in September, the Independent and Armory Show fairs return to New York. Both are trying out new venues: Cipriani South Street and the Javits Center, respectively. Independent’s got some newcomers, too: Spaces such as Vito Schnabel Gallery, Off Paradise, Mrs., Broadway, and The Ranch are all taking part for the first time. Get your art-fair shoes ready.



Last week, all I gave you readers to go on was a picture of a spice rack, the French tarragon and bay leaves bought from that dear departed prince of grocers, Dean & Deluca. And of course, the artist who once possessed this spice rack is Donald Judd, who lived a block away from the original store and was one of its first customers. Giorgio DeLuca was a close friend, and Judd would often send his kids to the palatial SoJo gourmet purveyor with gift certificates in hand.

But the quiz was a tricky one—this iteration of the spice rack is actually at The Block, Judd’s former home in Marfa, Texas, and not on Spring Street. The only reader to get that right is the perennial quiz champion, Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte—congrats to you, sir! Everyone should read his wonderful article on the artist Kayode Ojo, published this week in Interview magazine.

A few runners up successfully named Judd but picked the wrong house. They are: collector and patron Scott Lorinsky; Sarah Goulet, the owner of Sarah Goulet Communications; and Dan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley.

Here’s this week’s quiz. Name the artist who made this work, and the place where it is installed.

Send guesses to [email protected]. Hats are coming for the winners, these things take time, alas!



The future site of an Aspen pop-up. Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Lehmann Maupin is opening a pop-up gallery in Aspen alongside Carpenters Workshop, on East Hyman Avenue, right next to the Aspen Art Museum and catty-corner from the Almine Rech space—Rocky Mountain High! … Raymond Sackler has launched an extremely detailed website trying to convince people that his family did not actually have that much to do with the opioid crisis—the site is called Judge For Yourself and, by all means, you should do just that … Ignacio Mattos is putting the finishing touches on his Rockefeller Center cafe, Caffè Lodi, which will be a bakery and prepared food emporium that will also deliver faves from his hit downtown spots Estela and Cafe Altro Paradiso to Christie’s specialists and NBC pages …

A new cafe, under construction. Photo courtesy Instagram stories.

Fancy seated art dinners are back—we’ve gotten a swell of invites after a year without them and you know we love it, keep the invites coming … Gabriel Schachter is opening a pop-up show of drawings by his late brother Kai Schachter, who died of suicide in 2019—the show is at 208 Bowery until May 27 … A new issue of The Drunken Canal drops at the usual Dimes Square location, the newspaper box at Essex and Canal, this Saturday—look for a very special spread in collaboration with a certain fashion brand … There’s a Kickstarter to fund the last unrealized project of the great artist Martin Roth, who died in June 2019—he intended to build a plant garden in an historic home in Newburgh, New York, designed by Andrew Jackson Downing …

The interior of a house in Newburgh that was set to be turned into an artwork by Martin Roth. Photo courtesy Strongroom.

Apparently one of the world’s biggest George Condo collectors is, shit you not, Ringo StarrStella McCartney dishes on that and other art-world connections to her dad’s band in an interview with Gagosian magazine … Paul’s Casablanca, Paul Sevingy’s West Soho bar, will reopen on May 30, and the Morrissey will be spinning on the ones and twos … a mega-gallery may be flirting with the idea of an outpost in Austin, Texas, of all places … Global International Men’s Clothiers, the Orchard Street institution run by haberdasher Sammy Gluck—who famously hawked suits at Zach Feuer Gallery in 2013 as part of a Joel Mesler performance—is closing, and the landlord is offering the space for any use; maybe some ambitious gallerist should honor Sammy’s legacy by taking it over for a primo Lower East Side outpost …


*** Jasper Johns, looking pretty sprightly on a Zoom call to celebrate his 91st birthday *** Klaus Biesenbach and Patti Smith at the Rockaway Beach Uzbek restaurant Uma’s, where they ordered the carrot salad that they’re both obsessed with—if you have the time and inclination, you can go down the rabbit hole that is #carrotsaladatumas, I just hope that this is, like, the world’s greatest carrot salad, I mean it’s like, all they eat *** Alexander Skarsgard taking a break from filming Succession to grab a bite at Atla Saturday ***

Socially distanced art-world VIPs at Pier 52 by the Whitney to celebrate the opening of David Hammons’s Days End, which came complete with an on-the-water salute from the fire department *** Bob Dylan, who will have a survey of his visual art at the Frost Museum in Miami this winter, out and about in Santa Monica as captured by a Daily Mail shutterbug—apparently it’s his first time seen in public in a decade *** Artists Scott Covert and Peter McGough giving a talk at Off Paradise moderated by writer Randy Kennedy related to the Ray Johnson-themed show that’s up right now—there’s also a closing event Thursday May 27 *** A smattering of downtown writers, curators, and artists celebrating Kye Christensen Knowles’s insanely metal new show at Lomex with a dinner at Forlini’s *** Some terrifying NFT gallery opening on Canal Street, what a time to be alive ***

Who knows what this could be! Photo courtesy a tipster.


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