Time

‘A Face Is Not Just a Face’: Is It Finally Time for the Gay Gaze of Unsung Portraitist Gilbert Lewis?


“I didn’t realize until recently what a profound effect he had on my life,” Anthony Rullo said of the Philadelphia-based figurative painter Gilbert Lewis. He first posed for him in 1986, and would do so, about twice a week, for $6 an hour for the next ten years.

At the time, Rullo was 23 and working at a clothing boutique on South Street, which was still a buzzing bohemian and nightlife area. “My life was total chaos,” he recalled. “I was struggling to pay the rent, going out to clubs, and partying.” Lewis’s studio was nearby, and Rullo would come by after work for two-hour sessions. It didn’t even look like anyone lived there. Paintings were stacked all around. The few pieces of furniture looked scavenged from the street. No TV. No answering machine. The artist was only about 41 at the time, but seemed much older to Rullo.

An undated photo of Gilbert Lewis. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

An undated photo of Gilbert Lewis. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Gilbert Lewis always wore a uniform of khakis and a chambray shirt and was almost as broke as Rullo. It confounded Rullo that selling his work was not part of Lewis’s process. He didn’t even seem to try and would deflect any suggestions. “I know that I’m a good painter,” he said to him. “When I’m dead somebody’s gonna find my paintings and then I’ll be famous and I’ll be appreciated.”

Each day, Lewis painted the pendulum of life. He worked as an art therapist in a nursing home. By day, he painted portraits of the elderly, engaging with them as he rendered them.

Tribute, September 5, 1984, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper, 39 x 59 1/2 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2017)

Gilbert Lewis, Tribute, September 5, 1984. Gouache on paper, 39 x 59 1/2 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2017)

“One of my motivations in painting has been to celebrate the beginning of adulthood for the young and the final period of life for the old,” Lewis said in a 2004 catalogue interview. “What struck me is that both young men and the old are ignored by society. Despite our ostensible focus on youth, young men are in a sort of nether world, no longer teenagers and yet not full adults. They’re in transition with no established identify and no real place in society.” After work, his salary went to paying the male models who populated his vision.

Both jobs could bleed into each other. “When I’d sit for him, it felt like a therapy session,” Rullo said. “He’d want to know all about you. Going to Gilbert’s was the only thing in my life that was normal, consistent, and calm.” These sessions were reciprocally beneficial to Lewis. Most of the portraits took place in his studio and say as much about the painter as they do the subject, documenting intimate human connection and exchange and a pathway of desire.

Rullo insisted he wasn’t a muse, just one of the legion of models who posed for Lewis. The 60 or so portraits produced over the decade prove otherwise and are a fascinating, varied series. The artist would give Rullo slide images of the completed paintings. Many years later, Rullo lined them up in chronological order.

A selection of the slides Gilbert Lewis would give Anthony Rullo after completing a portrait of him. There are around 60 completed works. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

A selection of the slides Gilbert Lewis would give Anthony Rullo after completing a portrait of him. There are around 60 completed works. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

“I could see the trajectory of my life,” he said. “The beginning pictures, I look very young and innocent. And then my attitude toward life changed.” Anthony Rullo was diagnosed with AIDS. “There was no medication, there was no treatment. You could lose your job, your friends, your family,” he said. “I never told Gilbert. You wouldn’t even tell a gay brother or anything. My boyfriend and I and people at that time that were positive, kind of had this ‘fuck it’ attitude. You’d open credit cards and max them out. I’m never paying for this stuff! I was buying expensive clothes, and what I was doing, maybe subconsciously, was creating my legacy. This is how I wanted to be remembered, in these gorgeous clothes. Like I was some important person, which I wasn’t.”

Anthony Rullo wearing a Jean-Paul Gaultier top in 1987. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

Anthony Rullo wearing a Jean-Paul Gaultier top in 1987. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

On the day his boyfriend Keith died in 1990, Rullo went to Lewis’s for a session and the truth came out. “He was shocked. Why didn’t you tell me? For the whole year of 1990, every picture looks like I’m crying. Then over time the next five years, you see another change. By the end I’m doing nude paintings and they’ve become more sophisticated.”

Like much of his work, Lewis’s series of Anthony Rullo is a meditation on male beauty and form. But he also captured the gay emotional condition in the throes of the AIDS epidemic. “But he wasn’t making a political statement,” Anthony says.

Lewis was out-of-step with the straight art world for being too gay, but his longing gaze was anachronistic in the queer art of the time—lacking the transgression and hypersexuality of Robert Mapplethorpe or the clarion militantism of David Wojnarowicz and other firebrands in the Act Up 1980s. The tide has now shifted where the quieter voices from the era are now being recognized.

In an undated artist state, Lewis wrote: “The painting of a face is not just a face. My feelings are expressed through these images. My paintings speak to anyone in touch with their own humanity; to anyone else my art may be dismissed as ‘too personal.’”

Rullo stopped sitting for the artist in 1996 and moved to Miami in 2008. They remained friends and kept in touch until they couldn’t. Gilbert Lewis is in a Pennsylvania nursing facility with advanced stage Alzheimer’s. His large body of work must speak for him, and it seems the world is now ready to listen.

Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], December 2, 1981 (L) and Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], October 10, 1981, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2020)

Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], December 2, 1981 (L) and Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], October 10, 1981, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2020)

“The special part of Gilbert’s work is just how contemporary it was,” said Daniel Kapp. “As young gay men just looking around the room, we see ourselves in all of these works.” Earlier this month he was at Kapp Kapp, the Tribeca gallery he co-founded with his brother, installing “Portraits 1979–2002,” the Gilbert Lewis solo exhibition they curated (until February 25). It’s an inspired and intimate primer.

Installation View: Gilbert Lewis Portraits 1979 – 2002. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Installation view, “Gilbert Lewis Portraits 1979–2002.” The Swimmer is in the foreground. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Anthony Rullo makes some striking cameos, and the charcoal sketches carry emotional resonance and are installed atop a Gilbert Lewis nautical wallpaper design. Some portraits seem like quick, casual neighborhood visits in his daily painting routine. He’s most compelling when he’s serenely grandiose, as in the languid, sumptuous Untitled (Basking Nude) of 1985 and The Swimmer (1984). The latter is on loan from Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, who presented a solo Lewis show of 49 paintings in 2004 when it was a much smaller institution. It was his first and only solo show in the city, and the museum is the only New York institution to have his work in their permanent collection.

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Basking Nude), 1985 Signed and dated '5-19-85' Gouache on paper 60 x 44 inches

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Basking Nude), 1985 Signed and dated ‘5-19-85’ Gouache on paper 60 x 44 inches. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

“A big part of why we’re so interested in his work is this anonymity to New York City, at least in the last 20 years,” said Daniel Kapp. “He flew under the radar in Philly too. There really wasn’t a market for his work. The male nude is still not the most popular thing to buy. Lewis had contemporaries working in similar ways in New York, and those artists have gotten more of their dues.”

If the Kapp Kapp show doesn’t edge Gilbert Lewis into greater art world acceptance, it should at least push him into the greater gay canon beyond being a regional luminary.

The year 2020 should have been the year Gilbert Lewis broke into the mainstream. A quadruple blitz of overlapping solo exhibitions in Philadelphia coincided with the pandemic, which limited the impact of the joint efforts at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (“Only Tony” was comprised solely of Anthony Rullo portraits), the William Way Community Center, Kapp Kapp’s prior locale. The Woodmere Art Museum’s robust survey, “Many Faces, Many Figures” captured the painter’s expansive scope.

Untitled, February 2, 1982, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper, 22 1/4 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Barton Rymshaw, 2017)

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled, February 2, 1982. Gouache on paper, 22 1/4 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Barton Rymshaw, 2017)

“Gilbert was thought of in the arts community as one of the major figurative artists working in his time,” Valerio said, “and somebody who managed to define a compelling idea of what realism could be. Historically, the mainstream of the arts in Philadelphia is realism. We’re the town of Thomas Eakins and Charles Wilson Peale. Gilbert Lewis attended PAFA. He went through the curriculum that was designed by Eakins: Paint what you see, paint what you feel, don’t be afraid of your sexuality. It all comes out in his work.”

He continued, “A lot of people have said that Gilbert didn’t achieve the success that he should have because his subjects were perceived to be gay. Gilbert wanted people to pose in the way they wanted, the way they wanted to be seen.”

After getting his BFA from Philadelphia College of Art in 1974, Gilbert Lewis worked at the Aramis cologne counter at the Wanamaker’s department store, which at the time was a gay hotbed. He decamped to New York for a stint at Bloomingdales. It was a disastrous detour. He lived in a hovel, had no money, and was mugged. He returned to Pennsylvania for a career pivot and in 1978 received his master’s degree in Creative Arts Therapy from Hahnemann University (his thesis was “The Spontaneous Art Productions of an Institutionalized Geriatric Population”).

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Designer Jeans), 1982 Gouache on paper 30 x 22 inches

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Designer Jeans), 1982 Gouache on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

“Therapists become therapists because they need their own therapy,” said Eric Rymshaw, who met him 1979. “He had an odd, unsupportive family. His father was in the military. They lived near a military base in Norfolk, Virginia. Gilbert’s brother never acknowledged him after he came out.”

Rymshaw and Lewis dated for three years. Art was a lynchpin. “A lot of our time was going to museums,” Rymshaw recalled. “In 1982 we followed David Hockney around the Metropolitan Museum. I wouldn’t go up and say hello. Gilbert loved Hockney. He liked paintings that looked fresh and, didn’t look overworked. Immediacy mattered. So, when Gilbert was painting, it was about what he saw, and immediately putting it on canvas, there were never layers and layers and overworking and reworking.”

Still Life with Tulip, 1984, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on Arches paper, 22 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Rymshaw and James Fulton, 2017)

Gilbert Lewis, Still Life with Tulip (1984). Gouache on Arches paper, 22 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Rymshaw and James Fulton, 2017)

Rymshaw remembered bringing a lily home from a wedding Lewis wouldn’t attend with him. “Flowers would inevitably go to the studio, he loved them,” Rymshaw said. Lewis spent the following days drawing a series of the bloom decomposing.

“Gilbert painted every day,” he said. “One of the reasons that we didn’t survive was that he so intensely wanted to be in his studio, painting. There was never any time for me. He was always having people come in. He did everything from live models. He never did any photography.”

He added, “Gilbert was sexually driven. I was always very aware that often. I’m sure he had sex with many of the young men.”

Reclining, 1987, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper, 40 x 48 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2016)

Gilbert Lewis, Reclining (1987). Gouache on paper, 40 x 48 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2016)

Lewis’s business acumen mixed obstinance with self-sabotage. “He hated commissions. A couple of friends commissioned him to paint their kids and he never finished the paintings.” The artist was a perennial at local art shows and group shows. “He’d always cause a problem by what he chose to put on the walls,” Rymshaw said. “He hated the gallery system and how they treated him.”

Rymshaw would overlap with Lewis socially sporadically throughout the years and remembered Anthony Rullo. “Tony was a fashionista and very much an aesthete,” Rymshaw said. “That was their commonality. I would party with them a little bit, and he met many models through Tony’s social circle. All of Gilbert’s attempts at finding his art seemed to happen through Tony. Whether it was a sketch or finished work, if you put them in a row you can see Gilbert trying out one style to another through Tony and it allowed him to experiment.”

Rymshaw met his current partner James Fulton (the two have an architecture and design firm). They’d buy paintings from Lewis when he’d run out of money, and place some with clients.

Gilbert Lewis in 1988. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Gilbert Lewis in 1988. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Lewis eventually settled down with an abstract painter named Doug Bealer whom he met when he was an art school senior. Doug moved into his sparse row house. Each occupied a separate floor and painted in symbiotic isolation. Their relationship lasted many years. After Doug moved out, he committed suicide about a year later. “That’s sort of when Gilbert started to change, and I think not appreciate life as much,” Rymshaw said.

In 2015, the painter Bill Scott ran into Lewis, who hadn’t shown up at the opening of a group show Scott had recently put him in. Scott greeted him. “He was standing there very politely, kind of with armor on, like he had a boundary. He finally said very politely, ‘Excuse me, but have we met?’ And I said, ‘Gilbert, I’ve known you since 1974.’” Scott contacted Rymshaw and the two began meeting at the artist’s house, which was in a state of severe disrepair, to assist him.

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Laying Man), c. 1980 Charcoal and graphite on paper 22 1/4 x 30 inches

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Laying Man), ca. 1980. Charcoal and graphite on paper 22 1/4 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Even when they were boyfriends, despite being younger, Rymshaw was the caregiver of the pair. That dynamic maintained after their breakup throughout their friendship and would evolve to a higher plane. “I don’t think we actually ever fell out of love,” Rymshaw said. Lewis’s dementia progressed and he had to be moved to a full-time facility. Rymshaw and his husband Jim supported his round-the-clock nursing care for over five years.

Rymshaw became director of his estate, and he and Bill Scott began cataloguing the estimated 400 artworks that filled his row house. For the first time in Lewis’s career, there was a concerted sales effort behind him with funds raised going directly to his care. Many works were donated to museums, such as the Woodmere, to maintain his legacy. “These were important pieces that I didn’t want to end up going into some mysterious collection,” Rymshaw said. Their efforts led to the 2020 exhibitions in Philadelphia.

Scott said of the vast archive, “He was out of step with the world and with the trends. It was like looking at a bunch of portraits by Hans Memling for me. You know how you can look at Renaissance portraits and write ten novels about them from what you intuit from seeing them. Gilbert created a whole world of characters.”

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The L.A. Art Scene Is Expanding in Time for the Frieze Art Fair Amidst a Billionaire Scion’s Bold Investment in an Up-And-Coming Area


While reporting my doom-and-gloom column last week, I spotted a glimmer of hope: Los Angeles.

So I decided to follow up on it.

Indeed, the art scene in the City of Angels has been undergoing a major expansion, and anticipation is now building around the Frieze L.A. art fair in mid-February—an event that is poised not only to be a celebration of the West Coast art capital but also the year’s first stress test for U.S. galleries writ large. The fair is going through its own leveling-up, with a larger new venue in Santa Monica and 120 exhibitors, 20 percent more than at last year’s edition. Coinciding with Frieze are at least four other art fairs, as well as openings and other festivities by newcomers, including a cluster of New York galleries, led by David Zwirner, which is flocking to East Hollywood. (Although that opening is being delayed, more on that later.)

The locals, meanwhile are doubling down. L.A. mainstay Hauser & Wirth, for instance, is opening a new 5,000-square-foot location in West Hollywood with new paintings by George Condo priced at $2.6 million to $2.8 million. Nearby, homegrown François Ghebaly Gallery will launch a 3,000-square-foot branch, its second in the city. Entrepreneur Stefan Simcowitz’s recent opening of a gallery in Pasadena is followed this week by a new space on the ground floor of the Mohilef Studios downtown.

George Condo, Psycho (2022). Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Thomas Barrat

“There’s a lot of momentum,” said Mills Moran, co-founder of the local Morán Morán gallery and the Felix Art Fair. “L.A. is growing.”

Some of the excitement can be traced to a new art hub sprouting in East Hollywood. Dubbed Melrose Hill, the area was first populated by vendors servicing Paramount Studios and later furniture showrooms, whose column-free, high-ceiling layouts seem readymade for contemporary art galleries. These days, streets appear desolate, with empty lots and trash on the sidewalks.

Turning the area into a walkable, artsy, and cool destination is the passion project of Zach Lasry, the 32-year-old son of Marc Lasry, the billionaire hedge fund manager and co-owner of NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks team.

“He was just very motivated to make the neighborhood something organically interesting,” said Allegra LaViola, owner of Sargent’s Daughters gallery, which signed a five-year lease with the younger Lasry. “He liked the idea of a neighborhood that had a little bit of a New York vibe. You get out of your car, you can go to this restaurant, go to this coffee shop, go to this gallery, to a cool boutique—instead of getting in a car, driving to one thing, getting out of the car, getting back in the car, going to another thing.”

Morán Morán was first to sign on, opening a gallery near a gas station on N. Western Avenue in August 2021, with a 10-year lease. The 5,000-square-foot space with skylights was an upgrade from its former 3,000-square-foot quarters in West Hollywood.

“We were really early,” Moran said. “We saw Zach’s vision. It wasn’t hard to visualize. They’ve been acquiring property there for a long time. Our conversations started before the pandemic.”

Others followed. Clearing opened a temporary space in September. Sargent’s Daughters and Shrine, who share a space east of Dimes Square in New York, are moving in next month to coincide with Frieze L.A. James Fuentes will follow in March, across from Morán Morán.

James Fuentes, Los Angeles.

New York gallerist James Fuentes’s new Los Angeles outpost. Courtesy of the Gallery.

The biggest kahuna in the area, of course, is David Zwirner, whose limited liability company paid $6 million in 2021 for a building at 606 N. Western Avenue and another $1 million for a two-bedroom house with bars on the windows around the corner last year, according to property records.

The gallery had planned to launch its first West Coast flagship in time for Frieze L.A. with a long-awaited show of Njideka Akunyili Crosby. But the chatter mill is abuzz that the 15,000-square-food project by Selldorf Architects got mired in construction delays, and won’t open till later this spring. A spokeswoman for the gallery confirmed that it’s not debuting during the week of Frieze but declined to elaborate.

Moran said that his new neighbors are discussing coordinated openings to draw people to the up-and-coming area. Safety may be a concern, at least initially.

“There’s so much homelessness, it’s actually dangerous,” said Simchowitz, the art establishment’s perennial gadfly. A homeless man threw an iron bar at his car when he was in the area this week, he said.  

I raised the issue of safety with some New York transplants.

“It reminds me of Delancey Street, where the gallery is in New York,” said Fuentes, who signed a 10-year lease in Melrose Hill. “I never felt like I needed to be extra-concerned.”

 

Jemima Kirke, Bride in a Dark Room (2017) will be in Sargent’s Daughter’s first L.A. show, “Death of Beauty.” Courtesy: Sargent’s Daughters

LaViola said that she always takes safety into consideration, leading her to install a buzzer at her New York gallery, but that she wasn’t too worried about Melrose Hill.

Lasry’s plan to create denser foot traffic is part of what drew her to the area, she said. Affordable rent, a feature of a fringe locale, was another. “I would pay the same price for 500 square feet on the Upper East Side, where I would be on the third floor, as for the ground floor in Los Angeles, where we could renovate to our own specifications,” she said.

 

“Knowing that there was this built-in association was really key,” LaViola said.

Alison Knowles, The House of Dust Edition (1967). Courtesy of the artist, James Fuentes, and LACMA.

Alison Knowles, The House of Dust Edition (1967) will be part of “Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982” at LACMA. Courtesy of the artist, James Fuentes, and LACMA.

Los Angeles has been increasing in significance for Fuentes, who has been cautious not to overextend during his 15-year gallery career. But a generation of budding collectors has made L.A. their home since the pandemic, taking advantage of remote work policies, resulting in a new pool of clients. The area is famously home to many artists, useful for the expanding gallery, and proximate to Asia. Fuentes’s artists show in the city’s world-class institutions. One, Alison Knowles, will be included in a group show about the rise of computer technology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next month.

“I am so careful with these types of decisions, and I spent a lot of time analyzing it and considering it,” Fuentes said about his move. “I am going into it with optimism.”

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The Back Room: Once Upon a Time in the West


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: A former LA textile mill churns out art stars, the law catches up to a scandalous SoCal dealer, Gagosian goes big online (again), and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,824 words).

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Top of the Market

LA, LA, Big City of Dreams

Canyon Castator, courtesy of the artist.

Canyon Castator, courtesy of the artist.

The international art market’s next step out of the COVID riptide landed in Los Angeles this week, as the city hosts its first gallery weekend (organized by Gallery Association Los Angeles), the third edition of the Felix art fair, and a beach bag overflowing with associated art happenings. You can even scroll through Frieze’s LA-focused OVR while you crawl along the freeway from event to event!

But one of the city’s most exciting new art hubs will impact the industry well after the limelight turns to the next destination on the events calendar. Welcome to Mohilef Studios, a former downtown LA textiles factory now housing four stories of workspaces for an ensemble cast of rising art stars.

As Katya Kazakina reports, the driving force behind Mohilef Studios is the buzzy transplanted New York painter Canyon Castator. Six years after renting an 800 square-foot space to share with his sculptor father in what was then an arts-bereft building, Castator has grown into a hybrid curator, community builder, and entrepreneur tending what tastemakers increasingly feel is a can’t-miss hive of emerging talent.

Those tastemakers include local dealer and artists’ manager Niels Kantor, Hollywood producer and veteran collector Neal Moritz, and K-Pop supernova T.O.P. (Choi Seung-hyun). Among the fans on the gallery side are Bill Brady (who maintains spaces in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles) and Carl Kostyál (London, Stockholm), both of whom have now exhibited works by multiple current and former Mohilef tenants.

Who are some of those tenants, you ask?

  • Simphiwe Ndzube, now boasting a solo show at the Denver Art Museum and representation by Nicodim and Stevenson galleries.
  • Jess Valice, whose one-person exhibitions at Brady’s New York and Miami spaces sold out in January at prices ranging from $5,000 to $18,000.
  • Austyn Weiner, a Mohilef alum whose works have soared as high as $90,000 at auction and anchored shows at the JournalKohn Gallery, and Carl Kostyál.

Yet these successes have been refreshingly organic. Castator says the vision was always for Mohilef to be an affordable resource for artists, with a sense of community and a self-made spirit. The reality is living up to his expectations.

The two Castators have personally renovated every space and selected every new resident. Each floor has a different layout fit for different career stages, from smaller open-plan studios to about 3,200-square-foot private spaces. Prices are around $1.25 per square foot. Since neither Castator nor several of the tenants went to art school, the studio also doubles as a homegrown support network.

It has paid off for everyone, including Castator himself. His paintings now sell for $25,000 to $35,000 to buyers including KAWS. And as the buzz around Mohilef keeps mounting, his clout will only increase as an artist, talent scout, and maybe even a new SoCal cultural kingmaker.

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The Bottom Line

From the market’s perspective, Mohilef Studios is the right thing in the right place at the right time.

The COVID financial boom continues to send upside-minded buyers hunting for promising young artists, drastically juicing prices and opportunities for exactly the types of talent Mohilef welcomes. Merge this dynamic with the larger cultural and financial push toward Los Angeles in recent years, and its surging profile makes perfect sense.

No wonder Castator just rented 4,000 square feet on the top floor of an industrial building on Washington Boulevard to convert into more artist studios. You know LA loves a sequel…

 

[Read More]

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Paint Drippings

The Henderson, Hong Kong by Zaha Hadid Architects for Henderson Land. Rendering by Arqui9, courtesy of Christie's.

Visualization of the Henderson, Hong Kong by Zaha Hadid Architects for Henderson Land, where Christie’s will move in 2024. Rendering by Arqui9, courtesy of Christie’s.

Wet Paint is on hiatus this week, but here’s what else made a mark around the industry.

 

Art Fairs

  • Volta will debut in downtown Miami during Miami Art Week, replacing Pulse. (Both events are now owned by Ramsay Fairs.)

  • The Seattle Art Fair will return next summer, from July 21–July 24 at the Lumen Field Event Center.

 

Auction Houses

  • Christie’s Hong Kong will be an anchor tenant in the Henderson, a new Zaha Hadid Architects-designed tower in Central. The move (slated for 2024) quadruples the house’s showroom space, enabling it to hold a yearlong sales program in HK for the first time.

 

Galleries

  • Mike Egan, founder of the tastemaking Ramiken gallery, has teamed with respected Upper East Side dealer Meredith Rosen on a joint venture called (what else?) Egan and Rosen. The new business opened its inaugural show, “Otto Dix / Andra Ursuţa,” last night in its home at 11 East 78th St. (Both dealers will also continue running their pre-existing galleries separately.)

  • Andrew Kreps announced the representation of Hong Kong-based painter Henry Shum (in collaboration with Empty Gallery). Kreps will stage Shum’s first solo show in North America in fall 2022.

  • Nara Roesler added painter André Griffo to its stable (in alliance with Rio’s Galeria Athena); his first one-person exhibition with the dealer will bow in São Paulo next year.

  • Multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Hlobo has joined Goodman Gallery. (He will also continue to be repped by Lehmann Maupin.)

  • König Galerie expanded its artist ranks with painter Conny Maier, a recipient of Deutsche Bank’s 2020 Artist of the Year Award.

  • JTT added James Yaya Hough, whose work is currently on view in a solo show at the gallery (and was also featured in MoMA PS1’s “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” last year).

  • New York’s Tina Kim Gallery now reps installation artist Mire Lee, a nominee for the PinchukArtCentre’s Future Generations Art Prize.

  • Angela Cuadra and Laura F. Gibellini became the latest artists to join Madrid’s NF/Nieves Fernández gallery.

 

Institutions

  • Starting October 1, the next director of the Centre Pompidou will be 39-year-old Xavier Rey, who has helmed the Musées de Marseille for the past four years.

  • The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum named Ty Woodfolk its first ever chief culture and inclusion officer; it also promoted Trish Jeffers to deputy director of human resources.

  • New York’s Museum of Arts and Design chose Timothy R. Rodgers, formerly of the Phoenix Art Museum, to be its 11th director in eight years.

  • Tate Liverpool will host the fall exhibition of artists shortlisted for the 2022 Turner Prize. The artists will be selected next May, and the winner will be announced in December.

  • The Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University selected Sarah Rifky to be its senior curator and director of programs. It also promoted Amber Esseiva from associate curator to full curator.

  • The Seoul Museum of Art accepted a gift of 141 works from the heirs of late Korean sculptor Kwon Jin-kyu.

  • MoMA PS1 announced the 47 artists in its upcoming “Greater New York” exhibition, set to debut on October 7. ARTnews has the full list.

 

NFTs and Misc.

  • The Whitworth gallery in Manchester is partnering with versatile online art platform Vastari Labs to auction a William Blake NFT whose proceeds will fund “socially beneficial projects.”

  • A New York Supreme Court judge tossed out collector Michael Steinhardt’s lawsuit against Hirschl and Adler gallery and its president, Stuart Feld, over the sale of a $12 million portrait of another president, George Washington.

  • Jeremy Stowe, who had previously taken a leave of absence from his role as leader of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, has stepped down.

 

CORRECTION: Last week’s edition included a rumor that Blum & Poe’s Los Angeles headquarters would show collaborative works by Mark Grotjahn and Jonas Wood in September. In reality, the gallery will be presenting a solo show of works by Grotjahn, his first at the space since 2016. 

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Data Dip

Asia Outbuilds Everybody

Graph from AEA Consulting’s Cultural Infrastructure Index 2020.

Auction sales weren’t the only metric where the Eastern art industry fought off the pandemic more ably than the West in 2020. For the first time ever, Asia completed more cultural infrastructure projects above $10 million than any other region, finishing 34 to North America’s 32 per a new report from AEA Consulting.

The study covers new builds, renovations, and expansions of museums, galleries, performing arts centers, multifunction arts venues, and cultural hubs or districts. Like Asia, Australia/New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa all saw either flat or increased numbers of new institutions open in 2020. Equivalent figures in North America and Europe both declined in a big way.

Still, this could be more anomaly than trend. North America announced 53 new cultural infrastructure projects last year—almost twice as many as anywhere else. But only time will tell whether the West will win the construction race, or just win the initial press conferences.

For more takeaways from the AEA report, click through below.

 

[Read More]

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“We try everything. Since NFTs exist, we need to try them.”

Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, on its imminent fundraising auction of NFTs linked to works by Giorgione, Kandinsky, Leonardo, Monet, and van Gogh.

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The Feds Wage War on Chrismas + Three More Market Morsels

 

The FBI arrested notorious LA dealer Douglas Chrismas on charges of embezzling upwards of $260,000 from the bankruptcy estate of the now-shuttered Ace Gallery, which he founded in 1967 and lost ownership of in 2013. (The Los Angeles Times)

  • Chrismas, age 77, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all counts. He pleaded not guilty, with his trial scheduled to begin in September.

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Marian Goodman gallery became the latest blue-chip gallery to announce a robust new leadership structure without mentioning the phrase “succession plan”; the headline moves include its namesake moving to CEO, and Philipp Kaiser becoming president and partner. (Press release)

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The Artists Pension Trust, once seen as a promising new vehicle to stabilize artists’ finances, has provoked accusations of mismanagement, an official complaint to British regulators, and at least one lawsuit from its members. (The New York Times)

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An insider’s look at the ascendant dealers and agents making Accra an art-market hotspot. (Midnight Publishing Group News Pro)

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Work of the Week

Chris Burden’s The Hidden Force

Chris Burden, <i>The Hidden Force</i> (1995). © 2021 Chris Burden / licensed by The Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy Gagosian

Chris Burden, The Hidden Force (1995). © 2021 Chris Burden / licensed by The Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Courtesy Gagosian

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Date:                      1995

Seller:                    Gagosian

Price:                     $2.25 million

Selling at:              Frieze Viewing Room, Los Angeles

Sale Date:              Through Sunday, August 1

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Still believe a savvy dealer would only post modestly priced, easy-to-sell works in an online viewing room? Gagosian is challenging that myth yet again in its Frieze Los Angeles OVR dedicated to the late California visionary Chris Burden. Standing out amid an ambitious array of genre-crossing works is The Hidden Force, an outdoor sculpture consisting of three partially in-ground concrete pools  that function as monumental compasses. Thanks to one magnetized end, the elliptical object floating in each pool always bobs back to due north, giving viewers both literal and metaphorical guidance on their life’s journey.

Originally commissioned for the McNeil Island Corrections Center via the Washington State Arts CommissionThe Hidden Force was decommissioned when the prison closed in 2011. The Burden estate recently secured the right to recreate the piece and will consult with an acquiring collector or institution to ensure it integrates with its new home in a site-specific, site-responsive way true to the artist’s intent.

So why offer it here and now? “2021 would have been Burden’s 75th milestone year,” said Yayoi Shionoiri, the estate’s executive director. “While Burden created The Hidden Force in the 1990s, this work feels as timely as ever, and serves to remind us all of the power of art.” That it’s being made available in this context should also remind us that both west-coast collectors and the OVR are stronger than ever.

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

The post The Back Room: Once Upon a Time in the West appeared first on Midnight Publishing Group News.

Magazines Are Trading Celebrity Covers for Artworks as They Strive to Stay in Touch With the Serious Issues of Our Time


Last summer, after weeks of protests precipitated by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two of the country’s most recognizable magazines used their covers to make a statement. And they each turned to artists—not photographers—to do it. 

For their respective September issues, which came out within days of each other, Vanity Fair commissioned painter Amy Sherald to make a defiant portrait of Taylor, while Vogue tapped artists Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel to make their own exultant paintings of Black women.

These images were a far cry from the tired Annie Leibovitz photographs usually found on the front of these magazines. And at a time when magazine covers routinely foment here-today-gone-tomorrow Twitter wars, these issues seemed to get people talking for all the right reasons.

That these covers were done by artists was a big reason why, says Mark Guiducci, Vogue’s creative editorial director who oversaw the September issue. He and his team had actually planned to commission a painted portrait for the issue prior to the protests—a practical decision more than anything else, given the difficulty of staging big-budget fashion shoots during the pandemic. But as a nationwide racial reckoning played out, the notion of showcasing a model or celebrity on the cover suddenly felt out of touch.

Kerry James Marshall's cover for Vogue. Courtesy of Vogue.

Kerry James Marshall’s cover for Vogue. Courtesy of Vogue.

“How could one personality encapsulate that moment of pain, of pandemic, of reckoning?” Guiducci said. So they turned to Marshall and Casteel, and gave both artists carte blanche—a privilege rarely bestowed by the magazine.

“That’s why you go to an artist,” he said. “They give you the vocabulary to see the world in a new way. That’s powerful.”

Vanity Fair, meanwhile, knew it wanted to celebrate the life of Taylor in its September issue. But republishing one of the few pictures of Taylor circulating online at the time didn’t seem to do her justice, said Kira Pollack, Vanity Fair’s creative director.

“In order to make something truly transcendent, we felt it was important to create a new image of Breonna,” Pollack said. “We knew that Amy’s voice, and the intention and care she brings to her work, would be exactly right for such a powerful portrait at such a sensitive moment.”

Rihanna by Lorna Simpson for Essence Magazine 2020.

Rihanna by Lorna Simpson for Essence Magazine, 2020. Courtesy of Essence.

Vogue and Vanity Fair aren’t the only major magazines to turn to artists for their covers in recent months. Essence put works by Lorna Simpson and Bisa Butler on its covers this year; issues of the New Yorker featured paintings by Wayne Thiebaud and Nina Chanel Abney; and a 2020 edition of O Magazine was illustrated with a painting by artist Alexis Franklin, marking the first time in its history that a picture of Oprah wasn’t on the publication’s cover. 

Of course, magazines have run artworks on their covers for as long as they’ve existed, and many famous artists—from Salvador Dalí to Robert Rauschenberg to John Currin—have had their turn on the newsstand. What is novel today is the prevalence of this strategy to mark the occasion of important issues. What may have started as a response to the limitations of lockdowns has become the way mainstream publications signal that they really want people to pay attention.

“In a culture that is overwhelmed by visual media,” Guiducci said, “the idea of painting, in particular, is quite resonant. It doesn’t feel like something that is made quickly or easily or digitally, and that is impactful.”

Alexis Franklin drew this portrait of Breonna Taylor for Oprah magazine. Courtesy of Oprah magazine.

Alexis Franklin drew this portrait of Breonna Taylor for Oprah magazine. Courtesy of Oprah magazine.

D.W. Pine, the creative director of Time, noted that the role of the magazine cover has evolved in recent years. Its function, he said, is not to “tell the news anymore”—that job has been supplanted by social media. The cover’s purpose today is more about the conveyance of emotion than information.

A cover today says, “I can’t really tell you what happened, but I can kind of get you to the why, and I can definitely get you to think about it,” Pine said. “Artists help us do that.”

Time has probably been the biggest player in this trend, having commissioned artists such as Red Hong Yi and Charly Palmer, among many others, for recent high-profile editions. Time‘s “Vote” issue, pegged to the 2020 election, featured an illustration by Shepard Fairey, for instance, while a special pandemic report was accompanied by a photo of a JR installation. (Both artists have created multiple covers for the magazine.)

In Time’s case, the draw for artists isn’t necessarily the paycheck. Every cover artist, regardless of his or her stature, has been paid the same fee for years. (Pine did note, however, that some recently resurfaced Andy Warhol invoices from the ‘70s took him by surprise: “It was a lot more than what we pay now!”) What Time can offer artists instead is exposure: Its weekly readership tops 60 million.

Conversely, what artists grant the magazine is “soul,” as Pine put it. “This past year we needed to provide more meaning and a feeling and a soul to the stories that were presented to all of us,” he said. “All of us were reacting to these stories each week. That’s where it’s important to turn it over to the perspective of an artist.”

The cover of Time magazine's June 15, 2020, issue, featuring Titus Kaphar's painting, Analogous Colors. Courtesy of Time.

The cover of Time magazine’s June 15, 2020, issue, featuring Titus Kaphar’s painting Analogous Colors. Courtesy of Time.

One recent issue illustrates this “soul” quotient in particular: Time‘s June 2020 “Protest edition, which featured a cover by Titus Kaphar.

Kaphar’s painting depicted a grieving Black mother holding a silhouette of her child—an effect the artist achieved by cutting into the canvas. It was a literal, legible expression of the losses so many have felt at the time.

“In her expression, I see the Black mothers who are unseen, and rendered helpless in this fury against their babies,” Kaphar wrote in a poem to accompany the cover. “As I listlessly wade through another cycle of violence against Black people, / I paint a Black mother… / eyes closed, / furrowed brow, / holding the contour of her loss.”

“He cuts the canvas out and shows what a mother’s loss is during this time,” said Pine. “That’s the meaning and the soul that we wanted to get at with everything that was going on.” 

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Researchers Have Uncovered Yet Another Secret of the Dead Sea Scrolls, This Time Using Artificial Intelligence


It turns out there are still more mysteries to uncover about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The latest discovery, made with the help of artificial intelligence, is that the artifacts were likely transcribed by two different writers, despite the fact that all the handwriting looks similar.

“We will never know their names. But after 70 years of study, this feels as if we can finally shake hands with them through their handwriting,” Mladen Popović, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and a member of the three-person team behind the study, said a statement. “This opens a new window on the ancient world that can reveal much more intricate connections between the scribes that produced the scrolls.”

Written on 17 sheets of parchment, the manuscript is 24 feet long and is the oldest complete copy of a book of the bible by about 1,000 years. Using A.I. pattern-recognition technology, experts singled out the Hebrew letter aleph, which appears in the scroll over 5,000 times, to identify the hand of two main writers, reports Courthouse News.

Kohonen maps (blue colormaps) of the character aleph and bet from the Dead Sea Scroll's Great Isaiah Scroll used to analyze the handwriting. Image courtesy of Maruf A. Dhali, University of Groningen.

Kohonen maps (blue colormaps) of the character aleph and bet from the Dead Sea Scroll’s Great Isaiah Scroll used to analyze the handwriting. Image courtesy of Maruf A. Dhali, University of Groningen.

The initial discovery of the first Dead Sea Scroll by a Bedouin shepherd in the Qumran caves in 1947 proved one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds. The scrolls, the earliest biblical manuscripts, are written primarily in Hebrew, with sections in Aramaic and Greek.

The new study is the part of European Research Council-funded €1.5 million ($1.8 million) “The Hands that Wrote the Bible” project. The first findings, published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE, offer fresh clues as to the origins of the scrolls, which are believed to be the work of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes.

Greyscale image of column 15 of the Dead Sea Scroll's Great Isaiah Scroll, the corresponding binarized image using BiNet, and the cleaned-corrected image. From the red boxes of the last two images, one can see how the rotation and the geometric transformation is corrected to yield a better image for further processing. Image courtesy of University of Groningen.

Greyscale image of column 15 of the Dead Sea Scroll’s Great Isaiah Scroll, the corresponding binarized image using BiNet, and the cleaned-corrected image. From the red boxes of the last two images, one can see how the rotation and the geometric transformation is corrected to yield a better image for further processing. Image courtesy of University of Groningen.

Examining each letter both as a whole and in microscopic detail, A.I. was able to identify minute differences in the way characters were formed.

The first step was using digital imaging to capture each aleph. Then, the researchers trained the algorithm to separate the inked letters from the papyrus or leather on which they were written. This process, called “binarization,” was achieved through a state-of-the-art artificial neural network and deep learning.

The A.I. then considered each alef’s shape and curvature to deduce information about the original scribe’s biomechanical traits, like the way they held their pen. “The ancient ink traces relate directly to a person’s muscle movement and are person specific,” the study’s co-author Lambert Schomaker said in a statement.

Comparing all of the alefs, the A.I.’s findings confirmed experts’ long-held suspicion that the writer of the Great Isaiah Scroll likely switched about halfway through. “With the intelligent assistance of the computer, we can demonstrate that the separation is statistically significant,” Popović said.

The AI analysis identified normalized average character shapes in the Dead Sea Scroll's Great Isaiah Scroll. Image courtesy of Maruf A. Dhali, University of Groningen.

The AI analysis identified normalized average character shapes in the Dead Sea Scroll’s Great Isaiah Scroll. Image courtesy of Maruf A. Dhali, University of Groningen.

The similarity in the handwriting suggests that the two scribes received the same training, possibly at some kind of ancient scribal school. (It is also a possibility that the differences could be attributed to a single writer getting fatigued, changing writing instruments, or getting injured, but the two-scribe explanation is the most straightforward.)

There are plans to conduct further A.I. analysis on other Dead Sea Scroll text using the same methodology.

Analysis of handwriting in the Great Isaiah Scroll, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Image courtesy of Mladen Popovic, University of Groningen.

Analysis of handwriting in the Great Isaiah Scroll, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Image courtesy of Mladen Popovic, University of Groningen.

The new findings come one month after Israel announced the discovery of the first new set of fragments from the ancient manuscripts in 60 years, unearthed from the so-called “Cave of Horror,” home to the bodies of Jewish families who died under siege during the Bar Kokhba revolt in the first century.

“These Dead Sea Scrolls are like a time machine,” Popović told the New Scientist. “They allow us to travel way back in time, even to the time that the Hebrew Bible was still being written.”

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