almine rech

Nike Said It Is ‘Deeply Concerned’ By the Allegations Against Tom Sachs + Other Stories

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know on this March, 17.


Covid Impact on London Museums – Museums are still trying to get their attendance figures back to what they were in 2019. The British Museum reported 4.1 million visitors in 2022 which, while being more than three times higher than in 2021, is still more than a third down from its 2019 number of 6.2 million. Similarly, Tate Modern reported 3.9 million visitors, down 36 percent from 2019. The Victoria and Albert Museum had 2.4 million visitors, down 40 percent. (The Art Newspaper)

Tribe Weighs Final Home for Restituted Cultural Objects – Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, of Wounded Knee, are deciding via consensus what to do with 130 objects and human remains that have been restituted from the Founders Museum in Massachusetts. There is consensus that human remains should be buried; when it comes to objects, including funerary items, some think they should be buried or burned according to spiritual practices. Others hope they will go to a tribe-run museum. The institution agreed to the return last fall. (New York Times)

Fallout From Tom Sachs Expose – Nike has responded to allegations made about artist Tom Sachs’s studio workplace environment. The company said it was “deeply concerned by the very serious allegations” and is looking into the matter. An investigation by Curbed cited former employees who alleged that Sachs made comments related to sex and employees’ appearance, called people offensive names, threw objects across the room, and walked around in his underwear. Nike may have already had some hints as to Sachs’s vibe—apparently, the company altered the packaging for a sneaker collaboration with artist Tom Sachs in 2017, which had the phrase “work like a slave” on it. (Complex, ARTnews)


The Gallery Merry-Go-Round Spins On – Gladstone Gallery has announced it’s bringing the late Robert Rauschenberg’s $1 million work Maybe Market (Night Shade) to the upcoming Art Basel in Hong Kong fair to mark its formal representation of the artist’s estate along with Thaddaeus Ropac and Luisa Strina. Lehmann Maupin is showing newly added artist Sung Neung Kyung’s Venue 2 (1980), available for $150,000-$200,000. Meanwhile, Almine Rech now represents the wildly popular Madagascar-born artist Joël Andrianomearisoa. (Financial Times) (Press release)

Culture & Partners With Sotheby’s Institute of Art – The debut Culture& and Sotheby’s Institute of Art Cultural Leaders Program will launch in September 2023 to “empower and nurture the next generation of diverse leaders.” Three full scholarships for the 2023-24 and 2025-26 school years will be available to students from under-represented communities for the schools’ Masters programs in contemporary art; fine and decorative art and design; and art business. (Press release)

Liste Art Fair Names Exhibitors – The Basel-based contemporary art fair is set to return this June 12–18 with 88 galleries hailing from 35 countries around the world. Returning galleries include the likes of Tehran-based Dastan, Brussels-based Super Dakota, Los Angeles/New York-based François Ghebaly, Berlin-based Sweetwater, and Paris-based Parliament. (Press release)


The Artist Who Survived the Holocaust – Actor Emile Hirsch has joined the cast of the forthcoming film Bau: Artist at War, which tells the story of the artist who was imprisoned at Plaszow camp and used his creative skills to save hundreds of prisoners by forging IDs. The wedding of the artist and his wife Rebecca at the camp was dramatized in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. (Variety)

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High-Flying Charity Auctions Help the Causes the Art World Supports. But Who Do They Actually Benefit?

It was a high-wattage night at the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach on Feb. 3, with a live auction by Sotheby’s, billionaire attendees like Julia Koch and John Paulson, and such celebrities as polo player “Nacho” Figueras, race car driver Jimmie Johnson, and Victoria Secret model Lorena Rae. The 800 tickets sold out in a blink, with prices ranging from $1,500 for individuals to $100,000 for sponsors.

By the time the dust settled, the Norton had raised $3.8 million for its curatorial, educational, and community-engagement programs. It was so much fun some guests forgot to eat.

“A lot of times at these galas you sit, it’s quiet, you have your rubber chicken,” said Sue Hostetler Wrigley, a Norton trustee. “This was not. This was the next level.”

Much of the event’s electricity resulted from the presence of 20 artists from as far afield as the Netherlands and Brazil. The six lots of the live auction totaled more than $700,000. One of the star artworks was an abstract painting by Marina Perez Simão that fetched $140,000 (her primary market prices range from $35,000 to $250,000). A painting depicting two nudes by George Rouy went for $160,000 (his primary prices top at $100,000).

The results are noteworthy—and not just because they blew past the presale estimates. Both artists are represented by blue-chip galleries: Perez Simão is at Pace, Rouy at Almine Rech. There are waiting lists for their primary market works. Not a single piece by either artist has appeared at auction, according to the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database.

“I gotta call my mom,” London-based Rouy could be overheard saying excitedly after the gavel fell.  

Artist Marina Perez Simão, right, with Eva Al-Thani and Ambassador Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani at the Norton Museum of Art gala. Photo: Carrie Bradburn/CAPEHART

Artist Marina Perez Simão, right, with Eva Al-Thani and Ambassador Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani at the Norton Museum of Art gala. Photo: Carrie Bradburn/CAPEHART

Charity auctions have long been places to find deals and steals—and potentially write off some of the purchase cost (more on that later). In addition to helping the institutions we love and causes we support, these glamorous fundraisers are also a breeding ground for future market stars. They create a virtuous cycle—not dissimilar to the curse of BOGO—where everyone seems to benefit, but which is based on the asymmetry of access and information. While galleries and artists don’t directly profit from these sales, many find ways to indirectly monetize them to build up publicity and justify steep primary market prices.

But there’s also a risk. Many moons ago, a painting by Jacob Kassay, estimated at $2,000 to $8,000, fetched $94,000 at Kitchen benefit, unleashing a speculative craze for the silvery, shimmering paintings and leading to the young artist achieving an auction record of $317,000 at dizzying speed. Then prices fell off the cliff.

That number—so shocking at the time—looks almost quaint now, a decade later, when new works by untested artists like Anna Weyant sell for more than a million dollars at auction. Which is precisely the point. Emerging art is a high-stakes game. Those who can afford to play may get access to coveted works by artists too hot to obtain through galleries, which prioritize institutions over mere mortals, no matter how rich.

In this dynamic, artists who offer up fresh work for a charity auction know it can reap big rewards for the cause in question—while also potentially throwing their market out of whack. It’s a risk that buzzy artists are frequently enjoined to undertake. 

Nicole Wittenberg Sunset 36 (2023) is slated for amfAR’s charity auction in Palm Beach on March 11.
Courtesy of the artist, The Journal Gallery, New York, and Acquavella Galleries, New York, Palm Beach.

“The ask is constant on any big artist these days,” said Michael Nevin, owner of the Journal Gallery in New York. “It’s pretty tricky to get top works from top artists.”

Nevin would know. As the curator of amfAR’s auctions, he goes hunting for art donations all the time. He’s good at it. The nonprofit’s upcoming gala in Palm Beach on March 11 will include a brand new work on paper by George Condo, which would be priced at $750,000 on the primary market, and a sunset painting by Nicole Wittenberg, that typically retails for $42,000.

“A lot of artists give to give,” Nevin said. Some, like Eddie Martinez, are just generous, he said. Others, like Kenny Scharf, lost friends during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and want to support amfAR, which has raised millions of dollars for AIDS research. There are countless others.

Museums often tap artists they have championed—and these artists often step up. In 2013, Jasper Johns created a work specifically for the Whitney Museum of American Art to auction in order to raise money for its new building. It fetched $2.85 million, part of a group of other works benefiting the Whitney that Sotheby’s included in its marquee May sales of contemporary art that year. Altogether, the group totaled $19.1 million—eclipsing the estimate of $8.8 million to $12 million.

Auctioneer Robert Woolley, left, at Gay Games Auction in 2001. Photo: Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images.

Auctioneer Robert Woolley, left, at Gay Games Auction in 2001. Photo: Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images.

That sale was a turning point for charity auctions, according to Nina del Rio, Sotheby’s head of advisory and museum services. Up until then, charitable auctions were separate events. The New York Times obituary of Sotheby’s auctioneer Robert Wooley, who died in 1996, described him as “witty and tart-tongued pitchman who wheedled, needled, cajoled and shamed his society friends into spending millions of dollars at charity auctions.” In 2008, the Red auction, championed by Bono and Damien Hirst, made headlines, raising $42 million for AIDS research.

But the Whitney sale’s collaborative approach—incorporating the charitable works into a blue-chip evening auction—changed the game, and its success led to more collaborations, including with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2015 and the Hammer in 2019. All surpassed their high estimates.

“You got a couple of drivers,” del Rio said about the success of this approach. “You are celebrating an institution and you are giving buyers access to this great primary-market material.”

Works solicited by Thelma Golden to raise money for the new home of the Studio Museum in Harlem set off a feeding frenzy at the start of Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale in May 2018. Mark Bradford, who has credited Golden with his career takeoff, created a painting, Speak, Birdman, for the sale. Estimated at $2 million to $3 million, it soared to $6.8 million. A painting by then relative newcomer Njideka Akunyili Crosby fetched $3.4 million.

A street-level view of the forthcoming Studio Museum in Harlem. Courtesy Adjaye Associates.

A street-level view of the forthcoming Studio Museum in Harlem. Courtesy Adjaye Associates.

The Studio Museum group raised $20.2 million, obliterating the estimated range of $6.8 million to $9.9 million. It was a perfect storm for the market, which was just starting to revalue the contribution of Black artists.

“I don’t remember anything quite like that,” del Rio said about that auction. “There were 20 people on each object. It was bananas.”

Since the pandemic, new works by in-demand artists have routinely appeared in the marquee auctions as the art world has rushed to cash in on the explosive global demand for contemporary art.

Many of the top auction prices for sought-after artists—including Rashid Johnson, Nicolas Party, and Dana Schutz—were set at Christie’s evening sales of 21st-century art.

Johnson, who has emerged as a leading voice (and one of the most commercially successful artists) of his generation, has been donating a painting to benefit sales almost every six months, resulting in ever-higher auction results over the past two years.

In May 2021, he donated Anxious Red Painting, which fetched $1.95 million at Christie’s to benefit Community Organized Relief Effort—more than six times its high estimate of $300,000. Six months later, in November 2021, he smashed this result with the $2.55 million sale of Bruise Painting “Or Down You Fall, sold to benefit ClientEarth, an environmental law charity. In November 2022, Johnson consigned Surrender Painting “Sunshine” to raise money for the Right of Return Fellowship to support and mentor formerly incarcerated creatives; it was a new auction record yet again, at $3 million (the prices include Christie’s fees).

Rashid Johnson at Hauser & Wirth Menorca. ©Rashid Johnson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Daniel Schäfer.

Rashid Johnson at Hauser & Wirth Menorca. ©Rashid Johnson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Daniel Schäfer.

Johnson’s primary-market prices have increased as well during this period. His large “Bruise” paintings, shown at David Kordansky Gallery in 2021, were priced at $600,000 to $1.2 million. Last June, large new paintings exhibited at the Hauser & Wirth branch in Menorca were offered from $975,000 to $1.75 million, according to a person familiar with prices.

Representatives for the galleries didn’t respond to my requests for comment on whether the increase in Johnson’s primary market prices were influenced by these results.

In addition to generosity and access, there’s another big consideration when it comes to the lofty prices achieved at charity art sales: their potentially tax deductible value. Opinions on this topic vary.

“There may be circumstances when buyers could seek a deduction,” a Christie’s spokesperson said. “But they should always consult a tax advisor.” (The house sold more than $2 billion work of art for charitable causes in 2022, in large part thanks to the estates of Paul Allen and Doris and Thomas Ammann.)

Auction houses also defer these questions to the charities themselves. The Norton Museum, which raised $1.5 million from its most recent live and silent auctions, encourages donors to consult with their tax advisors.

“That said, yes, we do provide buyers with a fair market value and note that any amount paid in excess of that may be tax deductible,” a Norton spokeswoman said via email. 

That doesn’t sit well with Ralph Lerner, co-author of Art Law, a must-have opus on the subject that is now in its 5th edition.

“That’s nonsense,” Lerner said by phone this week. “Some people argue that if the artwork’s market value is $400,000 and he paid $500,000, he would have been entitled to a charitable deduction of $100,000. Absolutely not. You can’t claim a charitable deduction because you bought it at a charity auction. The auction price is the fair market value. It’s not a cruise.”

The IRS will have to sort this one out, I guess. But it is telling that none of the museums that raised money for charity at Sotheby’s offered buyers supporting documentation for tax deductions. Caveat emptor, folks.

So, how do these auctions benefit the artists whose donations set the machinery in motion? Visibility, marketing, access to wealthy new fans, potentially higher primary-market prices, and a new benchmark for secondary sales. Dealers use these prices to pitch clients and sell out shows. Charitable works that are included in regular auctions are recorded alongside other results in the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database for posterity (unlike live and silent auctions conducted by nonprofits, which are not recorded).

“It’s just part of the cumulative impact,” said Marc Glimcher, president of Pace gallery, which represents Perez Simão and has a branch in Palm Beach. “This was a gift to a museum. We haven’t had a single piece come back for sale. Nobody wants to part with her paintings. The impact comes with where the secondary market is going.”

Auctioneer Simon de Pury conducts an auction on May 26, 2022 during the annual amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Cannes Gala at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d'Antibes. Photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images.

Auctioneer Simon de Pury conducts an auction on May 26, 2022, during the annual amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Cannes Gala at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes. Photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images.

Kennedy Yanko made a star debut at amfAR’s Cannes gala in 2021, where her sculpture soared to $415,000 in bidding and was purchased by music entrepreneur and mega-collector Swizz Beatz. Her career has since skyrocketed. Next month she’ll have a solo show at Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery in New York, a coup for any artist.

Artists get celebrated. At amfAR, they walk the red carpet with celebrities and are called out by auctioneer Simon de Pury during the gala. The Norton put together a program for the attending artists, including private tours of its collection, which now includes billionaire Ken Griffin’s treasures, and of Beth Rudin DeWoody’s private museum, The Bunker. Hostetler Wrigley, a Norton trustee, hosted a cocktail reception for the 20 artists and 30 art dealers at her home.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled the board, the museum, and the community was that all of these artists and dealers not only agreed to donate works but also to come down to Palm Beach and celebrate with us,” said Hostetler Wrigley. “The energy they bring is critical.” 

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Rising Artist Genesis Tramaine on How She Channels Her Christian Faith Into Ecstatic Portraits

Painter Genesis Tramaine is proudly Black, unapologetically queer, and—unusual for the world of contemporary art—a vocal Christian who makes no bones about the divine sources of her inspiration. Her expressionistic devotional portraits, which garnered notice in “God Is Trans,” her 2018 solo exhibition at Brooklyn’s Richard Beavers Gallery, are anything but doctrinaire, presenting saints and biblical figures with graffiti-inflected urgency and eye-popping color.

In this week’s Art Angle podcast, Tramaine chats about sibling rivalry in the Bible, how her faith intersects with her paintings, and the work she is excited to show with her gallery, Almine Rech, at the Armory Show this week (September 9–12).

A version of this conversation originally aired on The Art Angle Podcast, available in full here.

Genesis Tramaine, Jesus Loves me: Still (2021), whose listed materials include spray paint and the Holy Spirit. Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech.

Is it true that you actually started drawing in church to keep yourself quiet when you were a little kid? Can you tell me more about that and how your art-making has kind of always been intertwined with religion?

I’ve always been a doodler, if you would. But when I was in church, sure enough, I was a talker. You know, I would get up and clap and sing at times that maybe weren’t the most appropriate. And I was often instructed to sit on the back pew, [where] I would sketch inside of the hymn books. I would sketch inside of the Bibles, that’s true. I found a love for trying to keep up with the energy that the gospel fed me…I liked that it was able to produce something that didn’t look like anything else. So I don’t know if it was a specific religion, but I do know that it was wrapped in a very Black discipline, if you would, of being quiet and listening to the good word while it’s spread.

Your grandmother was a big inspiration for your 2020 exhibition “Parables of Nana at Almine Rech, and your mother is a gospel-music enthusiast. Can you talk about the women in your family and the role of faith when you were growing up?

I wouldn’t be who I am without those very intentional—intense, if you would—lessons from my grandmother and mom. I don’t come from material wealth, I do come from cultural wealth. I was taught in order to produce a greater relationship with God, you have to have faith, and that means that you believe in things that you don’t necessarily see in front of you. I have a vast imagination due to that discipline of faith-building that my family enriched in me. So yeah, I do walk with a lot of that.

I’ve learned to lean on God in spaces where I don’t understand. My role with Christ hasn’t always been clear. Whether or not I can have a relationship hasn’t always been clear. So those early sayings and instructions and whispers from my grandmother and mother play over and over in my head, you know, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray my Lord, my soul to keep…those early prayers that my mom and grandmama taught me are still rich in my heart and in very rich in my work, I’d say.

Can you talk a little bit about your journey to an open embrace of Christianity and ultimately handing over your inspiration to God? 

I taught high-school math for many years, algebra in particular. I love the field of education and I believe that I have gained so much in those years of service, creatively. My students taught me so, so much…but I wanted to give the world more. I prayed to God to work through those spaces of service so that I could lean into the lane of art from a professional space.

That sort of 30-year-old point in your life had hit me really hard, and I realized that I hadn’t been to church in a while. I was welcomed by Unity Fellowship Church. I’ve spread my wings there—I paint live, sketch live, pray live. My ministry, if you would, has been allowed to flourish there, but it has not always been welcomed in traditional churches. I’ve been called out on pews. I’ve walked into many churches with my wife and unfortunately not always been loved on immediately. I don’t speak harshly on those church experiences, because we are people, and I think that sometimes it’s not easy to accept difference. So I’m grateful that God has given me art, because it creates a lane for me where those two things are very necessary.

As a queer married woman, how do you think that part of your identity has influenced your faith? Or does it give you a different aspect to your faith? 

Absolutely. I have a wife. Oh my goodness, I have a Black, beautiful wife! She’s such a stone. Man, she’s such a partner to march with. So that makes my day-to-day just easier, to be honest. It’s all out and open and public, because that’s very much in accordance with how the relationship that I have with Jesus is, right? Like, there are no secrets between us. I have faith that I get to be all of who I am under the eyes of God, in the name of Jesus. 

Artist Genesis Tramaine in her studio. Photo: Ashley Dennis.

Artist Genesis Tramaine in her studio. Photo: Ashley Dennis.

What is the feeling you’re waiting for when you’re going to make an artwork? How do you tap into it? 

It’s a walk with, sister. It’s not a tap in, ’cause I need God all the time, sis. I mess up so much—we human, we built to mess up—so I’d rather have God all the time. And I’ve learned that I need to be a constant listener. The best way I can describe it is like maybe the way a doctor would feel when they’re on-call—you know, always available. So when the good Lord taps my left shoulder and says, Let’s get up and go, you know, I get up and go. And it’s not always paint that’s involved in that get-up-and-go, it’s just answering that call.

Many of your paintings are reflections on saints, and your series “Evidence of Grace” is filled with images of King David. Can you talk about the scenes or biblical figures you chose, and why you think painting them is important?

I read the word a lot because it’s important, and it also builds a great understanding for me within myself, like, why am I interested in this relationship with God at all? I’m constantly in rhythm and flow with How can I get closer, how can I get deeper? I tend to sketch through my receiving of most things. So as I read through the word, I write questions down, I write pictures down. I pray through that space. And then I circle names in the word, and sometimes that practice lands on the canvas. 

I think it’s important that you paint a real narrative, an honest reflection. I don’t think [my saints] look like saints as they have been given to us…[those] were false narratives. They were paid for by very wealthy conglomerates, similar to the way things are now. It’s just that this Black face has a little bit more control over what happens in the studio. I can be completely honest in my delivery. 

So the saints, they’re rich with gospels that are necessary for this generation and the ones that are to come. It’s a painted language, sister. It surpasses our literal language. Sometimes it’s easy to understand and sometimes it goes right over my head. It’s interesting to be given a responsibility to paint for the future.  

Genesis Tramaine, Saint Boaz In the Field (2021), will be presented by Almine Rech at the Armory Show, September 9–12, 2021. Photo by Charles Roussel/OCULA.

Are there particular figures from the Bible or saints that you identify with personally? 

I love all of them. When I was in David, I was like David for a while. And then I was like Goliath for a while. I play the bad guy too. Sometimes I’m a little more assertive behind the driving wheel than I need to be—I have Goliath days, you know? 

Right now, I’m reading through Ruth. Oh my goodness, I cannot wait for you guys to see this work that is coming, honey! To paint portraits as they come to me truly is to occupy the space as I would a dance. That’s what it looks like when I’m painting: If you were to turn on a video and record me, you’d see that for me, praying looks like dancing. So in order to occupy that space fluidly, I believe you have to really just allow the word in. That energy, oh man, it fuels the work because it fuels my prayers, you understand? 

Why painting and not another medium? 

You travel with paper when you’re a schoolgirl. You have an ink pen, you have a pencil…the very moment I got a chance to create with paint, I did. And then I ran out, sis, ‘cause paint is expensive! And I paint heavy. I drip heavy. My mom and my grandma, they’re like, ‘Listen, we just bought you this sketchbook, child. How many sketchpads do you need?’ I don’t know if you guys remember those Crayola watercolor packs?

Oh yeah, I do. I do. 

So you know they’re hard when you get them; you have to add water in order for the color to work. Well, I was taught to add all types of things in order to thicken the medium, and how to manipulate it with just that little color block. I’ve always just loved it, and I think my family supported me by showing me how to do little tricks with it, with the things that we had. I’ve learned that that’s the wealth. That that was the thing that I could take to God and ask God to enlarge, if you would. And to God be glory, here we are, sister.  

You are a gospel-music enthusiast, so who are your favorite musicians right now? What are you listening to? 

Right now, Jonathan McReynolds. I think he’s a brilliant writer and singer. I really, really enjoy Shirley Caesar. I’ve been running Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. I listen to contemporary gospel. Tramaine Hawkins, I was named after her. Those are some of my favorites that are coming to mind right now.

Are there any fine artists that you find particularly inspiring, contemporary or otherwise? 

Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim is the one that I always sort of go to because I really had an exchange with the work. At the time, I wasn’t painting at such a large scale, so I just admired her breadth. Oh man, I just really enjoyed the experience that I had with the paintings. Yeah. Wow. And of course, Barkley Hendricks, whose work I just—you know, wow. Wow. Wow. So those are some that I’ve sat in front of and had to step back, you know, before I step forward, to step back before I step forward. Oh, that’s a good dance before a painting.

Were people surprised when you first started talking about Jesus with your work, or has it mostly been a positive reception?

It has mostly been uplifting. Here’s the thing I’ve learned, sis: the more vulnerable I am with this work, the more vulnerably I’m received. So even if it’s a ‘negative’ response…it doesn’t have to be all bad. Sometimes people don’t have the language to express confusion. Sometimes people don’t have the language to express love. If I weren’t built for this, God wouldn’t have put me here. I love the flow of the conversation. I pray to be available for all of it. I think I have a responsibility—I don’t think I always just get to sit with this prayer life by myself. I want to share it. 

Do you think that your artwork can be understood outside of the context of faith? 

Yes, of course. It’s colorful. It’s large. It’s a portrait. The colors have sound, if you listen close enough. I’m looking at some of the portraits that I just finished…the layers have stories and narratives that may remind you of things, or not. So, yes: I think if you like new things, if you like creative things, if you like round things or square things, or if you like things with shapes, or if you like things that jump off of a page, if you like something other than the norm, I think that you’ll lean into my work.

Artist Genesis Tramaine in her studio. Photo: Ashley Dennis.

Artist Genesis Tramaine in her studio. Photo: Ashley Dennis.

Your show “Evidence of Grace” dealt with the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus. Where are you headed now? 

We are rolling through such an interesting storm. I use ‘rolling’ lightly, because sometimes it’s felt like a floating ship, and sometimes it feels like a sinking boat. Sometimes I feel like Jonah. Today I woke up feeling good. When I get off with you guys, I’m going to pray and then I’m going to hit the studio. That’s where I’m at today.

[This week] I’ll be showing at the Armory Show with Almine Rech, and I’m really excited for the work. That’s what’s in the back of my mind, I know that’s happening. I’m really hoping that I get down to Miami in December, hopefully for Art Basel. I’m currently showing with the Rubell Museum. I’ll probably be there, maybe God willing!

There’s so much uncertainty about what will happen. Can you tell me a little bit about your residency at the Rubell Museum? 

I was invited to come down to paint some portraits. I met Mera and Don Rubell, and they welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to a prayer space and a studio space and the beach. Those were my grounds for the most of the time that I was there. And I was able to produce really beautiful works, a series called “Sanctuary.” 

I was in Genesis and I was reading about these two brothers, Jacob and Esau. I just fell in love with their story. It allowed me to lean into the grace of God a little bit closer through something that was really relatable. There are these two brothers that are twins, and one has favor with mom and one has favor with dad. 

There is a lot of sibling rivalry in the Bible.

There is, but there’s a lot of sibling rivalry in the world, you know? So it’s interesting how reflective it is.

I gave the residency everything I had, and I was given room to do so. One of my favorite parts was the exchange that I was afforded with the Rubells. I was poured into, and it was nice to be treated with such kindness. The director, Juan, was also just such a friend, literally—sometimes it’s those pockets of joy or gifts from God, truly. I was grateful for them because it was a really tumultuous time in our world.

I have heard repeatedly that you are a morning person. Why are you a morning person? What do you like about the morning? 

The world tends to be more quiet in the morning. It’s easier for me to center myself. I don’t wake up to alarm clocks. I wake up when woken up—when the spirit taps, I’m up, and that tends to be early. For a long time, I questioned it. I would paint through the night and I thought that’s what I was supposed to be doing. [Now] if I’m up at 5 a.m., I go into prayer so that I can be ready when the good Lord calls me. It’s a very healthy practice. I get to see sunrises that I don’t hit on Instagram. I invite you, for real—if you can do it for 30 days, just wake up at like, 6 a.m. 

Okay, I’ll start with 6 a.m. We’ll start with 6 a.m.

Baby steps, right? 

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Damien Hirst Chats With Friend and Fellow Artist Wes Lang About Life, Death, and His New Show in Aspen

Even before Kanye tapped Wes Lang to design the t-shirts for his blockbuster Yeezus tour in 2013, Lang’s illustrations and paintings—a spiky synthesis of pop culture icons, Wild West mythology, and callouts to the giants of postwar art—had courted controversy and caught the eye of collectors, including none other than Damien Hirst.

No wonder: the two artists share a fixation on death and its opposite, living, that has only been heightened during the pandemic. Below, Hirst quizzes Lang about his creative process, art-world absence, around his upcoming show at Almine Rech Aspen.

Damien Hirst: As you know, I’m a huge Wes Lang fan, and I got some brilliant works from you. I’ve visited you in your sprawling studio in L.A. and seen your creative process in action, but what else can you tell me about your rhythms and rituals? What gets you out of bed in the morning? How do you find your pathway through the darkness?

Wes Lang: I paint in my studio in downtown Los Angeles, the one you visited me in, but—and I’m sure you can relate—I’m never not working in my brain. I typically have upwards of 30 paintings going at the same time. I like to have many things out in the studio so that if I’m not motivated by one body of work, I can move to another. It’s always been important to me that I don’t get stuck being an artist that makes one signature painting that looks like every painting that preceded it. The older I get, I hope you can see the cohesion among all my bodies of work if you take the time to sit and study them. I was incredibly inspired by what you did with the “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition in Venice a few years ago. I recently started a new body of work that I plan to take the next five to six years on. It will be grand, ambitious, and—if I’m lucky—beyond what anyone thinks I am capable of.

Jay-Z and Wes Lang. Photo: Eric Minh Swenson/Splash News

Jay-Z and Wes Lang. Photo: Eric Minh Swenson/Splash News

DH: You’ve stayed pretty “off the grid” for the last decade. Why is that? Can you share a little about this recent period and what’s come out of it?

WL: I was living in New York and had been working with a gallery for many years. I wasn’t happy with the direction they were pointing me in and it didn’t feel like the support I needed anymore. So, I left them and took a gamble in the spring of 2011 by renting a room at the Chateau Marmont for six weeks. I took every penny I had and rolled the dice, living as though I was supposed to be there. That culminated in a one-night exhibition in the penthouse. It was wildly successful and totally changed my financial state. It showed me that I was right, that there was a world in which I could do things on my own terms. In 2012 I decided to move to L.A. permanently. I packed my car, drove across the country and moved back into the Chateau Marmont. I just knew I had to be here.

I remained without a gallery for a stretch, because it seemed like every time I picked up a paintbrush and made something, people wanted to come to my studio and buy it. I was able to make whatever I wanted and sell directly to my clients. I’m an introvert, really, but like all artists I want my work to make its mark in the world. I saw that I was going to be able to do just that if I could take complete and total control of what I was doing. That brought you into my life, and you gave me an opportunity that was and continues to be life-changing. I don’t know how much of this you want to be publicly known—and we can edit this out if you want—but you gave me an opportunity to make a large body of work over a period of time that freed me up to do what I wanted, without the necessity of a gallery. Having you believe in what I was doing at that point in late 2013 was really a clear eureka moment for me, and one that I will be forever grateful for.

DH: Say what you want, brother, we don’t need to edit anything out. I know you work at a crazy pace and make tons of art and you’re a hoarder. Do you have an Aladdin’s cave filled with lots of works that people have never seen before?

WL: Tons. At the time, social media was starting to take over the art world, and I really didn’t want to participate. If you look me up online, you don’t see much past 2009 besides little bits here and there—which I’m totally O.K. with, by the way. It’s how I want it. But now I have a big book coming out this year titled Everything that is being published by Rizzoli. It won’t reveal even close to all the works I’ve ever made, but it will be a well-selected survey of works from the 1990s until present day.

The flip side of working independently for so long is that very few of my paintings were seen publicly. A few years ago, at the exact moment when things became unmanageable, between both creating the work and running the business of selling my work, I mentally put it out there into the universe that I needed help. Almine Rech showed up at my studio in the latter half of 2019, and we started working together, which has been fantastic. I greatly admire what she’s done and why she does it. So it was just the perfect storm.

Wes Lang, Big Time Believer, 2021. © Wes Lang, courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech. Photo: Wes Lang Studio.

DH: Your work is full of symbols, especially symbols of death—Grim Reapers, skulls. But are they celebratory? A provocation? Where do you get your inspiration for all this iconography? What does it mean to you?

WL: They’re definitely a celebration. There’s nothing morbid about what I’m doing. I intend for my paintings to be joyful reminders of how lucky we are to be alive and to make the most of it while we have the opportunity to do so. The symbols are representations of the freedom we all strive for.

I’m also influenced by other artists, some of whom I unabashedly steal things from, as I’m sure you have. Art is a great, long conversation among the people who are willing to make it their life’s pursuit. Anything that I look up to is itself riddled with appropriation. I know, for instance, that you and I have a common interest in Francis Bacon. He made his whole life studying a very focused group of art by very specific people. All the great artists are influenced by their predecessors. As Jean-Michel Basquiat once put it, ‘You’ve got to realize that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.’ If you can look to the past and learn, that’s how you can become great. Without any shame, I look to the great artists of the past to help me do just that.

DH: You’ve definitely never been afraid of appropriation, like with the Native American motifs. Has the way that debate has evolved in the last year or two changed your approach?

WL: My earliest memories are of toys, ads in the back of comic books, and novelty store catalogs. I would just collect and collect, holding onto these little talismans. They were so personal, I wouldn’t let anyone see them. I knew back then I would be an artist. To this day I still spend countless hours hunting for reference material. New characters may enter, but they are all still part of that same Wes Lang universe.

I’ve never looked at what I do as being provocative. So have I changed what I’ve been doing in the last couple years? No. I’ve never really changed what I do, and I don’t intend to. I am fighting my battle on the side of truth. We’re here with a purpose, to live and make the most out of this complicated and wonderful world while we can. That’s solely and completely what my work is about.

Wes Lang, No. 2 In E Minor, 2021. © Wes Lang, courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech. Photo: Wes Lang Studio.

DH: What are you most interested in creating these days? What’s driving your practice through this fucking weird world-ending period we are all living in and adapting to now?

WL: The last year and a half, with the lockdowns and deaths upon deaths surrounding us, has taken me on all different kinds of rollercoasters. I’ve been painting the world’s events more than I used to, but trying to find the positives amid the hellish mire we are swimming through. I feel that for artists, if you’re not paying attention to the situation and it’s not affecting what you’re creating, you’re not doing your job. Artists owe it to the world to speak about this situation. So there are works I’ve been making that are quite apocalyptic. I’ve always been obsessed with Pieter Breughel the Elder’s painting The Triumph of Death, ca. 1562–63. I’ve struggled with talking to this painting my entire adult life. I have always wanted to reinterpret it with my own version; however, it was impossible to truly tap into what Brueghel was doing because I didn’t live through the reality in which he painted it. But now I’m living through our own version of the plague. There’s a plague on the health of people, and there’s a plague on our minds happening at the exact same time. And a plague on the rights of people. There’s been no other time like now. On the other side of that, now that things are opening up and people are feeling better, my works are becoming extremely positive and bright and full of hope for a better world. Despite the scary aspects of it all, I’ve used this time as an opportunity to try to get even better at what I do. These days I feel unstoppable in the studio.

The building in Aspen housing pop ups by Lehman Maupin, Carpenters Workshop and Almine Rech. Courtesy: Lehman Maupin

DH: What can you tell me about your show in Aspen?

WL: I created a series of medium-to-large-scale paintings called “Endless Horizons.” I think they are all portraits of how I’m starting to feel, and how I want to continue feeling. I’ve been calling them propaganda posters for positivity. The words, images, compositions, and the colors in these paintings are very vibrant, playful, and lively. They feel like they are plugged into the wall; there’s a great electricity to them. That’s how I’m feeling in my brain and I’m just trying to put that across in the canvas. I’m pretty sure I’ve succeeded at it with this series. I’ve looked back to some of the earliest influences in my work, like Ellsworth Kelly, Martin Kippenberger, and Mark Rothko. Things that really blew my mind. So compositionally I was definitely influenced by them, especially in the backgrounds. Something that may strike people as “new” is actually something I’ve been doing forever, which is the use of lettering as opposed to handwriting. In my late teens I was a sign painter, and the only college course I ever took was a lettering and layout class at a community college in New Jersey in 1991. It taught me how to have a steady hand, and how to pull good lines and curves. For some reason with these paintings I felt that I needed to use fonts. So there are bold, mantra-like statements and phrases: “There Is Magic… Here It Is… And It Is Just So… Wonderful… Only This Moment Is Real, Where The Light Enters You… .” If you allow yourself, you will see something bright and new and positive, and if you know what I do you will know it’s rooted in practices that I’ve been doing for many years, and hopefully will be doing for many more years to come.

DH: You’ve spoken about how some of your artistic practice is rooted in studying and practicing the Tao Te Ching, using it as a sort of manual for living life. How does this play out in your work?

WL: I want my work to make people feel good, but that’s only going to happen if I feel good.

The Tao Te Ching really is the only thing that I’ve ever found that makes real sense to me. It helps you shed the detrimental sides of your ego and allows you to push yourself to be exactly who you want to be. Most of time we look to outside sources to make us feel better instead of looking inside and understanding that everything we’ve ever wanted is already there, and really always has been. If you study the Tao and look at it with an open mind, you can understand that this world is set up for you to succeed if you let it. The more you try to push XYZ to happen for you, the less likely it is that it will happen—quite often it will produce the opposite result. The older I get, the more I let go and try to let the world show me what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. The attention you need is often markedly different from the attention you think you need.

Endless Horizons” is on view at Almine Rech Aspen, August 27–September 12, 2021

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Artist Tarik Kiswanson on His Secret to Avoiding Creative Burnout, and the Inspiration for His Gallery Weekend Show in Berlin

There is an otherworldly quality to the art of Tarik Kiswanson.

The artist, who was born and raised in Halmstad, a port town in Sweden where his parents immigrated from Palestine, makes paintings and sculptures that oscillate between ghostlike figuration and ephemeral abstraction. As a first-generation immigrant, Kiswanson often reflects on belonging, loss of identity, and placelessness in his work. His material of choice is handwoven steel, which fragments the viewer’s own reflection when passing by.

For his solo show “Surging,” on view at carlier | gebauer for Berlin Gallery Weekend, Kiswanson has rebuilt the gallery space into a cell-like waiting room populated by floating alien ovals and paintings of wispy evanescent forms that evoke a fading memory.

With a major project currently on view at Carré d’Art – Museum of Contemporary Art in Nîmes and upcoming solo exhibitions at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, and M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, the very busy artist spoke with us about how he keeps things calm at his Paris studio.

Tarik Kiswanson, <i>AS DEEP AS I COULD REMEMBER, AS FAR AS I COULD SEE</i> (2018). Exhibition view, Lafayette Anticipations, Fondation d'enterprise Galerie Lafayette, 2018. Photo: Martin Argyroglo.

Tarik Kiswanson, AS DEEP AS I COULD REMEMBER, AS FAR AS I COULD SEE (2018). Exhibition view, Lafayette Anticipations, Fondation d’enterprise Galerie Lafayette, 2018. Photo: Martin Argyroglo.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

At the moment, it’s my charcoal powder and drawing paper. But the most indispensable items constantly change as I work in different media: sculpture, film, sound. Something I always need is my computer as I write a lot.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

To finish a drawing I have been working on for some time. I also have a new book of poems coming out soon so looking forward to working on the layout with my publisher and the graphic designer.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

Music and silence—it depends on what I am doing. A lot of my works are time consuming, so music is often essential.

Tarik Kiswanson, Mirrorbody (2021) Carré d'Art de Nîmes. © Vinciane Lebrun / Voyez-Vous

Tarik Kiswanson, Mirrorbody (2021) Carré d’Art de Nîmes. © Vinciane Lebrun / Voyez-Vous

What trait do you most admire in a work of art?

A sense of radicality and intention. I like vulnerability and works that are true to the artist’s own experience.

What trait do you most despise?

The lack of thought and intention. When the form feels disconnected from the discourse.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

I don’t eat snack food. I rarely eat between meals. I often forget to eat until my assistant tells me its lunchtime. It’s not intentional—I’m just very concentrated.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

I have always admired the work of Felix Gonzalez Torres. The foundation dedicated to the preservation of his legacy created an Instagram account. The content is great as they post well-known works but also bring to light less familiar ones. There are shots from past and present exhibitions of his work.

Tarik Kiswanson, Surging, exhibition view at carlier | gebauer, Berlin, 2021. Photo: Trevor Good / carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

Tarik Kiswanson, “Surging,” exhibition view at carlier | gebauer, Berlin, 2021.
Photo: Trevor Good / carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I don’t feel stuck in my studio. If I get tired of working on a specific work, I move on to another medium or another work. There is no rupture. I think I am always working on some subconscious level, even during the moments away from my studio.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

I managed to see the exhibition “Drawn 1975–1993“ on the work of Leonilson at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. It’s an impressive retrospective of the Brazilian artist who worked in a multitude of different media. The works are delicate, sensitive, and carry multiple social and political layers. I recommend it greatly.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

A lot of images from the natural world that surrounds me at the moment. Birds, moths, and chrysalis—all symbols of migration and transformation.

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