Anna Delvey a Prison Art Rock Star
This spring in New York, art dealer Chris Martine is planning a lucrative $500,000 in sales from the Prison art of Inventing Anna, Anna Delvey.
"In searching for 25 of Prison art's most beautiful women, uploaded artworks by prisoners to Instagram proved to be invaluable," reports Darealprisonart in Prison Art on Instagram. The uploaded Instagram sketches by the woman dubbed the Soho Scammer, Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, aka Inventing Anna, has led to a meteoric rise in the Underground contemporary art market.
Delvey's artwork was discovered on the social media platform by Julia Morrison. Morrison is a Broklyn based artist, and has stated she was a recipient of disturbing Instagram DMs from Armand Hammer. Hammer is an heir to the Armand Hammer fortune, and is a Hollywood actor.
As far back as 2016, Hammer had been sending women unsolicited cannibalistic sex fantasies in their Instagram DMs. Morrison created the first #MeToo NFTs from her unsolicited Hammer DMs, Armie DM TMI NFT: Dibs on Ribs and Armie DM TMI NFT: Caligula Triptych.
Delvey on Instagram
Delvey's first Prison art post was in March of 2020. The Untitled piece is reminiscent of the speech bubbles used by legendary Pop art super star Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein's Masterpiece was sold in 2017 for $150 million by heiress and Chair Emerita of the Board of Directors of MoMA PS1 Agnes Gund. Now known as Prison art's $100 million patron, Gund took $100 million of these proceeds to create the Art for Justice Fund.
The Fund initially began as a five-year initiative that aimed to turn art into action by using art creation as a means to fund initiatives to end mass incarceration in the United States. Artists and art collectors alike have participated in giving away the proceeds from their art sales. Also new works have been created as a result of the initiative's goals. The Fund has been a recipient of MacKenzie Scott's charitable donations. According to the New York Times, as of March 2022, Scott has donated $12 billion to 1,257 organizations or individuals.
In Inventing Anna, many outlets have reported that Kate Burton's character Nora Redford is actually Agnes Gund in real life. But fans of the show on the subreddit r/InventingAnna weren't having it. While Gund was mentioned as the Redford character, so was Laura Skoler. Skoler is an art collector and a founding Board member of the New Museum in New York and the Daniel and Florence Guerlain Foundation in Paris. There is no reported evidence that either woman had met Delvey.
The Redford character is a wealthy philanthropist who the fake German heiress and her boyfriend briefly lived with. Anna charges thousands of dollars on her mentor's credit card after staying rent-free with Redford for months. However, the subreddit community believes Redford to be a composite character.
Morrison first came upon Delvey's sketches while scrolling through Instagram. She empathized with Delvey's current plight because her own mother had served time in an immigration detention facility. Delvey Is currently imprisoned at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, New York.
Morrison shared Delvey's Instagram Prison art posts with fellow artist Alfredo Martinez stating, "Most people had over-simplified her backstory: 'No one is just a villain, or just a hero.'" Two decades earlier, in 2002, Martinez was arrested and sentenced to three-years for selling forged Basquiat drawings. While incarcerated, he was prolific in his work.
Martinez began making sardonic drawings that spoke to his situation and the follies of the contemporary art world. When he saw Delvey's sketches on her Instagram, he fell for them immediately. "It caught me right in the feels, someone making sarcastic drawings in prison," he told Artnet News.
Delvey's First Prison Art Exhibition
Delvey's first show was a group exhibition, Free Anna Delvey, March 17 - 24, 2022, 7pm - 10pm, 176 Delancey Street, New York City. It was curated by Morrison and Martinez, and consisted of works by 33 artists inspired by Delvey's life. The A2Z Delancey is a small pop-up art gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Here is Investigative reporter Emily Palmer, who covered Delvey's trial, description of the opening night:
traveling down a narrow hallway packed with lockers and plumes of marijuana and cigarette smoke. Some 150 unmasked art goers sipped beers, while viewers sat on couches, and others stepped outside to spray graffiti on a courtyard wall behind the space. A rock band played for about half an hour, while musicians and guests furiously bobbed their heads, hair flying and convulsing in tandem.
Delvey called Martinez, who placed the call on speaker phone and held it high as people clambered to get a chance to say hello and congratulate her on the show.
"Free Anna Delvey!" people chanted before the call ended.
A far distance from the circles Delvey once traveled, it has been reported she approved of the gritty nature and location of the exhibition. None of the five, 22-inch-by-30-inch, pencil and acrylic drawings attributed to Delvey were actually done by her.
These five pieces were being displayed toward the back of the room, were reproductions of drawings she made while incarcerated, and had friends post to her Instagram account. She planned to make the larger-scale drawings herself, but the detention center restricted the size of the paper she could get inside the facility, as a result, Martinez offered his expertise, noting, "In the art world, it's very common to have an assistant."
For the prison artist, they are constantly butting up against this reality. The public wants larger-scale works, but prison authorities won't allow this.
In 2014, the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz took place in the United States at the federal prison on the island of Alcatraz. In 2011, Weiwei was in prison for 81 days, his passport was confiscated, and was prohibited from leaving China. He created and visualized the exhibition without ever having been to the prison. He directed the project every step of the way, from conception to installation, from his studio in Beijing, China.
In the Oct. 30, 2021, edition of The Neo Jim Crow, its headline reads "Black Prisoner Invades Tech World." It's a reference to California prison artist C-Note's Billboard Art installation of his 9-inch-by-12-inch, Graphite on paper, Incarceration Nation in the Silicon Valley. Incarceration Nation is America's Premier work of art on mass incarceration.
Delvey's Second Prison Art Exhibition is Doubtful
Prison art, unlike any other form of art, is difficult to create inside, and difficult for access to the outside. Delvey and her team are discovering this.
Chris Martine, an art dealer who now represents Delvey, told Artnet News, "We're in a little bit of a holding pattern right now. We've got a portion of the original works that Anna has created, but we're waiting for her to finish the rest of the collection.The delay has less to do with the upstart artist's process than it does her access to material."
In what he calls a "trial-and-error situation," Martine has been attempting to send Delvey various art supplies-acrylic paints, watercolors, erasers-only to have most confiscated by prison guards at the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, New York, where she is currently detained. Just a few colored pencils, pens, and a small pad of paper have made it through.
But producing a show while imprisoned, Delvey and her team is learning how difficult. She confirmed she did receive the 9"x 12" watercolor paper and 12 non-toxic colored pencils, but her set of watercolors - mistaken for makeup - did not pass through the metal detector. She isn't allowed to use the pencil sharpener, so she has to ask prison guards to sharpen her pencils. She's also working without erasers, and can't afford to make mistakes.
But none of these kinds of interferences with a prison artist's work by prison administrators are new to Martinez. While imprisoned, Martinez had works sell for several thousands of dollars, and had solo shows in New York and Paris, but this did not endear him with prison officials. Twice, he had to go on hunger strikes because prison officials would confiscate his artwork or art supplies.
Apokaluptein:16389067 (2010-13), seen above, is Jesse Krimes best-known work while he was imprisoned. He produced it clandestinely to avoid the piece from being confiscated by prisoners guards. Krimes hadn't seen the piece in full until after being released from federal prison. Here, it fills an entire wall at PS1.
In "Helpful tips for buying art supplies for a loved one serving a prison sentence," recommends checking a prison's website or calling their mailroom directly to ask about packaging guidelines before sending any gifts or care packages through the mail.
Another problem Delvey keeps running into as she tries to help with coordinating her second exhibition, is her facility-issued tablet battery dies quickly. She has had to barter with other prisoners to use their device. She buys vending machine snacks, and trades that for time on their tablets.
Martine believes these hassles are worth it, "We want the world to get a glimpse of Anna's legitimate entrance into the fine art world." Martine may have a valid reason to feel optimistic. In 2021, at Art Basel Miami, dark Web founder Ross Ulbricht sold his Graphite on Paper, Perspective, as an NFT. The work sold for $6.2 million. Ulbricht is serving a sentence of life without the possibility for parole in a federal prison.