Among the 60 exhibitors at Felix L.A., an art fair that opened to VIPs yesterday at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, is one gallery that may not be entirely real. It’s called Fomo Haber, and according to materials at the booth, it’s based in Athens, Greece. But even preliminary research on the business runs up against roadblocks—no such enterprise comes up on Google. And further investigation reveals that the booth doesn’t stand in for a gallery at all; it is, rather, an art project by the perennial art-world prankster Darren Bader.
Scanning a QR code on a piece of paper sitting on the gallery’s desk turns up biographies for the artists whose works are on view there, but any fairgoer who bothers to query Google about an artist called Finley James/James Finley—who makes artworks called “Ours” out of celebrity memorabilia like a goblet that once belonged to Ringo Starr and who has an upcoming exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami—would turn up nothing.
Gordon Waldman was supposedly once an editor of the Paris Review, currently lives in the Bronx, and is “the co-editor of the award-winning omnibus ‘Wittgenstein’s Talisman.’” There is no such compendium; however, according to Wikipedia, Wittgenstein used to carry Leo Tolstoy’s 1902 “The Gospel in Brief”—a synthesis of the four gospels—around with him “constantly, like a talisman” (Wittgenstein’s words).
Lydia Turicchi, born in 1983, “is too young to have been considered part of the ‘Pictures Generation,’ but she sometimes likes to imagine herself being older.” To her is attributed the quote: “Consumerism is a form in and of itself, yet I have fingers and eyes, and so . . .” There is no such artist.
Ben Sommers does not live in Brooklyn with a spider, nor is he an “eminence gris” (sic) in recording studios in the borough. He is supposedly “a good friend of the gallery.” He does not exist.
Anca Munteanu Rimnic, born in 1974, has not had a career that has “spanned nine decades and thirteen continents” because—well, figure it out for yourself.
Brianne Benson did not begin her photography practice at age 5. She was not featured in Vice at age 14. She has never contributed to the New York Times magazine. She did not study at the Städelschule in Frankfurt with Mark Leckey and Daniel Birnbaum. There does happen to exist a Breanne Benson, according to Google. She is an Albanian-American pornographic film actor.
Alfie French, “one of the most vital minds in the Boston art world” until he passed away in his mid-60s in 2009, similarly does not seem to exist, but interestingly, a Google search for him turns up an entry that contains the line, “A silhouette I made of Alfie. French bulldog art, Boston art, Silhouette,” causing one to wonder if some of these names were reverse-engineered from digital garbage. “His last show was with Mario Diacono in 1993.” That Boston gallery was real. It closed in December 2007, and its namesake went to work for the Maramottis, a family of Italian collectors that also really does exist. The Boston Globe lamented the gallery’s closing, saying that most of the enterprise’s shows “confront the viewer with riddles, addressed in smart, savvy, and often daunting ways. This dealer has never offered easy answers, but he has served up a generation of provocative exhibitions.”
There is neither an artist nor a “touring bassist” born in 1985 named Dennis Greenberger, never mind one who studied art with conceptual photographer Christopher Williams at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where Williams, who actually does exist, actually teaches.
There is no artist named Tamara Littleton who, since 2012, has been making art “exclusively for art fair booths,” including Fomo Haber’s booth at the ARCO Lisbon fair in 2017, because Fomo Haber did not exist then either. There does, however, happen to be a Tamara Littleton who is CEO of both the Social Element, which, according to its Twitter account is a “global social media agency providing social media solutions to the world’s biggest brands,” and Polpeo, a “crisis simulation platform for brands and their agencies so they [can] prepare for how a crisis would affect them online.”
Jesse Willenbring, a 40-year-old painter who lives in Los Angeles, does exist; however, it seems unlikely that he is the “current state record holder for longest continuous outdoor mural (2,346 feet).”
In fact, the entire booth and the artists and “art” in it are the brainchildren of artist Darren Bader, who once injected a burrito with heroin and called it art. The works, however, are for sale, and they are selling.
The mystery here is not without clues, aside from the absurdity of the artist bios. The gallery does not have a website, and when you look up the name, you discover that in Turkish “Fomo Haber” appears to mean “Fomo News” (it also means “Fomo hopes” in Danish and “I wish I had” in Mongolian). The underlying idea would seem to be that people at an art fair are so eager not to miss out—on a hot artist who might rise on the market, for instance—that due diligence of any kind gets thrown out the window. As for “news,” we’ve lately been told that a lot of it is fake.
Darren Bader was at Felix. He answered a few questions, albeit somewhat cryptically. “All of the literature—that is as forthcoming as I will be,” he said of the artist bios. The whole thing is a project given the green light by the L.A. gallery Blum & Poe. “I suggested this to Jeff Poe: Hey, Jeff, what about this crazy idea? But my business is running this,” Bader said, adding that he is interested in projects “dealing with truth and fiction.” One sale has been made by the end of the day, he said, and an invoice was issued.