When he learned that Anna Sorokin, the infamous “Soho scammer” who inspired Netflix's latest binge watch Inventing Anna, was making art in prison, Alfredo Martinez knew he had found a partner in crime.
“It got me right in the feels,” said the New York-based artist and curator, who has his own history with art-world fraud and prison art. In 2002, he was arrested for attempting to sell Jean-Michel Basquiat drawings he had forged for $185,000. Martinez parlayed the arrest into some fruitful publicity (one of his prison drawings of fake guns is now owned by the Museum of Modern Art) and this week, he and co-curator Julia Morrison will present a group show featuring one of the drawings Sorokin created while serving nearly four years in New York correctional facilities. The exhibition's title, Free Anna Delvey, borrows the name that the faux German heiress used while defrauding banks and hotels to the tune of around $275,000.
“It’s a con artist turned artist, Alfredo Martinez, helping a fellow con artist make her debut in the art world from prison,” says Morrison, another self-described art-world provocateur who last year made headlines of her own for auctioning off NFTs (non-fungible tokens) of lurid direct messages she had allegedly received from disgraced actor Armie Hammer.
Though Sorokin was released from prison last month, she will not be at the show's opening today at a Lower East Side pop-up space. As of Tuesday, she was back in the custody of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), fighting what was thought to have been a 14 March deportation to Germany for overstaying her visa. Martinez hopes the show will pressure ICE into releasing Sorokin and stop "treating her like Hannibal Lechter". He and Morrison plan to contribute 25% of proceeds from sales directly to Sorokin to support her legal defense.
“We want to show she has grassroots support from the art world,” said Martinez, noting that women artists were particularly enthusiastic about participating in the show. “Especially in the art community, women completely see what’s going on. A lot of people, especially the women, feel like the only way to get ahead is to cheat.”
Rina Oh, a New Jersey-based artist who created a Rococo-style portrait of Sorokin as a House of Savoy princess wearing the imperial crown of her native Russia, said that while she can’t relate to Sorokin's criminality, she has to give her credit for “using these men in the male-dominated art world to make herself into this personality that really didn’t care and strived to get ahead. Which is a very New York thing to do.”
Oh does not shy away from controversial subjects—several of her paintings depicting the likes of Ghislaine Maxwell and Prince Andrew are inspired by her experiences dating Jeffrey Epstein. Her pastel-on-paper drawing of Sorokin, priced between $6,000 and $8,000, was modeled after a portrait of Marie Antoinette. She plans to donate her preliminary sketches to Sorokin.
As many as five of Sorokin's own drawings are expected to be shown in the exhibition. The one confirmed piece thus far—enlarged and coloured by Martinez—depicts Sorokin dressed in her trademark designer duds and using JPay, a payment app used by people who are incarcerated. “It’s a joke on her reputation for being very mercenary,” Martinez explained.
During a podcast interview last week, Sorokin told Whitehot Magazine publisher Noah Becker (who will also be featured in the group show) that her art was informed by fashion illustration courses she took during her time studying in Paris, and that she posted the sketches to her Instagram as a means of communicating with the public in a non-incriminating way while she awaited her parole hearing.
“It was basically calling out prison as pointless without me saying it,” Sorokin said on the podcast. She also revealed she still hopes to launch some version of the Anna Delvey Foundation, the Soho House-like art club for which she was trying to raise millions of dollars at the time of her arrest.
This pop-up may prove to be merely a teaser for a bigger showcase of Sorokin’s art. Martinez’s representative, Chris Martine of Founders Art Club, is trying to organise her first solo show, though he doesn’t yet have the 15 to 20 pencil-on-paper works he hopes to display. Martine is aiming for an opening in late March or April at a New York venue yet to be determined. Sorokin’s drawings, he says, represent “a really nice combination of controversy and talent”.
- Free Anna Delvey, 176 Delancey Street, Manhattan, 17-24 March