NEW YORK — At 7:30 pm Thursday, doors opened for guests to file into an art show hosted by scammer-in-chief Anna Sorokinaka “Anna Delvey” ― the fake German heiress known for swindling high-end hotels, restaurants and more or less the entirety of New York’s elite social scene.
Reasonably, I attended the SoHo Grifters event at a lounge in the Public Hotel in Manhattan, showing up approximately 40 minutes late because of who I am as a person. After riding the neon-lit escalators, I heard the loud, reverberating music even before stepping into the lounge, and saw a long line of patrons ready to file into the party.
“Has it been like this since 7:30? Like, a nonstop party? Or was it quieter?” I asked the security guard.
“Yeah, it’s been like this from the beginning,” he replied.
Shortly after I arrived, an automated message from the Orange County Correctional Facility radiated through the speakers of the lounge: “This is a collect call from ‘Anna,’ an inmate in the Orange County jail. To accept this call, press zero. To refuse this call, hang up or press one.”
The DJ asked patrons to quiet down as cheers erupted from the audience. Attendees were awaiting a supposed phone call from Sorokin herself. In April 2019, Sorokin was found guilty on eight counts, including theft of services and second-degree grand larceny, and ultimately sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.
As the inspiration for Shonda Rhimes’ “Inventing Anna” on Netflix and a now-viral article from New York magazine, Anna Sorokin quickly became a household name — or at least Anna Delvey did. She was released on parole in February 2021, but the following month she was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, where she remains, facing deportation.
Despite her prior fraudulent activities, she is able to put “artwork” that is valued at nearly $500,000 on display for personal gain, while Black and brown ICE detainees suffer unduly with higher bonds for lesser offenses. Apart from the haphazard nature of Thursday’s event itself, it perplexes me as to why anyone — particularly a woman like Sorokin, who was heralded for having fine taste — would be proud of presenting these elementary sketches to the general public. Sorokin’s “art show” was nothing other than a manifestation of whiteness at work.
Of course, when whiteness and unchecked wealth (or rather, untraceable wealth) coalesce, extravagance abounds. It wasn’t the ambiance I had in mind for an art viewing; I thought I’d walk into a gallery space, be provided with a descriptive pamphlet and a drink, and peruse the room. However, the event seemed par for the course for Sorokin’s standards.
With a full open bar in the back, the lounge was packed with the strangest assortment of guests: members of the press, fascinated fans, people who were visibly trying to out-impress one another, and influencers or plus-ones who were just happy to be there. (Apparently there was a wait list for this eventaccording to the Founders Art Club website.)
I asked one person what brought him to the show. “I know Peter,” he said, as if I was supposed to know who that was. People directed their attention to the front, with phones and champagne flutes in hand. The cocktail of the night was “Anna on Ice,” sans actual ice.
Sorokin’s voice addressed the party. “Hi everyone, Anna Delvey here. I hope you guys are enjoying your evening so far. I’m so very excited to unveil my first ever art collection titled ‘Allegedly,’” she said in her ambiguous European accent. “I wanted to capture some of the moments of the past years, both never seen before and iconic, using the limited tools I have at my disposal. Some of the pieces are straightforward. Others are more abstract, and will be unique in meaning and appearance to the observer.”
The message continued: “I studied fashion illustration in Paris and hadn’t really sketched until my trial. You heard so many voices already, but this is the beginning of me telling my story, my narrative from my perspective. I hope you guys enjoy the show.”
Music started up ― “Flashing Lights,” by Kanye West and Dwele ― and the show began. We were instructed to clear a path. For the next 10 to 15 minutes, models brought out the 20 sketches. The models were dressed in black, with sheer black stockings on their heads. Wearing oversized sunglasses, they meandered through the poorly lit room. I was underwhelmed by drawings that might barely pass the College Board’s AP Art exam, but fans devoured the spectacle of it all.
One black and white sketch, titled “The Delvey Crimes,” was modeled after the front page of a newspaper, with the banner headline “’THREAT TO PUBLIC SAFETY’ BACK IN CUSTODY,” over an image of Sorokin in a Dior dress lounging on a bed like a damsel in distress. Another piece, “Anna on ICE,” showed Sorokin floating on an iceberg in yellow with a Department of Homeland Security glacier in the background.
Her sketch “Retired Intern” portrayed Sorokin in an Oscar de la Renta gown (she noted who she was wearing in various pieces) on a balcony overlooking a body of water. A fourth drawing by Sorokin depicted what appeared to be an appearance on Dr. Phil; the piece is titled “Dr. PPPhil-gotten gains,” and the show segment is called “The Many Faces of Anna Delvey.”
Following the procession, we were directed to part two of the show — the unveiling — on the 17th floor of the hotel. A crowd gathered impatiently in the foyer for the next 15 minutes, blocking the escalators and preventing actual hotel guests from moving to and from A security guard told a pushy attendee that the art show, to him, was secondary: “I care about the hotel.” Waiting by the elevator, I saw event staff, possibly members of Sorokin’s extensive team, take the art upstairs.
At 8:51 pm, I entered the elevator and was finally allowed up to the official art show ― evidently the models showing off the sketches were just an appetizer. On the 17th floor, there were more drinks, leading the way to a big room where the 20 pieces of artwork were propped on easels. Basking in the calm before the storm of people who would be sure to follow, I walked around taking pictures of the sketches.
Each piece was signed in the right-hand corner in cursive font: “Anna Delvey, OCJ, New York 2022.” Given Sorokin’s history of, let’s say embellishment, it’s unclear whether the sketches were actually done by her. It’s also unclear who funded the whole event, and whether Sorokin indeed studied fashion illustration as she claims.
As I walked around, I eavesdropped. One woman approached a member of Sorokin’s team. “We’re doing the call at 9:30, right?” she asked, with a tinge of vocal fry. The team member said it would be around then, if they could mitigate some of the connectivity issues at the detention center. At the moment, she was “just trying to do an Instagram takeover for Anna.”
Tired of standing and waiting, I sat in a chair outside the display room. Slowly, more people started to arrive. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one attendee, a white woman, speaking into the lens of a cameraman filming nearby.
“I did a lot of research and felt very close to her,” the woman said. “She gave that confidence to everybody, and that is why she should not be convicted of any crime.”
That’s when I knew it was time to go. At 9:26, I made my way out. There was more to the show, though: Reportedly, Sorokin appeared via video in a neon outfit and there was a drag queen performance.
My capacity to pity Sorokin was nonexistent to begin with, but as a reporter, I was curious to see how this art show would even come together. But after spending an hour among people who seemed to idolize her unquestioningly, I have officially had my fill.