Marden Party

New York

Left: Helen Marden and Lauren Hutton. Right: Brice Marden. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

On Tuesday, I attended the opening of the Brice Marden retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, followed by dinner. Even at the big first night’s celebration, one can usually ferret out the odd voice of dissent or complaint, but the tone here was strikingly warm, even buoyant. The only criticism I heard (if you can call this criticism): Why were the drawings (most of which were installed on the third floor, apart from the paintings on the sixth) hung so low? To my eye, the hang was uniformly handsome and made good heuristic sense—for instance, the first gallery is given over almost entirely to work from Marden’s first solo show at Bykert Gallery in 1966. It’s rather extraordinary to see these paintings assembled together forty years later.

Dinner was surprisingly agreeable, at least in my experience of fancy dinners of this kind. It was also unusually large. Speeches were overall on the short side, which was good because there were several. Board chairman Robert Menschel followed by Board president Marie-Josée Kravis both stuck to judicious thank-yous. Kravis was most complimentary to the artist’s wife: “Helen, everyone here at the Modern has learned a lot from you.” Gary Garrels, the exhibition curator—formerly of the Modern and now at the Hammer in Los Angeles—spoke about the character of Marden’s art and thanked lots of people. MoMA director Glenn Lowry thanked more people. Finally, Marden spoke, beginning with the comment “I used to be called a Minimalist,” the implication being that his own remarks would be terse. In fact, his speech was exceedingly gracious. He began by thanking Matthew Marks for imagining that such a show should and could happen (“Now here it is!”) and, having thanked his wife, Garrels, assistants, and collectors, closed with a loving comment regarding his daughters, Mirabelle and Melia. He also warmly singled out Robert Rauschenberg, for whom he once worked as an assistant: “We love you, Bob, and we love the work.” When Marden finished speaking, the entire room rose in a standing ovation.

Left: Melia Marden, Rivington Arms's Mirabelle Marden, and artist Robert Rauschenberg. Right: Alba Clemente with artist Francesco Clemente. (Photos: Julie Skarratt/Courtesy MoMA)

I think that the unusually convivial seating arrangements were in large measure Helen Marden’s doing. “I just wanted people to be seated among their friends,” she told me. It certainly worked out for me, as I was wedged between Hanna Liden, my official date, and our mutual friend Jessica Craig-Martin. Marden’s assistant Ash Darrell was sitting across from us. I heard that the three of them had enjoyed a swell time together last summer in Hydra, where they were all staying at the Mardens’ house. Surveying the room, I noticed the table of honor was given over mostly to family members, with the notable exceptions of Lowry and his wife, MoMA board vice chairman and Marden collector Kathy Fuld, and painter Chris Ofili. Mmes. Lowry and Fuld surrounded “Frankie” (aka Kid America, husband-to-be of daughter Melia), and Helen sat herself with Ofili. Matthew Marks, at an adjacent table, was originally seated next to a mysterious “Ms. Moore,” who never showed. Her seat was removed and Marks found himself tête-à-tête with Jeff Koons, who opined that the absent guest was surely film star Julianne Moore. But another guest was heard to quip “or Barbara Moore” (the perhaps less glamorous Fluxus lady).

I missed the second opening on Thursday, as I had a dinner engagement, but I managed to make it to the after-party in the North Cabana of the Maritime Hotel while the joint was jumping. Upon entering, I immediately found myself in the company of the Mardens and Marks; I should have liked to stay put, but this party was geared more to the jeunesse dorée—i.e., friends of Mirabelle and Melia—so I ventured into the crowd to see what fun was on offer. Well, for starters, glamour-girl-about-town Arden Wohl literally leaped into my arms. “Arden,” I screamed, “even if you only weigh a hundred pounds, I can’t carry you!” I asked her what she thought of the show: “Now I know that the flats came before the squiggles.” Artist Rita Ackermann was at the bar. “This is the party for the Bruce Nauman opening?” she asked, I believe disingenuously. I returned to the grown-ups for a breather. Marks pointed out that Mirabelle was wearing vintage Ossie Clark. When Melia stopped by, I asked her what she was wearing. “Zac Posen and vintage,” she replied. I initially misheard her. “You’re wearing vintage Zac Posen,” I said, scrunching up my face. “Write that down and I’ll rip your guts out,” she answered, without missing a beat. But her mother seemed rather amused. “I’m so glad we’ll be dead at the next retrospective,” Helen laughed. “Don’t be so sure,” Marks rejoined. “Considering your mother lived to be a hundred, you may see the next two.”

Left: Jeff Koons and Justine Koons. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: MoMA president Marie-Josée Kravis with UCLA Hammer curator Gary Garrels. (Photo: Julie Skarratt/Courtesy MoMA)

Left: Artist Cecily Brown with Stephanie McNiel and artist Jessica Craig-Martin. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: MoMA board vice chairman Kathy Fuld. (Photo: Julie Skarratt/Courtesy MoMA)

Left: MoMA board vice chairman Donald Marron with MoMA president emerita Agnes Gund. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Chris Ofili and Roba Ofili. (Photo: Julie Skarratt/Courtesy MoMA)

Left: Brice Marden with MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Right: Filmmaker John Waters with the Baltimore Museum of Art's Brenda Richardson. (Photos: Julie Skarratt/Courtesy MoMA)

Left: Artist Chuck Close with Veronica Hearst. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips with artist Billy Sullivan. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Hilary Rubenstein Hatch and MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach. (Photo: Julie Skarratt/Courtesy MoMA) Right: Art consultant Abigail Asher with artist Ross Bleckner. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)