Take a Bow

Hahn-Bin performs. (Photo: Billy Farrell)

“MADONNA HAS SO MUCH INFLUENCE in every sphere. I think she could kill people just by looking at them.”

We walked by the paparazzi step-and-repeat and down a blue carpet in MoMA’s sculpture garden, passing male models who held umbrellas for guests in case of rain.

She has a lot of restraint, I suggested.

“She’s the only person that would make me pass out if I met them.”

Then: “Madonna, I’d like you to meet Ryan Trecartin! He’s a fabulous artist.”

Ryan Trecartin did not in fact pass out when Klaus Biesenbach introduced him to Madonna, though neither of us was able to muster any words for the occasion. She didn’t have much to say either. She just looked up at us dubiously (murderously?), her weapon eyes framed by black hipster glasses as she chewed on a piece of bread. (LOOKING GOOD! Perez Hilton e-scrawled on the shot-from-the-hip photo he posted the next day.)

Madonna sat next to James Franco, who sat next to Marina Abramović, who sat next to Terence Koh, who sat next to Lizzie Fitch at a small table that also included Trecartin, Spike Jonze, Guy Oseary, Daphne Guinness, Martha Wainwright, and professional crier Laurel Nakadate.

I sat at the next table, squeezed between MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey and Humberto Leon, dapper proprietor of Opening Ceremony. “The art world is the big tent,” a friend observed. “These kinds of meetings couldn’t be orchestrated anywhere else—or certainly not at this speed. People come into our world, but we don’t really send people out. Except maybe Kathryn Bigelow.”

The reason for Monday’s small gala dinner, announced only days before and coming less than two weeks after MoMA’s Party in the Garden, was ostensibly to celebrate a partnership between MoMA and Volkswagen (which is sponsoring some education programs, the current Francis Alÿs exhibition, and another show down the line). But why Madonna? “She’s here to see Hahn-Bin,” someone shrugged.

Hahn-Bin is the twenty-two-year-old Itzhak Perlman protégé currently in the custody of Biesenbach and surrogate of cool Brian Phillips. Wearing leather wedge-heeled boots, leopard-print tights, and a sleeveless black kaftan and white turban, Hahn-Bin did a spellbinding, virtuosic rendition of Ravel’s Tzigane, climbing atop the grand piano in the center of the atrium and swinging his bow into the air. The world’s number one Heather stood up from her seat and watched intently, arms folded, occasionally smiling and nodding her head to the ostinatti. After Hahn-Bin finished, Biesenbach swooped in, grabbed a chair, and sat him next to her. They enjoyed a public/private tête-à-tête, then hugged. She left almost immediately after.

“She was so nice!” Hahn-Bin said. “She said she’d call me. We have a lot in common. We’re both Leos.”

“There are two people in the art world who really mediate the worlds of art and celebrity: Jeffrey Deitch and Klaus,” suggested another guest. “The difference is that Klaus is actually one of them—he’s a celebrity.” A stranger in a strange land, he descends from Hollywood to spread the happy truth of fame.

Abramović and Koh climbed a podium on one side of the room and commenced a brief history of the use of Volkswagens in art. Works flashed on the atrium’s walls: Alÿs’s Rehearsal, Pipilotti Rist’s Ever Is Over All, Damián Ortega’s Cosmic Thing. Abramović played the straight man, announcing titles and such, while Koh spoke in gibberish, parroting/parodying his own performance Art History, a Lecture: 1642–2009. When a photo from Chris Burden’s Trans-Fixed appeared, with the artist nailed, Christlike, to his vintage VW Beetle, the executives and artists and sundry icons of culture laughed and clapped in winking unison. All at once art and the market, the marketing of art, swirled in a transfixing, stupefying mix.