Tropical Punch

New York

Left: Philadelphia Museum of Art curator of contemporary art Carlos Basualdo. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Maya and Simone Klabin. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

Tuesday’s unveiling of the latest installation of “Tropicália,” a traveling exhibition of Brazilian art inaugurating the new Arquitectonica-designed wing of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, was greeted with much pomp and circumstance, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Mayor Bloomberg. But I missed all that. Instead, I ducked in just before the preview’s official closing time, finding myself alone with international art intelligentsia Okwui Enwezor, Louise Neri, and “Tropicália” guest curator Carlos Basualdo. “Not everything is working just yet,” Basualdo apologized, but he needn’t have worried, as the show looked exceptional nonetheless. Artforum contributor Linda Yablonsky swept in just before cutoff, too. I waved and watched her carefully slip off her shoes and disappear into Hélio Oiticica’s massive installation, like Bas Jan Ader in a pantsuit.

The advantage to arriving late, I learned, was getting a personal tour from Sergio Bessa, the museum’s soft-spoken director of education. He pointed to Lygia Pape’s bowls filled with aniline-dyed fluids. “You can sample them if you like.” I passed. Though I'm a scrounger by nature (I always take a candy from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s piles, even if I don’t really want one), the clear droppers and Kool-Aid-colored liquids incongruously brought to mind both relational aesthetics and Jim Jones. The show’s 250 objects seamlessly blend activism and formal innovation, offering an excellent launching point for the newly refurbished museum.

All the best pomp was at that evening’s celebratory dinner, cohosted by Brazilian ambassador José Alfredo Graça Lima, New York’s consul general of Brazil, at the Upper East Side home of collectors Simone and Paulo Klabin. (“They own Rio,” I had been discreetly informed.) In the small, competitive, ludicrously wealthy society of collectors, there are good eggs and there are bad eggs. The Klabins, by all appearances, are the former—a glamorous, vivacious family who lead relatively normal lives, albeit lives decorated with a Holzer, a Flavin, a Judd, and a gorgeous Soto. What’s it like raising two children with contemporary art? “Like a language, they must learn about it. These days, before we go to look at work, they ask: ‘Is it going to be “Dia art” or “Met art”?'” Simone responded.

Left: Curators Okwui Enwezor and Louise Neri. Right: “Tropicália” artist Eli Sudbrack (of assume vivid astro focus) with Tim Goossens. (Photos: David Velasco)

When dinnertime arrived, the guests made their way to the luxurious multiroom dining area downstairs, where all the best gossip seemed to be conducted in Portuguese. Apparently, the ambassador is Buddhist, so the buffet featured plenty of vegetarian options. Making my way over to Graça Lima, I asked if he’d ever taken advantage of his diplomatic immunity. “Oh no,” he laughed. “Consulates don’t really get that. Only the embassy in Washington, DC.”

The party began to buzz with the arrival of Eli Sudbrack (the brains behind assume vivid astro focus), sporting a psychedelic one-piece by Brazilian designer Neon and firmly holding onto boyfriend Tim Goossens—the night to Sudbrack’s day—who was dressed in “a mix of Hedi Slimane and myself.” Having recently designed a small line of bags and accessories for LeSportsac, Sudbrack is no stranger to fashion. Another “Tropicália” artist, Matthew Antezzo, had clothes on the brain, too. “These pants are from a thrift store in Westport. They’re size 6 women’s,” proving that even these days, ambitious consumers can track down good design for a bargain.

The evening wore on, with uniformed waiters serving cups of “Romeo and Juliet”—delicious, thick strawberry jam and cream. I sat with Paulo Klabin, onetime owner of a renowned Brazilian gallery, who spoke about the numerous books on physics and of science fiction lining his shelves. “Physics is better than art,” he proclaimed. In this market, it’s also a lot cheaper. As the artists bid their adieus, I decided to make my exit as well. You should always leave the party before they turn off the Villareal in the foyer.

Left: Curator Emilio Kalil, Bronx Museum of the Arts director Holly Block, and Brazilian ambassador José Alfredo Graça Lima. Right: I-20 Gallery owner Paul Judelson and Alice Judelson. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Dealer Alina Slonim with “Tropicália” artist Matthew Antezzo. Right: Bronx Museum of the Arts education director Sergio Bessa. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Paulo and Maya Klabin. Right: Tanya Bonakdar gallery director Ethan Sklar with Philadelphia Museum of Art curator of modern art Michael Taylor. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)