Something New

New York

Left: New Museum chief curator Richard Flood with artist Richard Prince. Right: Collector Dakis Joannou with artist Jeff Koons. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

The food was awful and the company mixed (from uptown and down-) at Sunday’s Earth Day benefit gala for the New Museum of Contemporary Art. The evening was very nice, as was the setting. Nice weather accompanied 670 friendly guests to the princely precincts of Cipriani 42nd Street, the former bank opposite Grand Central Station. Inflatables, or their approximations, were in the air. Not only did strings of foam pearls resembling round balloons (arranged by Jes Gordon) dangle from a black-and-white fabric canopy two stories above our expensively coiffed heads, but one of the evening’s two guests of honor was Jeff Koons, king of the cast inflatable. Richard Prince, whose print Drawing is currently featured on Marni Balloon handbags, was his cohonoree.

This slam-dunk duo of artist celebrity helped draw just over two million dollars to the hungry coffers of the new New Museum headquarters on the Bowery, which are slated to open in November. That’s eight hundred thousand dollars more than the annual gala raised last year, certainly a nice way to celebrate the once-scruffy museum’s thirtieth anniversary—the pearl one, in case you didn't know. Seven months before its scheduled completion, the building has already transformed its surroundings, once the right address only for derelicts (and the odd artist). Not only is Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn racing to move her Upper East Side gallery Salon 94 to Freeman’s Alley, behind the new building, but the neighborhood is now bourgeois enough to boast new high-rise apartment houses ugly enough to thumb their overscaled noses at sensitive citizens like you and me. It also has several exclusive nightclubs (none as racy as the old Sammy’s Bowery Follies) and the biggest Wholefoods Market in Manhattan.

All the same, you'd think there would be more excitement to the event’s atmosphere, instead of a sense of obligation. People were there to show support. Certainly, they did not come for the meal. (We could all smell the Chilean sea bass coming long before it reached the tables.) Hopefully, the New Museum will hold future fundraisers in its own building, with some more reliable company to do the catering. (Wholefoods cruditÚs, anyone?)

Left: Filmmaker John Waters with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist John Currin. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

It didn’t matter. At such humongous affairs, it’s the cocktail hour that counts. That’s the benefit-goer’s best chance to talk trash to power and check out the outfits. I learned that Glenn O’Brien and Gina Nanni had flown directly from the Menil Collection’s twentieth-anniversary celebration in Houston—a masked ball attended by far fewer artists than those in the crowd before us. Clifford Ross and Mike Starn were quick to sing the praises of collectors Shelley and Philip Aarons. And Marianne Boesky showed off Liam Culman, her husband. “I'm not in the art world,” he said when I asked them to pose. “You are when you're out with me,” she retorted.

When the blini-and-caviar hors d’oeuvres ran out, the table hunt began. Rachel Feinstein and John Currin were placed at Dianne Wallace's; Nate Lowman wasn’t. Neville Wakefield was seated with Richard Prince; Barbara Gladstone wasn’t. Indeed, there were many odd couples about. John Waters drew Simon de Pury; Jeffrey Deitch got Thelma Golden. Laura Hoptman entertained Urs Fischer; Andrew Lord squired Aggie Gund. Mary Boone appeared solo; Jane Rosenblum arrived with Rob Wynne and left with Curt Marcus.

I lucked out as a guest of Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann, who seated me with Sant Ambroeus restaurateur Gherardo Guarducci, art adviser Raphael Castoriano, and Public Art Fund director Rochelle Steiner. The Miuccia Prada table was next to ours, though instead of Prada it had Amanda Sharp, Vik Muniz, and Tom Sachs. To our left was Year of the Dog star Molly Shannon and her artist husband, a nice man with a wonderful name: Fritz Chesnut.

Left: Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden with MoMA President Emirita Agnes Gund. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Artists Rachel Feinstein and Nate Lowman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

During the first course, an unsightly tangle of prosciutto and dessicated baby pear, New Museum curator Richard Flood gave his buddy Prince a spirited introduction, calling the artist “a combination of Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra—the wizened recluse and the coolest kid on the block.” Prince gamely thanked the museum “for keeping me in the picture,” though he had told me earlier he was “too drunk” to make a speech.

In his hagiography of Koons, collector Dakis Joannou limned all the hard times the artist had weathered in years past. Coming during the week that Calvin Tomkins’s peckish New Yorker profile noted Koons’s studio payroll of eighty-plus and put his expenses at several hundred thousand dollars a month, the hardship theme seemed ill timed, to say the least. Odder still was that Koons cited New Museum founder Marcia Tucker three times in his remarks and ignored Lisa Phillips. Nice one!

At my table, the presentation inspired talk of art, the exposure afforded by art fairs, and the ups and downs of art careers like those of Prince and Koons. Rachel Lehmann spoke proudly of the artists’ works in her collection, how long it took Prince’s joke paintings to find an audience, and the fact that she's now priced out of his market, currently the province of manipulators who have made important art indistinguishable from expensive art. (Not so nice!)

Taste was again put to the test during a live auction (conducted by the indefatigable de Pury) of remaining works from the New Museum's commissioned editions. (A Jim Hodges glass tree branch brought the biggest price, forty-eight thousand dollars). As Nicole Atkins and the Sea took the stage to belt out a few ear-banging rockers—making further conversation impossible—the room began to clear. “If this were my wedding, I would shoot myself,” said Castoriano, glancing at the empty tables around us. Peeking in our goodie bags, I found temporary tattoos that included a winged heart inscribed with the words FOREVER NEW—a nice touch. If only it were true.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Fritz Chesnut with actress Molly Shannon. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Artist Cindy Sherman with musician David Byrne. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Artist Jim Lambie, Gavin Brown director Corinna Durland, artist Elizabeth Peyton, and artist Tony Just. Right: Collector Jane Holzer. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Visionaire cofounder Cecilia Dean with Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Creative Time director Anne Pasternak. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Author and model Sophie Dahl with nightlife impresario Amy Sacco. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Urs Fischer. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Collector Henry Buhl. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Collector Michael Ovitz, Nancy Dorn, and George Walker. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)