All You Can Eat

New York

Left: A guest carves a turkey. Right: Don Rubell and Jennifer Rubell. (Except where noted, all photos courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

LAST THURSDAY, the Brooklyn Museum’s annual Brooklyn Ball featured Icons, “a once-in-a-lifetime, participatory food journey through the Brooklyn Museum as inspired by some of the greatest icons of contemporary art” devised by “food artist” Jennifer Rubell, daughter of collectors Don and Mera Rubell, who buzzed around the event kvelling like the parents of the bar mitzvah kid. “For Icons”—I continue to quote from the press release, because who could beat this—“Jennifer Rubell will indulge guests with a drink from four Marcel Duchamp inspired champagne fountains, and eight drink paintings in which the ‘drip’ is a cocktail guests serve themselves through a spigot poking through the canvas (in homage to Jackson Pollock). Hors-d’oeuvres will consist of suspended cheese sculptures in the shape of human heads, surrounded by heat bulbs, which cause them to drip onto a pedestal of crackers below, in homage to Bruce Nauman . . . the main course references Joseph Beuys’s work Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare and features rabbits, pigs, turkeys, and legs of beef to be self-carved by guests who will then be seated at six one-hundred-foot tables covered with grey felt.”

Too bad Thorstein Veblen couldn’t make it. It was droll watching the dressed-up crowd self-serve from the installations in a display of “nonproductive labor” that the inventor of the term “conspicuous consumption” would have relished.

“I just don’t think this should be taken seriously as art,” said a painter as we entered the hors d’oeuvres gallery, which buzzed with cocktail clatter and reeked of fromage. Bare canvas “drink paintings” lined the walls. Paul McCarthy–inspired pedestals were scattered with accumulations of chips, assorted dips in paint tubes, mismatched beverage glasses, and crackers. Solemn guards stood beside each tableau to clarify which was lemonade, which bourbon, which rum and Coke, etc., as the art patrons fumbled with the spigots. Alas, the white wine was warm, as was the flat “champagne” that did however achieve an uncanny “urinal” effect squirting out of the fountain into my glass.

The dripping cheese heads were a highlight. Jerry Saltz, asking people about their shoes and shadowed by a video guy, admitted he was “afraid of it.” Indeed, it was treacherous. As I greedily reached for more melted GruyŤre from one of the blobs that had landed on the base, I almost got splattered with a gob on my sleeve, much to the amusement of my friend. Dodging the drips, a bunch of arms with cameras waved upward, shooting the heads as they decomposed; among the photographers was Diane von Furstenberg, who seemed fascinated with the process. ChloŽ Sevigny wandered around in a cropped denim jacket, black mini, and booties, not seeming to run into anyone she knew. She nonchalantly ate a bunch of chips from a giant pile. Our eyes met, which was weird.

As I watched the fancy crowd nibbling from the various “installations,” I pondered how apt it was that the daughter of major collectors presents “art” as something literally to consume: “Masterpieces of contemporary art” is a party theme to entertain with; “process art” is serving yourself from a sculpture that melts into a spread for your crackers.

In the giant rotunda, on more monolithic serving pedestals, the dinner installation was a festive Night and Fog scenario for carnivores. Accumulations of whole-roasted rabbits (including the heads) were piled up; masses of ducks, birds, huge legs of beef, and entire roasted pigs presented an unsettling nature morte of beasts for the gala guests to feast upon. I recalled my childhood pet bunny, Bugsy (sniff). The piles of animal carcasses were a creepy metaphor for the food chain of consumption that a gala like this celebrates: While I’m all for irreverently foregrounding Art as something to consume (“meritoriously,” Veblen would deadpan, as a “worthy” consumer), the literal carnage on display here was a gruesome reminder of all the violence, all the inequity, all the obscenity that is part and parcel of the luxury food chain. Fabulous.

Left: Chef Mario Batali with the Warhol piŮata. Right: Artists Nate Lowman (left) and Todd Eberle (center). (Photo: John Arthur Peetz)

The art patrons’ dessert was a twenty-foot-high piŮata in the shape of Andy Warhol’s head. I watched several well-dressed gentlemen vigorously whack the artist’s noggin with baseball bats.

“There’s a lot of anger there,” quipped a chap beside me. “This is called ‘venting,’ ” he chuckled. One lady stepped up to represent for the chicks. She took one good whack with the bat, self-consciously made a victory sign to her pals, and quickly scurried away.

What was inside Warhol’s head?

A variety of snack cakes tumbled out: Funny Bones, Suzy Q’s, Yankee Doodles, and hot pink Sno Balls.

“Nothing would have been perfect.”

Left: Artist Rosson Crow (center) with designer Zac Posen (right). (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: Vogue's Hamish Bowles.

Left: Melting cheese heads. Right: Brooklyn Museum president Arnold Lehman with Brooklyn Ball cochair Stephanie Ingrassia.

Rhonda Lieberman