Panic at the Disco

Kate Sutton at the annual Watermill Benefit

Left: Watermill founder Robert Wilson with Rufus Wainwright. Right: Performers in sodomise USa. (Photos: Billy Farrell)

LAST SATURDAY, Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center hosted its eighteenth annual Summer Benefit, a performance-art playground for the pretty things summering in the Hamptons. The dress code for this year’s theme, “Voluptuous Panic,” was simply “Fearless.” When I called a friend to consult on what constitutes “fearless,” he wasn’t much help: “I think I’m just going to dress for ‘Panic.’ ”

Plans for putting together a five-alarm ensemble eventually yielded to ice cream and a late afternoon swim in East Hampton, and I ended up having to sneak into the $1000-to-$1500-a-head benefit through the back door, changing my clothes in the staff bathroom. Turns out if you show up in a bathing suit and a state of actual panic, you may just get taken for one of the artists.

It would be an honest mistake. The evening’s scantily clad performers were decked out in everything from duct tape to lingerie to false pregnancy bellies. (In other words, Performance Art with capital letters.) In the courtyard, Peter Coffin’s contribution mounted a motley crew of musicians atop a steamroller that was rigged up like a music box, with pins plunking against the large cylinder wheel’s surface. It drove slow circles around a collaboration from Atopos CVC + Charlie Le Mindu that consisted of a bevy of bikinied models bathing in a baby pool of silver glitter and oil, a soft-core scene labeled in the program as sodomise USa. While no one seemed to be taking up the imperative of the title, I did watch as one of the glitter girls was pulled up onto the steamroller. (A shame they didn’t have a tambourine for her.)

Left: Artists Ricky Swallow and Lesley Vance with collectors Amanda Fuhrman and Glenn Furhman. (Photo: Billy Farrell) Right: Artists Sam Roeck and Ryan McNamara with Performa director RoseLee Goldberg.

I followed a citronella torch–lined path into the woods, where Ryan McNamara’s piece I I was causing a little disturbance of its own. Two human heads (McNamara and Sam Roeck) appeared as if discarded amid the twigs, their bodies fully concealed in holes dug beneath the earth. Eyes glazed and tongues lolling, the heads droned popular duets in a kind of listless, last-call karaoke—“Love Songs after Dark” on lithium. Fifteen minutes into the three-hour performance, an already intoxicated visitor—somehow oblivious to the crowd gathered to watch—accidentally kicked the first head, then, in his shock, stumbled back to step onto the second’s face, much to the horror of the audience. The heads continued undeterred, while the partygoer tried to play it off. “How many times has that happened today?” he tested a grin toward the photographer. “Only once,” the photographer shot back coolly.

The word on previous Watermill Benefits was that celebrities were typically thick as ticks. (And apparently there were many of the latter. “You know this is Lyme disease central, right?” someone warned.) On our arrival, a friend had reverently pointed out style photographer Bill Cunningham, and there were reports of casual run-ins with honorary chairs Alan Cumming and Rufus Wainwright, but for the most part, pickings were slim. “Is this as celeb as it gets? I would have stayed in the East Village,” a catty friend texted. “Somebody above Fourteenth Street please!”

But there were some fashion folk—Stefano Tonchi, Nicole Miller, Luigi Tadini, Cecilia Dean, Chloe Malle—and esteemed patrons galore, including a smattering of DeWoodys and de Menils. Art-world aficionados Tim Hunt, Todd Bishop, Richard Chang, Klaus Biesenbach, and RoseLee Goldberg stuck to the performance-art path and the silent auction tent, where works by Anri Sala, Andrew Kuo, and Neo Rauch could be snatched up at modest prices. Bids were hot for Tauba Auerbach, Anton Ginzburg, and Mary Heilmann, whose globular Beauty Mark sparked a bidding war kicked off by Wainwright and Simon de Pury.

Left: W editor Stefano Tonchi with artist Cindy Sherman. Right: Auctioneer Simon de Pury. (Photos: Billy Farrell)

De Pury was in top form conducting the live auction at the dinner, emphatically wheedling the people he knew—“Cindy Sherman, you have an eye for beauty. Wouldn’t you say this is an exquisite portrait of Marina Abramović?”—and coaxing cash out of others with compliments or coercions. “Dear, you can be a fan of Roger Waters and still bid against him.” (The fan declined.) Capping off festivities, Wainwright crooned his self-described “plebeian” ode to Wilson, who’s celebrating his seventieth birthday later this year: “Brecht, Beckett, Shakespeare, and Susan Sontag / Would all be a drag / Without Robert Wilson.” I found myself doing the math on that one.

No sooner had artists Richard Phillips and Josephine Meckseper stepped onto the dance floor than they were upstaged by someone dressed as a giant sparkly Fudgesicle. The party had officially begun. DJs Nancy Whang (of LCD Soundsystem fame) and Nicole Batchelor fed the crowd a dutiful selection of party pop, but the particularities of the Hamptons scene meant that even on a drunken 2 AM dance floor, one shouldn’t be surprised to encounter a handsomely sweatered twelve-year-old or two. (This made Estelle’s “American Boy” seem oddly literal.)

There were slurred promises of an afterparty “at the French house,” but this required finding someone named Dmitry—too arduous a task for that hour. Newfound couples began to creep into the woods summer-camp style, making out on the trappings of all of that Art. I followed Justin V. Bond over to a set of crash-course swings, which collided into one another if you swung high enough (and the remaining guests seemed intent on doing just that).

A friend had waved goodbye several songs earlier, so when I finally gathered my gift bag, I was surprised to see him still waiting for his car. It came out that the valet had given the vehicle to the wrong guest, a dealer who was in such a disoriented state post-festivities that she drove thirty minutes without realizing her mistake. We may not have begun with “voluptuous,” but we certainly ended with “panic.”

Left: Artists Richard Phillips and Josephine Meckseper. (Photo: Billy Farrell) Right: Artist Andrey Bartenev. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Artist Anton Ginzburg and dealer Katie Rashid. Right: Artist Debo Eilers. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Architect Russell Piccione with Visionaire's Cecilia Dean. (Photo: Billy Farrell) Right: Watermill Center director Jörn Weisbrodt. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Peter Coffin and his contribution. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Collector Christophe de Menil. (Photo: Billy Farrell)