April may be the cruelest month for mixing memory with desire, as T. S. Eliot had it, but living in London he may not have realized what a fine time it is to be in New York—especially if you like showmanship. Take last week, which began for me in top form on Monday night, when vocalist Adam Dugas and harpist Mia Theodoratus gave an invitation-only recital in the faux-baronial (i.e., Julian Schnabel–designed) environs of the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Before a flickering hearth, and dressed in white tie and tails, the ultrasuave Dugas (familiar to some as the creator of the “Chaos and Candy” holiday show at the Box) put his pipes in the unexpectedly subversive service of a half-dozen musical numbers dating from the sixteenth century to the present.
The set went over big with the equally well-turned-out audience, which included Justin Bond (of Kiki and Herb), the Wooster Group’s Kate Valk and Casey Spooner (also half of Fischerspooner), architect Charles Renfro, and former New York City Ballet dancer Ryan Kelly and his partner in the Moving Theater, Brennan Gerard (currently in residence at the Park Avenue Armory). Much of the evening’s fun was in apprehending what tunes we were actually hearing in Theodoratus’s arrangements, which sounded at first like vaguely familiar madrigals, show tunes, and romantic ballads. As it turned out, they were actually hit pop songs by Radiohead, Britney Spears, Gnarls Barkley, and Donna Summer (“I Feel Love,” in French), though barely recognizable as such. By the time Adam and Mia, as they were billed, performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for their finale, they had created a whole new genre of Name That Tune cabaret.
I may have started the week on the top shelf, but, this being New York, there was nowhere to go but up. Tuesday brought me to another intimate and rousing evening, this one in Henry Richardson and Sarah Stranahan’s Upper West Side apartment, where actor Steve Buscemi and artist Robert Longo had gathered friends and supporters of Issue Project Room, the adventurous music and performance space that began on the Lower East Side five years ago and has left it—like so many of the artists, writers, and musicians the venue hosts—for the outer reaches of Brooklyn. (At the moment, it resides in the Old American Can Factory, near the Gowanus Canal.) Spunky founder and director Suzanne Fiol used the occasion, which featured solo turns by Elliott Sharp and Emily Manzo (on guitar and piano, respectively) and a completely hilarious reading by Jonathan Lethem, to launch a two-million-dollar fund-raising campaign. The sum is what Fiol needs in order to open the doors of Issue’s new downtown Brooklyn headquarters at 110 Livingston Street, a glorious McKim, Mead, and White building that formerly housed the Board of Education offices and that the city agreed to sell to (what else?) a luxury-development company, as long as it gave the ground floor to an arts organization. Issue won the spot.
As Buscemi and Longo both noted, New York has very few public venues remaining for performers to experiment and grow, the way each of them did in the 1970s and ’80s (at places like Club 57 and the original Kitchen in SoHo). “I wish I was more like the characters I play in movies,” Buscemi admitted. “So I could rob banks and give all the money to Issue Project Room.”
The Creative Time benefit on Wednesday night made me wonder whether a robbery might just be the ticket. The capacity crowd of five hundred art-worlders who filled Guastavino’s, the white-tiled Terence Conran party palace beneath the Queensboro Bridge, brought the thirty-four-year-old public-art organization some $1.1 million—a bonanza, of course, yet just half of what the nascent Issue Project Room needs. All the same, as one guest observed, “Who said art benefits couldn’t be fun?” This one was unforgettable, and not just because the Creative Time goody bag—a roomy white-leather carry-on by Matt Murphy (producer of White Columns’s cool canvas totes as well)—was genuinely good but also because the event doubled as a birthday party for the irrepressible collector and philanthropist Beth Rudin DeWoody.
DeWoody’s son, Carlton, and his lifelong pal Ariel Schulman (of Supermarché) started the evening off in high-flying spirits with a bouncy video set to the tune of the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love”—swapping “love” out for “Beth.” Indeed! In a surprise performance, introduced by Broadway musical director Susan Stroman, DeWoody came onstage dressed in a hobo costume with former hoofer Frederick Anderson and did the famous “We're a Couple of Swells” soft-shoe that Judy Garland and Fred Astaire did in Easter Parade.
I don’t know how many collectors with no song or dance training would be brave enough to do such a thing in public, but DeWoody absolutely pulled it off, clearly astonishing fellow patrons like Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, John and Amy Phelan, Catherine Orentreich, Dana Farouki, and the entire Rudin family, as well as artists Mariko Mori, Donald Baechler, Alex Katz, Marilyn Minter, Rob Wynne, and about forty others who contributed to the silent auction. As DeWoody later told Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, there aren’t many arts organizations or institutions that would let her perform at a benefit.
But there was an even bigger surprise in store, this one for DeWoody, when she rose from her bows to be surrounded by thirteen male strippers from Hunkmania. People who had begun leaving the dinner stopped in their tracks as the well-choreographed hunks stripped to their shorts, on which were sewn letters that, when the men lined up for DeWoody’s inspection, spelled out CREATIVE TIME. Long after she came offstage, she still looked stunned. “I'm having post–stage fright,” she said, as guests around her madly scrambled for the gift boxes that waiters were carrying on silver trays. One box, it was rumored, contained a ticket for the bearer to receive a Cartier watch. Yet, perhaps playing it cool, the lucky guest didn't step up to claim their prize. Didn’t matter. In the art world, where illusion is king, everyone is a winner.