All in Good Fund

New York

Left: Artist Brice Marden. Right: Artist Pat Steir and poet Anne Waldman. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

IF THERE IS METHOD IN MADNESS, there may be money, too. Witness the first volley fired in this season of fund-raising hell by the Drawing Center’s gala benefit last Wednesday, April 15, not coincidentally the annual deadline for payment of income taxes. How better to greet the spring than with a ready-made deduction?

Here is how: Mount an exhibition detailing the fascinating, troubled life and art of Unica Zürn. The author of a few violent sex novels and hand behind the masklike automatic ink drawings on the center’s walls, Zürn is the undersung Surrealist whose obsession with Henri Michaux and partnership with Hans Bellmer doomed her to madness and suicide. The exhibition, pried from the clutches of various estates by curator João Ribas, includes more than just intricate drawings of Zürn’s private gods and monsters. It also has photographs in which her masochism in modeling for Bellmer’s twisted “Poupées” is on telling display.

Patrons seemed drawn to these dark matters. The SoHo nonprofit raised $375,000 with the benefit. It included a dinner for 270 honoring painter Pat Steir in a TriBeCa party room overlooking the new towers of Lower Manhattan, once a low-slung bohemian savanna where the deer and antelope of art and theory played.

The evening was characterized by an elegant modesty, an elusive trait that has become the necessary armor to defend against these troubled fiscal times. It must work, because no one at the Drawing Center, not board cochair Frances Beatty Adler or artist Brice Marden or architect Steven Holl or any of Steir’s many artist, collector, and curator friends who applauded her—Kiki Smith, Jeffrey Weiss, Tom Otterness, Eileen Cohen, Betty Woodman, Marina Abramovic—displayed any concern. “It takes a hydra to run a nonprofit in this economic environment,” director Brett Littman told the guests, who talked over him.

Left: Dealer Tim Nye with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. Right: Artist Laurie Anderson with musician Lou Reed.

Steir is, of course, famous for pitching paint at canvas, but she is also an ace at drafting what poet Anne Waldman, in a spirited toast, called “accidents of the magic of the pour.” Reading from prepared remarks, Waldman said, “Things are symbols of themselves. We don’t have to look for meaning. It’s there.” I wondered whether we could say the same for love? Perhaps if I read more poetry I would know. Steir herself waxed sentimental: “Drawing is the backbone of everything we make. For me it is smoke and rain and young children crying.” See? Poetry.

In its interviews and stories, Bomb has been a stalwart promoter of contemporary poets, playwrights, novelists, artists, and filmmakers for twenty-eight years, and on Friday night it drew many of them to its own benefit at the National Arts Club. “We deliver the artist’s voice,” said founder and editor Betsy Sussler, announcing Bomb’s new association with the Smithsonian, which will share its oral-history database with the magazine’s, creating, Sussler said, “a library of American culture,” and introducing three sets of honorees—Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons, and P.S. 1 founder Alanna Heiss.

Each received little pink bomb awards (a Bomb gala tradition) and testimonials from artist Clifford Ross, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and Abramovic, respectively. Abramovic donned her signature lab coat for her performance, during which she sat at a lectern and proceeded to call Heiss an artist’s friend for life. “OK, some of them are dead—LeWitt, Matta-Clark—but she’s still a friend,” she said, and then read off a dazzling list of all the artists whose work had made their first-ever public appearance at P.S. 1.

Left: P.S. 1 founder Alanna Heiss. Right: Artist Marina Abramovic.

Now the ruling thumb at the Clocktower, for which only an hour earlier she had been granted a ten-year lease for her new radio project, Heiss said, “If there is anyone here who has never had a show at P.S. 1, please leave your name at the door, and you will get one at the Clocktower.” I didn’t see anyone running for the sign-up sheet. But I did see plenty of paparazzi, especially around Reed. “I never smile for the camera,” he announced, pulling on a dour face. “You never smile?” asked Phillips. “I didn’t say I never smile,” Reed said, looking grim. “I don’t smile for cameras.” Again she asked why. Strobes flashed. The dinner bell sounded. The scene changed. History is like that. It goes by in a flash.

Saturday night found me at the Guggenheim Museum for KOOL—Dancing in My Mind, a new video and dance piece by director Robert Wilson, choreographer Carla Blank, and videographer Richard Rutkowski. The museum commissioned the work, performed by six dancers, for “The Third Mind,” which was closing the following day.

For those who believe in dance, KOOL is indeed a cool experience. The work is essentially an homage to Suzushi Hanayagi, a classically trained Japanese choreographer who did some of her most important work at the Judson Church in the 1970s and who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Nonetheless, Wilson, who collaborated with her on fifteen of his productions, found a way to communicate through small gestures of the hands and feet, and these became the basis for the piece.

Left: Collector Christophe De Menil. Right: Dancers Illenk Gentille and Jonah Bokaer.

On the screen behind the dancers, Hanayagi, now eighty, appeared in a new video portrait by Wilson, but also in fascinating archival footage of her dancing some of the moves taking place live onstage, but with even more concentration. One section, featuring a kind of duet between choreographer Jonah Bokaer and Illenk Gentille (in real life also an Indonesian prince), was especially dazzling, even hypnotic.

Still entranced, I drifted upstairs to a small reception that Gentille nearly missed, it took him so long to remove the mask of his whiteface makeup. There’s the difference between men and women. When Steir arrived at the Drawing Center dinner wearing sizable, Vermeer-style pearl earrings, which she claimed never to take off, even to sleep, Waldman understood. “That's right,” she replied, admitting to reapplying mascara before bed. “You never know who you will meet in your dreams.”

Left: Artists Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham. Right: Artist Tom Otterness.

Left: Curator Klaus Kertess with Salon 94's Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. Right: Dealer Richard Feigen.

Left: Drawing Center board cochair Frances Beatty Adler. Right: James Cohan Gallery director Kara Vander Weg with Drawing Center director Brett Littman.

Left: Dealer Barbara Gladstone, collector Barbara Jakobsen, and Dorothy Lichtenstein. Right: Collectors Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy.

Left: Michele Gerber Klein, Christian Cota, and Bomb founding editor Betsy Sussler. (Photo: Jonathan Ziegler/Patrick McMullan) Right: Drawing Center curator João Ribas.

Left: Artist Paul Pfeiffer. Right: Writers Lynne Tillman and Patrick McGrath.

Left: Architect Steven Holl and artist Solange Fabaio. Right: Collectors Phil and Shelley Aarons.

Left: Art historian Linda Nochlin. Right: Artists Jean Pagliuso and Kiki Smith.