On the Ball

Linda Yablonsky at the 6th Brooklyn Artists Ball

Left: Artist Mickalene Thomas. Right: Artist Tom Sachs, philanthropist Stephanie Ingrassia, and Swizz Beatz. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE KEY WORD for the sixth Brooklyn Artists Ball was vanilla.

It’s not that Wednesday’s annual gala at the Brooklyn Museum was a white-bread affair. Diversity, if not parity, distinguished the 750 collectors and artist guests. I am referring to the evening’s dress code: WHITE HOT.

“You’ll see why when we go in for dinner,” said Anne Pasternak of her first gala since becoming the museum’s director. After twenty-five years’ experience heading up fundraisers for Creative Time, Pasternak was accustomed to the rigors of New York social life. But Brooklyn’s requires some getting used to.

“It’s too early for white,” wailed the collector Jamie Hort, echoing the sentiments of a number of others present, most of whom complied. “I can’t even imagine you in white,” Jeffrey Deitch told Vito Acconci, the Brooklyn-based artist-turned-architect who appeared in his uniform black-on-black. (Deitch wore a navy blue suit, as did the other man in Acconci’s party, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach.)

Kasseem Dean, the Bronx-born board member better known as Swizz Beatz, split the difference with a black-and-white, floral-patterned dinner jacket with lapels so wide and pointy that they nearly grazed his shoulders. “Tom Ford,” he said, sounding as if he were apologizing for his extravagance. (He must still be unaccustomed to the art world.)

Left: Collector Tiffany Zabludowicz. Right: Artists Pattie Cronin, Fred Tomaselli, and Deborah Kass with Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak.

Other gala-goers also bucked the crema tide but not enough to imply that this was the tide-bucking Brooklyn of Bernie Sanders, who had rallied so many thousands in the borough before losing the New York primary to Hillary Clinton just the day before. “I’m tired after yesterday,” said Laurie Cumbo, who represents the museum’s district on the New York City Council. “But it’s all great.”

It was only a week into Nancy Spector’s job as the Brooklyn Museum’s chief curator, and a day after news broke that one of her parting shots from a seventeen-year run at the Guggenheim Museum was to bring Maurizio Cattelan out of retirement to install (permanently) an eighteen-karat gold toilet in a rotunda bathroom. She flashed a broad grin. “The timing was incredible,” she said, referring to Donald Trump’s taste for gold bathroom fixtures. What will she bring to Brooklyn?

This was not my first Artists Ball. Yet at no time in the evening could I shake the feeling that I had crossed from Manhattan to Brooklyn and somehow landed out of town.

“We live in Long Island,” said Jill Bernstein, another board member and, according to Tiffany Zabludowicz, the person who got her mother started as an art collector. “It’s true,” Bernstein told the younger Zabludowicz. “And your father is still speaking to me.”

Left: Con Edison arts and culture manager Alton Murray and New York City Council member (35th District, Brooklyn) Laurie Cumbo. Right: Brooklyn Museum chief curator Nancy Spector and artist Duke Riley.

We were standing in the museum’s lobby, where curator Eugenie Tsai had arrayed the eighteen, jerry-built works in “Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999–2016,” and where they looked better than anywhere else to date.

Super huge plywood speakers stood on either side of a bar that bore the presidential seal, kitted out for the night with the decks where Swizz Beatz would guest DJ the after-dinner dance party. The speakers, dealer Sarah Hoover (Sachs’s wife) told me, replicated the ones Hitler used for rallies. Same dimensions, different materials—cut-up wooden barriers stolen from Con Edison construction sites. I wondered how Alton Murray, Con Ed’s arts and culture manager, felt about that?

Off the lobby, artist Will Cotton manned a booth to make Polaroid portraits of guests, while cocktails were served by waiters in white Tyvek lab coats contributed by Sachs, who was enjoying his de facto opening despite having to shepherd his parents through the crowd. Such is the life of a man in demand. Sachs currently has another exhibition at the Noguchi Museum, where his “Tea Ceremony” represents the institution’s first solo by an artist other than Noguchi. And coming up he has yet another show, “Nuggets,” with Deitch.

“Hi, Tom!” shouted out Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and his wife Karin, both dressed in twin Tyvek suits in Sachs’s honor.

Left: Artist Sanford Biggers with photographer Mangue Banz, and Westfield World Trade Center Art Initiative director Isolde Brielmaier. Right: Courtney Crangi and Jenna Lyons.

Yet this Artists Ball weirdly had no artist honorees. Instead, accolades went to collectors Tim and Stephanie Ingrassia. She is the museum board’s president. He cochairs the global mergers and acquisitions division of Goldman Sachs. They live in Brooklyn.

Why did that feel clubbier than the Artists Ball I attended a few years ago, when a troupe of Brooklyn-based female artists not only anchored the dinner tables but also created the sculptures that were their centerpieces? This time out, a professional event designer, David Stark, fulfilled that task—with towering, Brancusi-inspired columns of stacked rolls of toilet tissue and paper towels. All would be remaindered to the museum’s bathrooms once the dinner was done.

That was economical, at least—they were actual rolls, not gold ones—but they caught the spirit. Many people thought Sachs had done them—at his studio, visitors ring a doorbell labeled BRANCUSI—but if he had been the hand behind the columns, no doubt he would have fashioned his own toilet paper out of duct tape and Styrofoam. After all, he’s an artist. The idea is not to pander but to transform.

And transformation is what Pasternak has been after. Already, she announced, the museum’s staff had reconfigured the Egyptian, European, and American art wings, which were open for the evening. The install is certainly cleaner—the American galleries seemed almost austere, not counting the large glitter portrait of a reclining woman by Mickalene Thomas that so dominates one of the galleries that the older paintings there look inconsequential. (They’re not.) The collection show spilled out into an exhibition of raucous color by graffiti artist Stephen Powers.

Left: Collectors Jay Bernstein and Jill Berstein. Right: Actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia.

Anyway, this was a fundraiser and it got the job done, bringing in $2.2. million. (Tables went from $15,000 to $100,000; individual tickets, for $1,500.) And Pasternak carried over a booster video of a sort that sometimes featured at her Creative Time benefits. This one was shot at the museum and featured the director, dealer Lucien Terras, and Sachs cavorting through white-walled galleries with white-garbed dancers.

That was fun, and most of all, very professional.

When I left, DJ Runna was on the decks, Swizz Beatz was holding the mic, and the dance floor back in the lobby was filling up with young people. That was fun too. And felt a little more like home.

Left: Artist Jesper Just. Right: Maria Acconci, artist Vito Acconci, Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak, and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach.

Left: Artists Brian Donnelly (KAWS) and Julia Chiang. Right: Artist Dustin Yellin.

Left: Producer/director Barry Rosen, philanthropist Elizabeth Sackler, and Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak. Right: Artist Marilyn Minter with her husband, Bill Miller.

Left: Collector Melissa Schiff Soros. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch with artist Sarah Jones and music producer Kaseem Dean (aka Swizz Beatz).

Left: Artists Walton Ford and Santi Moix. Right: Poet Tom Healy and dealer Sarah Hoover.

Left: Spring Break Art Show founders Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly. Right: Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale chief Sara Friedlander and Roc Nation chief digital officer Matt Siegel.