Scene & Herd

Class Reunion

New York

Left: Dealer Larry Gagosian and Jessye Norman. Right: Artists Rob Pruitt and Richard Serra. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE RECESSION has spurred the mainstream media to produce more stories about the rich. First there were reports that people with money were spending more furtively. Then came word that they had thrown off their shame and were back to buying––art, in particular. This was reassuring. If the rich had to suffer like the rest of us, who would buy us the drinks in which to drown our sorrows? As long as the haves have discretionary income, it can trickle down to the have-nots.

On Friday night in Chelsea, more than two million dollars of it did. The liberated money came through the doors of the Gagosian Gallery on West Twenty-first Street, as it so often does. Only this time, as Sotheby’s chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer put it, there was no house commission. The four hundred swells gathered for the evening were bidding on artworks donated to benefit the Partnership for the Homeless, an idea generated by longtime supporters Richard and Clara Serra.

Serra did not just cochair the event. By personal letter or phone call, he solicited work from eighty-two artists, including the estates of Willem de Kooning and Roy Lichtenstein. The money was to go to the partnership’s Family Resource Center, a children’s shelter in East New York. “It seemed like a good idea,” said Serra, who has done his share for worthy causes before but never as a social butterfly. “When Richard called, we talked for an hour and a half,” artist Ellen Phelan exclaimed. “So chatty! I was shocked, I have to say.” Serra was still on point. “Just look where the country is at right now, and look around here,” he said, glancing over a room that included Agnes Gund and Dorothy Lichtenstein (both honorary chairs), Jo Carole Lauder, Peter Brant, Henry Buhl, Lisa de Kooning, and the evening’s host, Larry Gagosian. “We live in a very privileged community.”

Left: John McEnroe and Bono. Right: Dorothy Lichtenstein.

So we do. But could dark times bring a streak of altruism to a river of self-involvement? Certainly an air of goodwill prevailed during cocktails, attended by a number of the artists involved: Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Joel Shapiro, Seton Smith, Richard Artschwager, and Malcolm Morley, to name a few. All were attracted to the event as much by Serra’s commitment as the business at hand: to raise money for kids without a tether.

On the whole, the evening’s silent auction had some pretty fine shit, as we used to say about other compelling substances. Drawing the most handwritten bids was a small and rather beautiful new lead joke painting by Richard Prince. “Wow,” said Gagosian, cruising by while checking over the lists. “This one is hot!” Alberto Mugrabi agreed. “I have to have it,” he said, keeping an eye out for any competition. (Late in the game, when he wasn’t looking, someone else won the piece with a $30,000 pledge.)

Just before the live auction, Serra made an appeal to “bid and buy.” For some extra motivation, soprano Jessye Norman, national spokesperson for the partnership, took the stage to lead a performance of four standards from the American songbook, beginning with that old inspirational saw “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Norman called it the organization’s “mission statement.” In her magnificent voice, it sounded quite sophisticated. Tenor Steven Cole and pianist Mark Markham performed other tunes by Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington, when Norman returned with baritone Lawrence Hamilton for a duet with a song from Ragtime. It was very upper crust.

Left: Larry Gagosian with artist Damien Hirst. Right: Incoming LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch with actor James Franco.

Meyer began the sale with a happy birthday for Lisa de Kooning, who had donated a 1970s charcoal drawing by her father (winning bid, $28,000), and set a brisk pace through lots that included a Cecily Brown ($130,000), an Elizabeth Peyton ($48,000), and a Takashi Murakami ($320,000). “Come on,” Meyer said, when bidding started to slow. “Homeless children!” It worked. Gund forked over $22,000 for a small Ed Ruscha painting, and Serra himself jumped in when a Morley watercolor came up, staying with it until Gagosian offered the winning $310,000.

Good to know we can still party like it’s 2008. Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition, “End of an Era,” opened Saturday night at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue location. Charity wasn’t on tap there. Rather, it was Hirst’s own myth that was up for grabs. The title work, a preserved bull’s head with golden horns, was perched on a weighty marble pedestal at the center of the gallery. It wasn’t nearly as distracting as an enormous gold painting festooned with multiple rows of sparkling zirconia, a spread of wealth that looked a little like a Jasper Johns flag executed by the hand of Mammon, which reflected everyone present in its glory.

Surrounding the head were iconlike paintings of solitary diamonds on black and gray backgrounds. Downstairs, a veritable mini-retrospective of butterfly, spin, pill, and dot paintings had more authority. Most of it was sold, though collectors were less in evidence than gallery artists like Takashi Murakami, John Currin, and Richard Phillips, as well as Hirst pals Bono, John McEnroe, Mick Jagger, and style goddess Daphne Guinness, who stepped through the crowd in a pair of heel-less platforms that turned so many heads even the poor bull seemed jealous.

Left: Artists Rachel Feinstein and John Currin. Right: Artist Takashi Murakami.

Gossip Girl actor Matthew Settle, attending with his producer/director Joe Lazarov (brother of gallery director Melissa Lazorov), wanted to know how the art world had changed since the early ’90s, the last time he had checked into it. “It’s not the same,” Phillips told him. Settle promised to come around more often.

He better. His face was nearly lost in the crowd of artists and models streaming into Gagosian’s party for Hirst at the gilded Boom Boom Room, atop the Standard hotel. Despite its overtly heterosexual makeup––hard to achieve in today’s art world—it only gathered steam as Terry Richardson, Philip Taaffe, Francesco Bonami, Nicola Vassel, Tom Sachs, Gregory Crewdson, Will and Rose Cotton, Josephine Meckseper, Cary Leitzes, Jeffrey Deitch, and all the rest arrived, and conversation around a bar stocked with art advisers like Todd Levin and Sandy Heller deepened. Looking like innocents abroad, curators Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani seemed fixed to the spot.

While Hirst, who arrived late, took a power banquette with Bono, Christopher Wool, and McEnroe, Tony Shafrazi grew demonstrably affectionate with Prince and Peter Brant. “Why not?” he said, giving the abashed Prince a buss on the cheek. “I love these guys!” Indeed love was in the air. Love of art, success, class, and New York, which sparkled in the clear, cold night outside. It didn’t feel much like the end of an era, but a giddy welcome to a future of retro glamour and ease where artists are the center of the universe. “That’s the great thing about Larry,” Currin said of the convivial Gagosian. “There’s always business going on, but it never really feels like it.”

Left: Gossip Girl actor Matthew Settle with producer/director Joe Lazarov. Right: Artist Richard Prince with dealer Tony Shafrazi and collector Peter Brant.

Left: Whitney Biennial cocurator Francesco Bonami. Right: X Initiative curator Cecilia Alemani with New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni.

Left: Artist Dan Colen, curator Clarissa Dalrymple, and artist Nate Lowman. Right: Artists Josephine Meckseper and Richard Phillips.

Left: Artist Tom Sachs. Right: Walker Art Center curator Peter Eleey, MoMA collections director Jennifer Russel, and P.S. 1 director Klaus Biesenbach

Left: Sotheby's chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer. Right: Lisa de Kooning and attorney John Silberman.

Left: Photographer Todd Eberle. Right: Annabel Makari and Agnes Gund.

Left: Artist Seton Smith. Right: Artists Joel Shapiro and Malcolm Morley.

Left: Artist Wolfgang Tillmans. Right: SF MoMA senior curator Gary Garrells and dealer Andrea Rosen.

Left: Gagosian's Rose Cotton. Right: Performance artist Casey Spooner.

Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps. Right: Gagosian's Sam Orlofsky with Cook.