Parrish the Thought

Michael Wilson at the Parrish Art Museum’s midsummer party

Left: Artist Dorothea Rockburne and Parrish Art Museum curator Alicia Longwell. Right: Photographer Bill Cunningham. (All photos: Patrick McMullan)

DEPARTING FROM AN ANONYMOUS STREET CORNER in midtown Manhattan, the Hampton Jitney (a basic bus that’s the transport of choice for those embarrassingly bereft of the true convenience that only a private helicopter can offer) doubles as a whistle-stop tour of some less tony neighborhoods as it barrels out of town. Among these is Long Island City, and since we had hit the road on a summer Saturday, my fellow escapees and I were treated to a view of the line that wraps itself around MoMA PS1 whenever the institution’s seasonal Warm Up parties are in session.

The club kids who brought up the rear down Jackson Avenue appeared unfazed by the prospect of a lengthy wait in the afternoon sun, but despite the pull of the dance floor, I was happy with my seat and complementary nibbles. Circumstances permitting, I would have been on an earlier bus and heading for the opening of the Bridgehampton Biennial, a (title notwithstanding) one-off show organized “just for the fun of it” by former MoMA PS1 curatorial advisor Bob Nickas. Staged at Martos Gallery’s summer base in a Sagaponack Road farmhouse, the event did sound like a blast. But it was not to be, and I was en route instead to Southampton for the Parrish Art Museum’s annual Midsummer Party.

This fundraiser was to be the Parrish’s last in its current location; by mid-2012, the museum will move to a new, Herzog & de Meuron–designed building in nearby Water Mill. A projected budget of $80 million for the base in progress shriveled to a more modest $25 million in practice, but the new digs will still feature triple the exhibition space of the old. Officials were cagey about the upcoming program, but I heard whispers that Jennifer Bartlett would be the subject of the opening solo show, and that Alice Aycock would show in 2013. The future of the institution’s Jobs Lane birthplace, which is owned by the notoriously controlling town, remained more of a mystery, as village elders continue to debate their preferences.

Left: Choreographer Trisha Brown, artist Burt Barr, and writer Iris Smyles. Right: Olympia Sonnier, artist Keith Sonnier, dealer James Salomon, and Barbara Brodd.

But while such matters might have weighed heavily on the minds of partners and benefactors, others were present for different reasons entirely. As I checked in, octogenarian New York Times style photographer Bill Cunningham, recently the subject of an affecting documentary film, was already taking the crowd’s sartorial temperature. He surely won’t have been short of subjects; guests were dressed to impress, though the pastel blazers and showy ball gowns signally failed to detract from their wearers’ more ill-advised nips and tucks. At one point, I spied two gentlemen of a certain age caressing each other’s chins in what seemed at first to be a tender moment, but turned out to be a comparison of recent work.

Orbiting the museum—currently hosting a Dorothea Rockburne retrospective—and its tented garden, I also spotted local painters of note Ross Bleckner and Eric Fischl, commentator Anthony Haden-Guest, and collector Adam Sender. But even without the benefit of a cocktail, the majority of faces soon blurred together into what a local tablemate at dinner characterized as “a very South-of-Hill-Street crowd,” with “old money or big money” burning a hole in its collective pocket. I heard too that Sonja “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” Morgan, troubled star of Real Housewives of New York, was in attendance, but if this was true she kept a lower profile than might have been expected. New York Observer culture editor Sarah Douglas, having invested some time in pointing out an idiomatic boo-boo to a senior staffer at Hamptons magazine, looked to be feeling as out of her element as I was.

Oddly, dining and dancing were combined—or at least juxtaposed—perhaps to get this portion of the evening over and done with in good time for the separately ticketed “after ten” party scheduled to follow. There were a few short speeches, most notably by Parrish director Terrie Sultan and founding partner, trustee, and president of the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation Norman Peck. And a lineup of founding partners were presented with Tiffany tchotchkes. But the focus was on a wedding disco–style knees-up in which a segue from early Lady Gaga into late Madonna was about as artful as the DJing got. As I took a last spin around the old place while waiting for my ride home, the veterans began to totter out and a fresh stock of beautiful people rolled up to take their places, their excited voices—as Gatsby says of Daisy’s—full of money.

Left: Real Housewife Sonja Morgan with Social Life publisher Justin Mitchell. Right: Dealer Mary Boone and Michael Raynes.