THE ANNUAL NEW YORK MARATHON runs in November. In the nonprofit New York art world, it arrives in April—only instead of nylon shorts, runners wear designer frocks and patterned ties, while it’s the events themselves compete for the title of most imaginative fundraiser. During the week of April 11, the race was fierce, with galas on six consecutive nights.
On Monday, Art Production Fund cofounders Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen decked themselves out in Dolce & Gabbana gowns for their “Good and Plenty Benefit” at the palatial Park Avenue Armory. Just inside the door, APF director Casey Fremont (also in D&G) directed guests past performer Eloise Fornieles, who stood atop a ladder clad only in makeup and antlers. Upstairs, Dana Schutz was sketching faces and Nate Lowman applying temporary tattoos, while Jeff Koons unveiled a plate he had designed for the APF and his Koons Family Institute for missing and exploited children.
The fabulosity meter only climbed from there, with nearly five hundred guests on their best behavior. Chief among the attractions was Clarissa Dalrymple, the perpetually underground, peripatetic curator who has given many a young art career a significant early boost. “She is a radiantly beautiful individual with the best eye in the city,” Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles said in her toast. “If you want a lot of people to come to your benefit,” whispered an observer, “just make Clarissa the guest of honor.” (And put 150 glam artists and collectors on your benefit committee.)
Dalrymple was actually one of two honorees. The other was philanthropist John Dempsey, group president of the Estée Lauder Companies. Their pairing made two camps of the assembled, one corporate-casual, the other privileged-bohemian. The divide materialized in the seating arrangements for dinner. On one side of the soaring, ground-floor hallway were businessmen-collectors like Phil Aarons, lawyers (Michael Ward Stout), and art consultants (Mark Fletcher, Eileen Guggenheim). On the other sat artists, dealers, and more collectors, but mostly artists, so Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz, for example, could buddy up with Jane Holzer, or Elizabeth Peyton, Klara Lidén, and Nate Lowman could do the same with Adam McEwen, Hanna Lidén, and Dalrymple. Tables had caviar-Pop centerpieces and lipstick-smear napkins by Dan Colen—the APF’s latest addition to its Works on Whatever inventory. Everyone carefully folded and pocketed their napkins after dinner (though a fresh one was waiting in their pink goody bags, along with a letter of solidarity from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand).
Another Villareal—Leo—was a cochair on Tuesday night, when Virginia Lebermann and Fairfax Dorn brought their Texan buddies together with the New York herd for a Ballroom Marfa benefit auction and dinner at the old Dia building in Chelsea. The looping, magnetic-tape decor and Marfa newspaper table mats by FIFTY by US were quite fabu. This time, the performance person was Maria Jose Arjona, who lay on a horizontally suspended chair throughout the Casa Dragones tequila hour, while a bagpipe and amplified cello duo greeted arriving guests, including the octogenarian gossip columnist Liz Smith; filmmaker Rainer Judd; contributing artists Meredith Danluck, Louise Lawler, and Adam Helms; Chinati Foundation director Thomas Kellein; and The Nation publisher Hamilton Fish, scion of one of New York’s first families but also a part-time Marfa resident.
Smith hankered for a Mika Tajima painting in the silent auction but balked at the $1,000 minimum (also the price of a dinner ticket). “I just don’t have $1,000 on me,” she said, with disarming sincerity. The drama of the night came during the live auction, when Hauser & Wirth director Joel Yoss had to vie with an absent phone bidder over a painting by gallery artist Matthew Day Jackson, who was sitting at the same table beside Lawler. The winning bid, $88,500, went to the mystery collector, who turned out to be one Bert Kreuk of Sarasota, Florida. “Who?” Yoss wondered. “I’ve never met him,” said Ballroom curator Melissa McDonnell, still clutching the phone. Andrew Wyatt and Pontus Winnberg, of the band Miike Snow, brought a measure of postprandial cool to the proceedings, but the country-and-western CD in the gift bag was by Nina Katchadourian.
Goody bags are beneath the high-minded Bard Center for Curatorial Studies. The institute went for the majesty of Capitale, a failed bank on the Bowery, to stage its fundraiser on Wednesday, also the evening of its annual Award for Curatorial Excellence. And curators were everywhere! Look left or right and in a single glance you could spot Massimiliano Gioni, Beatrix Ruf, Scott Rothkopf, Carter Foster, Matthew Higgs, and Molly Nesbit; or in another direction, Kathy Halbreich, David Ross, Debra Singer, Thelma Golden, Richard Armstrong, Philippe Vergne, and Lisa Phillips.
Nearly lost in this sea of scholarship were prominent collectors like CCS Bard benefactor Marieluise Hessel, Marty and Rebecca Eisenberg, and Maja Hoffmann. Awardees Hans Ulrich Obrist and Helen Molesworth distinguished themselves in blessedly brief speeches, after introductions by Bard CCS director Tom Eccles and artist Josiah McElheny. “It is said that Hans Ulrich never sleeps,” Eccles noted, to knowing titters. Obrist, who credited Harald Szeemann as his curatorial godfather, also gave a nod to Marcia Tucker and Walter Hopps. “Curating,” he said, “is to be a catalyst”—the most succinct definition of the job I’ve heard.
“Helen knows how to hang a show,” McElheny said of Molesworth, chief curator at Boston’s ICA, who also knows how to give credit where due. In her turn at the mic, she acknowledged her marriage to curator Susan Dackerman and characterized her own work as “a radical encounter with another—it’s all about love, really.” She spread it too, by thanking a sisterhood of artists who have made a difference to her career. They included Amy Sillman, Cathy Opie, Klara Lidén, Catherine Lord, and Eva Hesse, but also Paul Chan. Too fab.
But it was Bard College president Leon Botstein who sounded the most inspirational, and political, note of the evening. For institutions that reside in a country whose Congress often has it in for artists, he said, Hessel’s kind of philanthropy is critical. “What’s missing,” he added, “is a sense of civic duty. When there’s a mistrust of government, an institution has to play a larger role.” He then called for more outrage against the tyranny that has put Ai Weiwei in a Chinese prison. “We have this dinner,” Botstein concluded. “But let us be mindful that what we do is at risk.”
Also in danger, though far more comically, were those sitting near the stage at “The Sculpture Factory,” the Public Art Fund benefit on Thursday night, as Kate Gilmore’s sledgehammer-wielding girls sent hunks of plaster flying into the vast Skylight SoHo event space (formerly the Ace Gallery). This annual soiree, held in a bowling alley in years past, now had the look of an upscale romper room. Pencils, crayons, stencils, rolls of colored masking tape, scissors, packets of Sculpy, and other arts-and-crafts materials brought together by designer Aaron Wexler filled shiny new paint cans of all sizes at the center of every table. “It might be a good idea to take a vow of silence with this,” said artist Shoja Azari, brandishing the tape.
But quiet was not on the agenda (except in the silent auction). DIY fun was. Performance artist Ryan McNamara assisted patron portraits in a makeshift photography studio, while artist Michele Abeles instantly inserted the images into projected landscapes. And as PAF director Nicholas Baume pointed out, Sol LeWitt returned from the beyond to offer collectors like Peter and Jill Kraus, the Eisenbergs, and Perry Rubenstein and Sara Fitzmaurice (all cochairs) a chance to make Wall Drawing #40: 500 lines.
After dinner, guests could brush their cupcake desserts with a choice of bright frostings, but many, particularly those with young children, lunged instead for the Sculpy bounty on the tables. “Sculpy’s expensive!” remarked Gavin Brown, squirreling away a share. Who needs goody bags, anyway?
Friday night, it was back to Capitale, where Bomb magazine held its thirtieth-anniversary benefit. For once, someone remembered to invite practitioners of the literary arts as well as the visual. Novelist Francine Prose was an honoree, along with former Art in America editor Betsy Baker, artist Marina Abramović, curator Alanna Heiss, and Guggenheim Foundation director Richard Armstrong. Playwright and actor Wallace Shawn showed up, as did novelist Michael Cunningham and Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci, who accompanied Abramović. “This has been our most successful benefit yet,” Bomb founder and editor Betsy Sussler kvelled, though the silent auction of fifty artworks had only just begun.
Across town in Chelsea, meanwhile, the Kitchen carried on with its fortieth anniversary shows. To commemorate “Aluminum Music,” a fundraiser from 1981, it brought percussionist Z’ev to the stage, followed by post-punk band the Bush Tetras, who played old favorites like “Too Many Creeps.” With guitarist Pat Place doing a blistering turn on “Ocean,” a song of more recent vintage, it all felt very downtown, especially with onetime Mudd Club doorman Richard Boch and filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Amos Poe in the audience.
By Saturday night, I wasn’t sure I had another benefit in me. But a woman’s work is never done, at least not when ArtTable, the nationwide association of women art professionals, is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary at the Museum of Modern Art.
MoMA trustees Agnes Gund and Patricia Phelps de Cisneros were the opening act for a program in the Titus Theater that honored thirty groundbreakers in the group—leading educators, museum directors, curators, artists, and agitators, including the Guerrilla Girls; critic Roberta Smith; Art21 director Susan Sollins; artists Faith Ringgold and Miriam Schapiro; dealer Marian Goodman; and Lila Harnett, the journalist who founded the organization.
A short film outlining their considerable accomplishments was packed with juicy sound bites, like Creative Capital founder Ruby Lerner’s charge to “do the things that scare you.” ArtTable president Lowery Stokes Sims, who characterized the esteemed thirty as “women who have had a catalytic effect on the art world,” handed out awards—plaques by Jenny Holzer—as well as a text drawing by Yoko Ono for each honoree’s choice of “one to watch.” It said: “We are all small pebbles. Together we can change the world.”
If only women ruled it for more than a single night.
Left: Artist Cecily Brown and critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. Right: Artists Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons.
Left: Alex Waterman and David Watson. Right: Philanthropist and collector Marieluise Hessel and Bard College president Leon Botstein.
Left: Artist Rachel Feinstein and writer David Colman. Right: Artists Vinoodh Matadin and John Currin.
Left: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with artists Shoja Azari and Shirin Neshat. Right: Artist Pat Steir.
Left: Designer Cynthia Rowley. Right: Kunsthalle Zurich curator Beatrix Ruf with artist Sarah Morris.
Left: Art on Air director Alanna Heiss. Right: Art historian Rosamond Bernier with artist Jane Kaplowitz.
Left: Dealer Larissa Goldston and artist Julian Lethbridge. Right: The Kitchen director Debra Singer.