A Garage Is All Aglitter for Art’s Sake
A retired bus depot at Pier 57 in Hudson River Park was put into service for the Whitney Museum of Art’s annual gala.
SARAH MASLIN NIR
We were in a decommissioned bus depot at Pier 57 in Hudson River Park when the artist Chuck Close buzzed past us with his girlfriend, Sienna Shields, seated in his lap on his electric wheelchair. Their lips passionately interlocked, and they never looked up as they rolled out the door. It was Wednesday night, and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s yearly gala, held this year under disco balls in an asphalt-and-steel garage, was wrapping up.
Amid the Brutalistlike setting, 1,400 guests wandered about over the course of the evening, some in confection-colored gowns by Marchesa, a sponsor of the event. Georgina Chapman, a designer of the line, and her husband, Harvey Weinstein, also milled around. Some gowns had been given high/low twists (like Yvonne Force Villareal’s punk leather “motorcycle evening gloves”) to suit the black-tie-in-a-parking-garage scene. “Glam in the gutter,” said Fern Kaye Tessler, one of the evening’s chairwomen. We wandered down a spooky votive-lighted corridor around live uprooted trees, a set designed by the event guru Bronson Van Wyck.
With the artist John Currin we discussed Occupy Wall Street. “I know we’re supposed to be admiring the spunk of it, but I’m the fuddy-duddy, I guess,” he said, before seeming to regret his words. “Now I’m going to have eggs thrown at me.”
At dinner, guests like John McEnroe, whom the evening’s honoree, the New Yorker critic Calvin Tomkins, had once profiled, tucked into sculptural Alaskan black cod.
Jeff Koons told us what defined American art. “There’s a quality of American life in being able to be self-made,” he said. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the scholar and critic, tried to define it, too. American art entails “a certain unique sense of improvisation,” he said, and seemed pleased with his definition. “Not bad without a drink,” he said.
It was a normal fashion show: models with architectural hairstyles and costumes that would induce double takes on even the open-minded streets of New York City strutted down the runway on Monday night. And there were the usual audience members, like the stylist Patricia Field and a Real Housewife.
And the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.
The show was part of a fund-raiser for the United Nations’ Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Great Hall. Fanciful riffs by the designer Hye-soon Kim on Korean Imperial fashion from the Chosun Dynasty, from the late 1300s to the early 20th century, began the evening. Guests like Martha Stewart and Hai Kyung Lee, the last princess of the dynasty, later dined on a menu of Korean Imperial fare in the Temple of Dendur.
“Princes and princesses have a lot of problems,” said Ms. Lee, who eschewed the palaces she grew up in to come to America in 1956, and was a Columbia University librarian for 27 years. “Princess Diana, I understood, because she was a free spirit,” said Ms. Lee, who is also known as Amy. “I am, too.”
From a down-to-earth princess to the North polar opposite. “Oh, it’s the pest again,” said Ms. Stewart (we’d met about a half-hour earlier that night). She was a guest of the Korean ambassador, she said, and agreed when we asked if she was a sort of cultural ambassador herself.
What does that entail? we asked. Someone who “transcends politics, blah blah blah, and promotes lifestyle,” she said, walking away briskly. And who, she said, is “friendly.”
Flowered and Bejeweled
From one opulent hall to another, housing artifacts as well preserved: Joan Rivers’s Liberace-esque pad on the Upper East Side was the site of a book party on Tuesday night for Ms. Rivers’s friend the floral designer Preston Bailey, who was celebrating his new book, “Preston Bailey Flowers.”
Under the encrusted, soaring, chandelier-spangled ceiling, Mr. Bailey had festooned every surface with saucer-size pink and white orchids flown in from Vietnam to the tune of $3 a bloom. There were 30,000 of them. (They were perky, with the orchid equivalent ofViagra, said a representative of the company that donated them, Royal Base.)
Susan Lucci, Blaine Trump and Regis Philbin hung out on floral couches, while waiters served pigs in a blanket. “I grew up with money,” one waiter told us, standing in the gilded living room amid $90K worth of tropical blooms, “so I’m not impressed.”
A statuette of a woman made of swirls of hot pink orchids was the party’s centerpiece. It was anatomically correct; its orchid breasts bedazzled.
“I thought, I will save it for Yom Kippur, for my break fast,” Ms. Rivers said. “But I don’t think the rabbi wants to look at jeweled nipples.”
We felt a chill in the air. Ms. Stewart walked in to the apartment. Eager to speak with her, and remembering we’re “a pest,” we crafted a plan that produced what may henceforth be known as the Nocturnalist Axiom: if a celebrity does not want to speak to you, find a celebrity of equal or greater star power to compel the celebrity to do so. (Thanks, Joan!)
“Watch out for her; she’s dangerous,” Ms. Stewart told Ms. Rivers, referring to Nocturnalist. We chatted about the book “Whateverland: Learning to Live Here,” by Ms. Stewart’s daughter, Alexis.
We headed out and found ourselves in a slow, sweaty elevator packed with rival party reporters and Ms. Stewart herself. “I want to die,” she said as the hot box inched downward. Instead, she reached into her goody bag, pulled out a Jordan almond and thrust it at Nocturnalist — a peace offering?
It was delicious.
With Jed Lipinski.