Lucien Smith Throws Controversial Bronx Art Bash

Some locals found the theme and decor insensitive.

Naomi Campbell, Gigi Hadid. Photo by Matteo Prandoni/

A star-studded party thrown in the South Bronx by artist Lucien Smith, art dealer Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, and real estate mogul Keith Rubenstein has ruffled feathers. The October 29 warehouse rave featured bullet-riddled cars and trash can fires as part of Smith’s installation, which some locals think was in poor taste. The party was meant to generate buzz about the neighborhood’s real estate.

Among the 2,700 attendees at the party, dubbed “Macabre Suite,” were models Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner, and Gigi Hadid, basketballer Carmelo Anthony, actor Adrien Brody, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann. Rapper Travis Scott performed at the party, which lasted late into the night.

Lucien Smith. Photo: Steve Eichner.

Lucien Smith.
Photo: Steve Eichner.

Rubenstein’s company, Somerset Partners, recently partnered with the Chetrit Group to purchase two large properties along the waterfront on the Harlem River for $58 million, with the plan to turn them into over 2,000 swanky residencies. The developers have been attempting to re-brand the neighborhood as “the Piano District”—a nod to the party’s location in a former piano factory. A billboard the developers erected on the waterfront last week reads “South Bronx—Piano District, Luxury Waterfront Living, World-Class Dining, Fashion, Art + Architecture Coming Soon.”


Baz Luhrmann, Keith Rubenstein, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn. Photo: Steve Eichner.

While Rubenstein told Women’s Wear Daily that “tonight is an amazing opportunity to introduce a whole new world to the South Bronx, and celebrate its heritage,” some feel the party did just the opposite. City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito tweeted: “It’s beyond bad taste. Our community, my constituents, deserves respect, not that.”

Blogger Maria Castro tweeted, “Disgusting that these celebrities would mock the real concerns of the people of the Bronx.” Photographer Ricky Flores tweeted, “[I] lost two half-brothers to heroin on the streets of the South Bronx. Anger doesn’t describe what I feel.”

“The entire night was curated by Lucien,” said Greenberg-Rohatyn regarding the controversial  installation. “Each painting relates to some kind of macabre suite. Most of them have to do with some kind of still-life death story.”

Smith is best known for his “rain paintings,” abstract canvases created with a fire extinguisher that made him the poster child for a style dubbed zombie formalism by art critic and artist Walter Robinson. Though he’s just 26, he achieved an auction high of $389,000 in November 2013 at Phillips New York; two more of his paintings topped $300,000 at auction within the following three months. The market for paintings by him and his cohort has apparently cooled.


In a phone call with artnet News, Greenberg-Rohatyn clarified that the car installation was part of Smith’s “scrap metal” series, and is actually meant as a statement for gun control and against violence. The cars are not, as some sources initially reported, “burnt-out” inside.

The metal trash can fires, which were stationed in various places outside the warehouse, were not a part of Smith’s installation.

“The entire Piano District community was included,” Greenberg-Rohatyn said of the event. “There was a huge mix of people, and there was good will all around.”

“The idea that one tweet from one person who may or may not have been there was picked up is extremely disheartening,” she continued.

Greenberg-Rohatyn also noted that many of the DJs who performed at the party, including Kool Herc and Frankie Bones, have long histories with the neighborhood.

However, a dance performance by Smith that took place at the event was a mash-up of Japanese Butoh and Lakota ghost dance, and was explicitly aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity. (Even though historically, the Lakota ghost dance acted against US political and cultural imperialism, and for the preservation of Native American culture, so we’re not sure how this fits into a Halloween event, exactly.)

See images from the event below.

Photo: Angela Pham and Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Photo: Angela Pham and Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Photo: Angela Pham and Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Photo: Angela Pham and Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Photo: Angela Pham and Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Photo: Angela Pham and Matteo Prandoni/BFA

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