Ja Rule Takes Stage at Watermill Center Benefit
Kanye didn't show, but seemingly everyone else did.
One of the most anticipated events of the summer, the 23rd Annual Watermill Center Benefit & Auction drew guests once again this past weekend. Founded by theater director Robert Wilson, Watermill is a creative laboratory that houses a year-round artist residency and an international summer program that brings together 60–100 artists from around the world to collaborate and develop new work. The benefit raised over $2 million to support those programs.
FADA: House of Madness, as this year’s event was called, was the best-attended in the Center’s history. While Kanye West was reportedly going to stage a performance and art installation, Wilson told guests that he would not perform after all. “Kanye has been here for the past few days,” he announced at the dinner, and then said that West would return the following year. “It was too elaborate,” he said of the performance.
Auctioneer Simon de Pury helmed the auction, which included portraits of winning bidders by Nan Goldin—Goldin’s first private commission—and Peter Lindbergh, a painting by Henry Taylor, and a tapestry by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Ja Rule performed after dinner.
As guests have come to expect and love, the event, including the installations, was all very Robert Wilson.
Guests entered the eight-and-a-half-acre property through a bamboo-lined path that one guest proclaimed looked like the Bamboo Forest in Kamakura, Japan. In the trees along the path, visitors could see figures wearing winged metallic outfits and dramatic make-up, holding swords amid the soulful strains of Anohni’s music (an installation by Jacques Reynaud called Angels of Apocalypse).
As we made our way further, we picked up drinks—the night’s signature cocktail: Maestro Dobel’s Black Diamond Margarita—on a cascade of steps and a corresponding horticultural artwork of colorful blossoms by Tony Piazza.
Continuing through the woods, there was a multi-channel video installation in the bushes by Nikita Shokhov, and small painted birdhouses by Christopher Knowles that held within them paintings and music that you could experience by going up close and peering in through a tiny cut-out.
Some installations were more politically provocative. One, by Pussy Riot, involved what looked like an electric chair and a wall of red graffiti with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s multi-part work, As We Lay Dying, created in collaboration with the Center, involved a variety of performances including enormous chalkboards that were being continuously scrawled on and live readings of lectures at various places around the grounds. Seriously beautiful was Tony Matelli‘s series of concrete sculptures of religious figures, like Jesus and Mary, adorned with colorfully painted bronze foodstuffs—avocados, sausages, and berries that shared the same area of tiki-torch-lined path with Marie de Testa’s Gold, a series of sculptural gold trees.
The guest list included writer Bob Colacello, Simon and Michaela de Pury, National Arts Club curator Stacy Engman, and the artist Orlan, who was fresh off a failed forgery lawsuit against Lady Gaga.
“If this event was struck by a terrorist attack,” said architect Charles Renfro (of Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro) at dinner, “the entire art world and the culture world would be super-fucked.”
“I’d like to see what would happen after that,” said retired Foreign Services officer Arthur Zegelbone.
Luckily, the worst that happened was a little rain.
“You can’t miss this,” said Emerald Fitzgerald, a young curator who made the trek though eight months pregnant.
“Bob is of the theater,” said Frances Levine, an architect who said she had worked with Wilson years ago. “He’s very axially-orientated,” she told us. “Wherever you sit you have a subscribed cone of vision. In landscape you move through space.” She encouraged us to see the abstract light installation in the woods. About the center, she said, “It’s one of the only truly creative spaces out here.”
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