Year after year, whether it’s the threat of rain or the line to enter, all is made beautiful when we walk through the entrance to the annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit & Auction and become part of the overwhelmingly stunning tableau that envelopes us. It’s the vision of founder Robert Wilson, who greeted every single one of the 1,200 guests, often with an embrace.
The master of visually arresting theater and mentor to avant-garde performance artists, Wilson founded the Center – eight-and-a- half acres of grounds and sculpture gardens, and 20,000+ square-foot building – to provide a laboratory of sorts for young talent. And the installations that dot the forest trail and delight us from roof tops and created spaces are the culmination of the International Summer Program that brings more than 100 artists into the sometimes literal tent.
“Can you believe we couldn’t get a ticket this year?!” we heard long time supporters lament earlier that day. The sold out gala benefits Watermill’s year-round Artist Residency and Education Programs.
It was the Foundation’s 24th Summer Benefit, presented for the first time by Van Cleef & Arpels, and honoring Laurie Anderson and Isabelle Huppert in tribute to the late musician Lou Reed. The colorful, large-scale installation of streaming ribbons by New York-based artist Jared Madere provided the perfect backdrop for the sea of guests adhering to the “Dark Shiny Matter” dress code as they ascended the grass lined terraces, handed specialty cocktails by Tequila Don Julio. Karma Automotive and Robert Piguet Parfums were also sponsors.
We asked Wilson about the theme. “Fly Into the Sun comes from a song of Lou Reed,” he told us. “I did Time Rocker, Lulu, and POEtry, three stage productions, with Lou Reed, and when we were doing POEtry, about Edgar Allen Poe, it was mid-June and we were in Hamburg. It was sleeting and snowing, a blizzard. There was a press conference at 11 o’clock in the morning. One of the reporters asked Lou why he liked Hamburg. He said in that low ironic voice, ‘Yeah, I like Hamburg.’ The reporter asked why he liked Hamburg. He said ‘I like Hamburg because I like the weather.'”
Anderson has also collaborated with Wilson. “Laurie wrote the music for the epilogue to my production of Alceste. Lou and Laurie performed here at our gala 20 years ago at a concert after dinner,” he explained. “Laurie will once again be performing this year, which we are very excited about.”
Watching Judy and Rudy Giuliani wander through the wooded trail, we wondered what they thought of the site specific works and performances curated by Noah Khoshbin and Ivan Cheng that included: Storyboard P Presents’s Formless Expressions, Kate Gilmore’s Beat, Nile Harris’s Monkey on His Back (Love Laboratory) featuring a man nearly buried under a towering pile of bananas, Stephen Shanabrook’s sculpture of a headless man with cotton candy left for brains, and a chilling performance piece titled Salute by Croatian artist Vesna Mackovic. There were also works by Rachel Frank, Christopher Knowles, Xu Zhen, and more. A 90-foot wall featured Jenny Holzer’s iconic, minimalist text reading “She Outwits Him / She Outlives Him” on one side and free artistic expressions by young Summer Program Participant artists – and guests’ spray paintings – on the other.
Other attendees included: Susan and Robert Downey Jr., Lindsey Adelman, Justin Adian, Bianca Allen, Shaikha Paula Al- Sabah, Lisa Anastos, RC Atlee, Alina Barinova, Alain Bernard, Katharina Otto-Bernstein, Valerie and Graziano de Boni, Nicolas Bos, Sonja and Martin Brand, Christine Wächter-Campbell and William I. Campbell, Matt Carey, Janine Cirincione, Francesco Clemente, Paula Cooper, Peter Cramer, Damien Davis, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Somers and Jonathan Farkas, Michael Feinstein, Wendy and Roger Ferris, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, Anke and Jürgen Friedrich, Countess Elisabetta Giroldi, Audrey and Martin D. Gruss, Amanda Hearst, Jay McInerney, Josefin and Paul Hilal, Leila Heller, Nir Hod, Steven Holl, Denise Holzer, Elsa Hosk, Anne Huntington, Carola and Bob Jain, Emilia Kabakov, Misha Kahn, David Kratz, Joseph La Piana, Bonnie Comley and Stewart Lane, Bayly Ledes, Daniel Libeskind, Lera Loeb, Fern Mallis, Christophe de Menil, Nicole Miller and Kim Taipale, Toby Milstein, Libby and David Mugrabi, Alexandra Munroe, Chioma Nnadi, Dalia Oberlander, Maxwell Osborne, Inga Maren Otto, Cecile Panzieri, Tatiana and Campion Platt, Polina Proshkina, Ellie Rines, Charles Renfro, Magnus Resch, Carolina Sarria, Nausheen Shah, Eric and Sandra Ripert, Jean Shafiroff, Carly Silverman, Anastasiya Siro, Tetyana Siro, Lucien Smith and Jon Tomlinson.
The silent auction tent featured more than 100 lots by artists including: Lindsey Adelman, Carlos Bunga, Saint Clair Cemin, Candida Hofer, Joseph Kosuth, Annie Leibovitz, Raúl de Nieves, Hani Rashid, James Rosenquist, Paul Thek, Rosemarie Trockel and Carrie Mae Weems, among others.
After cocktails, more than 500 dinner guests were directed towards the dining tent for a family-style meal by BITE. Robert Wilson enthusiastically welcomed the crowd and introduced Claude Grunitzky, newly named the first President of the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation.
The Watermill Center is located at 39 Water Mill Towd Road in Water Mill. For more information, call 631-726-4628 or visit www.watermillcenter.org.