“I’m going to play hide and seek in the woods,” a socialite called out to Robert Wilson as she skipped off to view the performance pieces dotting a wooded trail, at the 20th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit. Its theme, “Devil’s Heaven,” inspired many to wear little red horns, like tiaras, and Joy Marks to wear full-length, red-feathered wings.
It’s the place where celebrities with an edge come to see and not be seen. “Sorry, I’m just with the guys,” Hugh Jackman politely said when we asked for a photo. Winona Ryder just smiled and looked intently at the art. There is never a step and repeat or red carpet at Watermill.
Performance Art, with the cri de coeur Épater la bourgeoisie, is the real theme of the Watermill Center. And so, the grand late entrance of Lady Gaga and Marina Abramovic, with body guards and paparazzi flanking, was penultimately appropriate.
“We are all about doing something that no one else is doing,” center founder Robert Wilson explained. That’s why, he said, they had chosen Dieter Meier and the Yello Years as this year’s gala kick off exhibition, curated by Harald Falckenberg and Tony Guerrero. “Dieter is an amazing artist,” Wilson said. “I think the work he did with video hasn’t yet been fully recognized. It was brilliant, revolutionary. He fits in very well with Watermill.
“I met him through this man,” Wilson said, introducing us to Harald Falckenberg. “He can tell you more than I can.”
“Deiter was, in the beginning, a very good artist,” said Falckenberg, President of the Kunstverein in Hamburg, professor for art theory at the Hamburg Academy of Art, essayist, art collector and curator of last year’s Mike Kelley exhibition. “But in the mid 70s was very hard for artists to earn money. So he changed to become a performer and video artist and became one of the pioneers of MTV video clips here in the United States. He’s not so much known as an artist but as a performer and specialist for music videos that was the point. Also there is the fun factor.”
Trina Merry’s body painted figures could have shocked a more bourgeois crowd. Of the models painted to look like pieces of furniture, she said, “It’s about our self identity in relationship to objects and the things that we own. The piece in the woods is called ‘Camoflage.’ It examines a clash between culture and nature.”
Her choice of medium? “I’m a fine art body painter. I think that it is more immediate and intimate and can connect in other ways that visual art tries to. I feel like body paint kind of gets there.”
Who goes to Watermill? Emcee Alan Cumming and Benefit Chairs Marina Abramovic, Lucinda Childs, Bob Colacello, Christophe de Menil, Jörn Weisbrodt Shaikha and Paula Al-Sabah, Lucienne and Thierry Barbier-Mueller, Kelly Behun Sugarman and Jay Sugarman, Michael Braverman, Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane, Lisa and Sanford Ehrenkranz, Wendy and Roger Ferris, Barbara Goldsmith, Josefin and Paul Hilal, Larissa Hilbig and Harald Falckenberg, Anne Hearst McInerney and Jay McInerney, Carola and Robert Jain, Eugenio López, Maren Otto, Lisa Perry and Richard Perry, Tatiana Platt and Campion Platt, Jacqueline and Mortimer Sackler, Leila Straus and Melville Straus, Christine Wächter-Campbell and William I. Campbell.
We also saw: Kim Taipale and Nicole Miller, Nanette Lepore, Kenny Sharf, Anh Duong, Kenny Sharf, Rick Owens, and Michelle Lamy.
Last year’s event was marked by torrential rains. This year, it rained the week leading up to the event, spooking the artists when their paint didn’t dry as expected. “Last year, we did all of this work,” remembered Wilson. “I think we had 22 installations in the forest and woods. It rained and no one saw it.” This year the weather was perfection. “I guess that’s our theme: heaven and hell. It’s like one world.”
What in the world can we expect next from Wilson? “I’m going to do ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ with Tom Waits,” Wilson revealed. “It will be an opera in Copenhagen, a new work, we’re just starting to talk about it and figure it out. Trying to get our feet wet.”