Andy Warhol used to treat Mr. Chow’s on 57th Street as his den room, dining often with younger artists such as Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. So, perhaps as a belated thank you for all that high-end Chinese food decades ago, the Andy Warhol Museum announced recently that it would be hosting an exhibition of Chow’s work—he was a Central Saint Martins–trained painter before opening a restaurant to pay the bills. It is called “Voice for My Father” and opens at the Pittsburgh institution in February.
“It’s an exhibition timed to my father’s 120th anniversary. It consists of my work, my father’s archived photographs of his 60 years on stage—and I have this rich portrait collection of some of the most famous artists of the 20th Century,” Michael Chow said at his table during a dinner in his honor at, where else, Mr. Chow in Miami Beach.
This being Art Basel, Paris Hilton stalked the foyer, the Dom Perignon was plentiful, the food barely there, and—as it does at all parties—Christmas music was being blasted through the speakers. Okay, that last part was pretty rare. Why were we being subjected to “Jingle Bells,” exactly? Chow explained that there was going to be a very strange atonal Chinese opera performance later to honor his father, who was a legendary opera singer in China, and that he wanted the happiest music possible to contrast with the gloomy performance.
“It will be a completely strange sound, and this is the sugar you are getting before,” he said. “It’s a touch of genius, if I would say so!”
Sure. But before the performance, Julian Schnabel jumped onstage in his pajamas to give a speech. He was clutching an iPhone, which itself was a bizarre sight, but he was also jabbing at the thing and yelling at it while mic’d for the crowd to hear.
“Man, you were being so good!” he yelled at his phone. He explained that he was trying to find an e-mail containing an ode to Chow’s paintings that a man whose name Schnabel apparently couldn’t remember—“He’s a writer, he was very smart, he wrote a book about Proust”—wrote while staying at his house in New York, the Palazzo Chupi.
The crowd was treating what Schnabel intended to be a tender moment of tribute to his artist-turned-restaurateur friend as an opportunity for champagne-fueled small talk, and Schnabel, who at this point had handed the iPhone to someone in the crowd to try to find this pesky e-mail, was none too pleased.
“I hope I don’t lose your attention,” he said, and then started riffing. “Michael started being an artist in 1959 and he stopped to make a living. He opened this big restaurant and a few other ones, but what he really wanted to do was paint.”
Then Schnabel stopped to check back on the status of his phone, the noise levels rising ever louder.
“Anybody find that? It’s an e-mail. This guy, he’s a great historian, he was staying at my house…”
And then he paused, for a second to catch his breath.
“Girls and boys, shut the fuck up please!” Schnabel bellowed. “I was trying to resist that language.”
Eventually he found the paean to Chow’s painting that his mysterious houseguest had written, but the room was so noisy, it was hard to make out more than bits and pieces. Some fragments included “When we look at them we are confronted with infinite human sensation and feeling” and “The ecstasy of the moment” and “The depth of this abyss,” but it wasn’t really clear. What was more audible was the comment he made after reading the ode to Mr. Chow in Mr. Chow: “We’re at an art fair,” he said, “which is supposedly about art, and this is actually about art.” But by this time, many people were on their way out the door to the next event.