A year ago, Dia’s director, Jessica Morgan, scrapped her predecessor’s $60 million plan to link all of the foundation’s Chelsea spaces into one mega-space, opting instead to keep them as separate, adjacent sites for different projects. Well, if you’re keeping the buildings the way they are, you might as well make sure your donors see them, right? And so, when throwing its annual gala fundraiser, Dia opted to be one of the few institutions to throw a benefit that at least incorporates its actual space (instead of, say, Cipriani, or the Rainbow Room), letting the people forking over money have a chance to see what it is up to.
“We’re trying to expand the breadth of Dia’s collection to include art on a more intimate scale—art that establishes a close relationship between the artist and the viewer,” Morgan all but shouted into my ear as a huge crowd of revelers descended upon long, candlelit dinner tables. She was wearing an expertly tailored sky blue cocktail dress that cut across her back in a deadly V.
For Fall Night 2016, the foundation was honoring Morris, whose vastly influential minimalist sculpture is on view in a new exhibition at Dia:Beacon. Dorothy Lichtenstein, widow of Roy and ever the grand dame of these sorts of things—her eyebrows peaked and her hair dyed a poisonous peroxide blonde—served as one of the co-chairs of the evening. Additionally, guests were encouraged to previews shows of work by Hanne Darboven and Kishio Suga at Dia’s two additional Chelsea locations, just around the corner. Suga, who chose to respond to the gallery’s industrial setting when planning his new show, constructed a reimagining of his 1973 piece Placement of Condition, which consists of many stones tied together with wire.
Several of Morris’s students, including Fred Wilson and Wade Guyton, could be seen drifting among friends—and, perhaps, enemies? These galas can turn into treacherous warpaths at the drop of a hat, you know. If nothing else, the paper-wrapped branzino would work well as a projectile.
“Robert Morris brings people out, especially on a Sunday night,” said Ethan Buchsbaum, a director at the newly launched Almine Rech gallery on East 78th street. A social outing on the Lord’s day! The sacrifices one makes during gala season.
Buchsbaum, a young and darkly handsome man who just celebrated his gallery’s inaugural exhibition on October 27, was deep in conversation with the woman sitting opposite him, the poet Patricia Spears Jones. “We went with Calder and Picasso for the first show,” he told her, smiling impishly. “We really wanted to take a risk.”
Then, as the gala continued on, intruding further into the end of the day of rest, Guyton introduced his mentor, under whom he studied at Hunter College in New York in the ’90s.
Flying conspicuously solo was the poet-slash-academic-slash-journalist David Lehman, who graciously offered a cocktail (they were free) and a seat at his table (also free, at least for me) when he noticed that I was also attending the event alone. “You graduated from Bard in 2006, right?” he asked, popping a third rosemary-garnished cube of lamb into his mouth. “No, it was Columbia in 2012.” His eyes saucered wide with surprise. In 1994, he acted as a research advisor to Bluets author Maggie Nelson, who was then in her early twenties. I asked what she was like. He thought about it, chewing. “She was very nice,” he answered, “but I don’t think she likes men.”
Update, 5:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Dia owns the building where the benefit was held. It does not. The post has been updated to reflect this.