At the Brooklyn Ball last night, even before guests saw the Bruce Nauman-inspired take on cheese- part of food artist Jennifer Rubell’s multi-part feast for the night—they likely smelled it. During cocktail hour, hanging sculptures cast from Rubell’s own head melted onto once-neat piles of crackers. The smell of warm fontina radiated from the fifth-floor wing where hors d’oeuvres and pre-dinner drinks were held, potentially enticing the Brooklyn Museum patrons who were there early to preview a new fashion exhibition one floor below. American High Style is the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibition in its costume partnership with the Met, and it’s responsible for the theme of this year’s Brooklyn Ball. But it was clear that Rubell’s fantastical dinner was the evening’s centerpiece, and the Opening Ceremony-planned after party—a “carnival” with booths where designers gave out prizes and hosted fortunetellers—came in close second. What was fashionable trumped mere fashion at the Brooklyn Ball, at least for a night.
“They [the Brooklyn Museum] think that they’re selling the collection, but they’re not. They think that they’re selling the curating, but they’re not,” said Richard Cashin, as he and I queued for Zac Posen for Target swag near the end of the evening. Cashin is on the museum’s board of trustees and seemed thrilled with this year’s gala. “They’re selling the demographic.” In terms of courting the two-income, young professional Brooklynite couples that make up this demographic, Rubell dinners and boutique-curated carnivals are a good place to start.
Rubell’s food installation, Icons, was born of the theme, though separated from the original suggestion by a few degrees. When the museum approached her a few months ago about the Brooklyn Ball, she said, in a phone interview Wednesday, “I was thinking of the idea of fashion, which lead me to thinking of the skin of things, and I was thinking of icons and thinking of artists as icons.”
Hors d’oeuvres included Paul McCarthy-inspired paint tubes filled with dips and chutneys (sun-dried tomato and horseradish among them), paired with potato chips; they were arranged on rectangular plywood tables that evoked Donald Judd’s Untitled (1972). Fountains modeled after Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) spouted champagne, and eight canvases affixed with spigots—what Rubell called “drinking paintings”—dispensed screwdrivers, gin-and-tonics, and other drinks she chose for their “Pollock-y” nature. Guests could choose from a variety of vessels to drink from, and as a result, there were not too few people walking around with snifters of white wine and hurricane glasses of bourbon. As a palate cleanser after all of those chips, one might return to a side gallery just off the main wing: At the top of a plywood plane—like the low, room-wide ramp of Vito Acconci’s Seedbed (1972)—was a dense thicket of green that, once dug through, reveals hundreds of heirloom carrots and radishes in a shallow pit of dirt. (Basins of water and paper towels, for washing the vegetables, were in an adjoining room.) LEFT: MARIO BATALI SHOWS ELIZABETH DEE AND OTHERS HOW TO SERVE. PHOTO BY KIMBERLY CHOU
Joseph Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) was the basis of the sit-down dinner, in the museum’s Beaux-Arts Court. Surrounded on three sides by pairs of felt-covered banquet tables were massive plywood cubes, each piled with a different dish: a creamy radish-and-asparagus salad, oversized loaves of focaccia, whole roast turkeys, sides of beef, and, of course, dead hare. There were butcher’s smocks for guests who were feeling particularly DIY, but event co-chair Mario Batali took care of the trussed rabbits. He bantered with guests, sliced and served, chopped off rabbit heads—hitting me, at one point, with some detritus —then juggled said heads upon request. His young sons scurried around with plates while fellow celebrity chef and gala guest Marcus Samuelsson stopped by to hug Batali hello.
Despite all this talk of meat, of the nine pedestals in the dinner, five were free of animal ingredients. Rubell gets it (she was once a vegetarian) but it’s practical attention, too, especially in Brooklyn: Commenting on the borough’s foodie culture, she joked, “Everyone is either a vegetarian or slaughtering pigs on the weekend.”
Dessert came in the form of Hostess twin-packs, tucked into the giant pinata of Andy Warhol’s head that had been hanging in the museum’s first-floor pavilion several days in advance. Prior to the event, Rubell had only hinted that the pinata would be filled with “the vernacular of American treats.” When the pinata was finally broken into, and snack cakes and streamers were being thrown every which way, Batali called out to his kids: “Get the Sno Balls!”
The artists whose work Rubell chose to interpret for Icons all deal with self-portraiture, Rubell said, albeit in a way that not all viewers might consider as such. In her choice of Warhol and Duchamp she looks to the idea of the readymade in that it implies that the artist is part of the work, because the artist’s act of selecting becomes part of the work. For other artists that are in her pantheon, like Beuys and Acconci, she said, “Their work deals quite specifically with the idea of being an icon inside of their work, and the creation of their work is the creation of a personal iconography.” LEFT: RASHID JOHNSON AT THE PINATA. PHOTO BY KIMBERLY CHOU
And if such a heady dinner weren’t enough for you, the after-party provided further stimuli. Band of Outsiders had a booth with face painting and Polaroid ops with a cardboard cut-out of Divine. 3.1 Phillip Lim’s booth featured drag Donatella Versace, Naomi Campbell and Karl Lagerfeld doling out advice and bowties. Rodarte’s booth simply gave out cherry blossom branches.
Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon said he and co-owner Carol lim were inspired to follow up Rubell’s elaborate dinner. “I think the dinner was going to end with a big bang,” said Leon, by phone the day before the event, “and we kind of wanted to continue with the mood and the feeling.”
Rubell is equally complimentary of Leon and Lim; she chose them to plan the after party because of their understanding of both fashion and art. “They are two people more attuned to what’s exciting and creative in New York than anyone else I know,” she said.
“Exciting” isn’t always a word that is associated with the Brooklyn Museum. Leon can see the appeal in what they’re doing.
“It’s a huge museum with great offerings, and for us, when we were approached by the museum, I feel like most people probably didn’t think we can reach out to a new audience that doesn’t necessarily go to the Brooklyn Museum,” Leon said. “When Jennifer and the museum, together, approached us… Tt was the right partnership. The museum has a very classic feeling: This is a good juxtaposition.”