MoMA's opening parties were as sober as Tanaguchi’s architecture

Riffraff-proofing the festivities involved intense security procedures


After the New York Port Authority shut down the Terminal Five exhibition of contemporary art at JFK airport earlier this year because of a raucous opening that involved such egregious activities as smoking, breaking glass and vomiting, an artist friend asked me, “Can’t you have a party in New York anymore?” The answer is yes, if you do it MoMA style.

Befitting the age of Bush II Part II, the Tuesday night party for MoMA’s Tanaguchi temple was tepid, tame and very secure. Riffraff-proofing the festivities involved intense security procedures. In a complex series of negotiations with MoMA’s voicemail system, guests had to spell their own names as well as those of their dates. At the door, guests were herded, airport-security style, through several stages of identity check.

MoMA’s system of openings, previews and dinners was byzantine indeed. One rumour told of a private meal for 30 in the galleries, for those whose donations to the museum were in the $5-20 million region. But the Tuesday night opening for all the living artists in MoMA’s collection was well attended by art-world regulars. The fancyness level of such events can usually be gauged by the quality of the canapés, which were decent. Oh, and Larry Gagosian was there.

Artists abounded: Cindy Sherman, John Currin, Christopher Wool, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Doug Aitken, Sarah Lucas, Chris Ofili, Brice Marden, the list goes on. Here was John Baldessari hobnobbing with New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl; there Robert Pincus Witten strolling through the galleries of the very works he defined as “Post Minimalist” back in the day. Ellsworth Kelly was also in attendance.

Perhaps the opening’s bland, meet and greet flavour was in homage to Tanaguchi’s much-touted, “disappearing architecture” so oft contrasted with Frank Gehry’s bombastic style.

But three cheers for MoMA! As Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz wryly intoned “It’s great that we can invade two countries and be this horrible and still have this heavenly thing.” Two nights later was the party for celebrities and young business types. MoMA rolled out the red carpet for Marisa Tomei, Alan Cumming, Alicia Silverstone, superstar fashion designers Zac Posen and musician and all round art guy David Byrne, and others. There were architects such as Richard “Getty Center” Meier and patrons such as former UBS PaineWebber Chairman Donald Marron. Which would seem to contradict the comment I solicited from a genial fellow in the sculpture garden: “It’s a bunch of B-list New York people who don’t give a shit about art. New York night life as a float-in guest list. The museum doesn’t need this.”  

On the other hand, I consider myself to be a Q-list New York person who cares a great deal about art. In my humble opinion, the best party by far, which MoMA threw in early November, was the one for the construction crew. Imagine the rumpled, earnest crowd at that affair.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Thoroughly Modern MoMA'