May 2013

Starry night for Tate in New York: celebrity friends help museum fundraise in style

Sarah Jessica Parker and the mysterious Tate Americas Foundation raise money for Latin American acquisitions

Sarah Jessica Parker

The Tate’s third triennial artists’ dinner in the US on Wednesday—hosted by Glenda Bailey, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, and the ubiquitous Sarah Jessica Parker, and sponsored by Dior—honoured the Tate Americas Foundation, that faintly mysterious, highly wealthy group of patrons whose largesse helps boost the museum’s holdings of Latin American work.

The director of the Tate, Nicholas Serota, emphasised that this dinner was about the artists themselves, as every museum director feels obliged to say when faced by a sea of business backers. (As if anyone is going to claim otherwise; when was the last time a director said “our museum believes hedge-fund managers and industrialists should always come first”?)

There were certainly plenty of artists in evidence, with a discreet emphasis on artists of colour of a sometimes neglected generation, hence the welcome presence of Barkley Hendricks and Sam Gilliam. Here was Marina Abramovic, resplendent in full-length black leather gloves, with her fashion-designer friend Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, sitting next to Tate Modern’s director, Chris Dercon; here was the ever-elegant Taryn Simon alongside Okwui Enwezor, handsome Adam McEwen wooing a table of lovely lady donors, Guillermo Kuitca cutting a goateed dash through Argentine plutocrats and young Matthew Brannon deep among the bankers. Among the other “artist honorees” were the grizzled veterans Lawrence Weiner and Alex Katz, set against the relative jeunesse of Elizabeth Peyton, Richard Phillips and Rirkrit Tiravanija. There was also, of course, a determinedly strong representation of Latin American practitioners, part of this heroic battle against the “Yankee Imperialist Gringo”, including Allora & Calzadilla, Vija Celmins, Vik Muniz and Ernesto Neto.

Curiously, the rich people who make all of this happen are unrecognisable by comparison and, although known to the top dealers and directors, remain discreet shadow operators. Thus, many in the art world could not put faces to the names of some of the most important people the Tate depends upon, whether it be Tiqui Atencio Dermirdjian and Jeanne Donovan Fisher or the all-powerful co-chairs of this event, Estrellita Brodsky, Kira Flanzraich, Pamela Joyner, Amy Phelan and Christen Wilson.

In his speech, Serota outlined the history of the foundation, kickstarted in 1988 by a monster donation from Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, the interest from which remains a crucial part of the buying budget. Previously known as the American Patrons of Tate, the organisation was renamed earlier this year to reflect its “expanding geographical base of support”. Since 1999, the charity has raised more than $100m.

The North American Acquisitions Committee and the Latin American Acquisitions Committee each have 40 members, who pay $15,000 a year and are taken around galleries and studios by Tate curators. On the day of the dinner, patrons had toured Chelsea with Mark Godfrey to look at work by artists from Elizabeth Neel to Carol Bove, and were disappointed to discover that everything by Garth Weiser had already been sold at Casey Kaplan.

Everything also sold at the dinner auction by Simon de Pury, starting at $11,000 for Christmas tree decorations by Nathan Carter. Shopping and lunch with Sarah Jessica Parker also sold well, not once but twice, the actress gamely agreeing at the last moment to do Dior and the Four Seasons for two different bidders at $45,000 a shot, while sailing the Greek islands on Dakis Joannou’s luxury Jeff Koons-decorated yacht Guilty brought $175,000.

Then it was time for dancing next door, courtesy of DJ artist Jim Lambie (disappointingly now needing specs to read his vinyl), among a froth of youth each paying $200 and where, impressively, Serota could still be seen working the room long after most directors of his stature would have tottered bed-ward.

The auction raised $500,000 and the entire evening pulled in more than $2m, every penny of which goes towards the acquisition of work from the Americas.

• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper with the headline "Starry night for Tate in New York"