Whitney Wants Its Art Back

Since the early 1980′s, those who have donated at least $15,000 a year to the Whitney Museum of American Art have been able to partake of a rather appealing perk: an art loan program which enabled these altruistic art lovers to borrow artwork from the museum’s collection that was not on display.

But that’s about to come to an end. Though it’s been two years since the Whitney ceased functioning as a kind of Blockbuster of American art for its well-heeled donors, the museum has since set a deadline of June 30 for all loaned artwork to be returned-which could leave some tony Manhattan apartment walls with questionable tan lines.

Whitney spokeswoman Mary Haus told The Transom that the museum’s current director, Maxwell Anderson, and its board of trustees decided to end the art-loan program not long after Mr. Anderson took the reins from David Ross in 1998.

“Max got here in 1998 and realized the Whitney was one of the last to have this kind of program,” she said. Later she amended her statement, saying the Whitney was the last museum in New York with a lending program, and that most of the city’s other art museums had phased out such programs years ago.

In any case, since Mr. Anderson took over, letters have been going out to donors telling them that their privilege has expired. The program was grandfathered for two years, but the end of this fiscal year is the absolute deadline.

Ms. Haus said she didn’t know how many of the Whitney’s paintings were still outstanding, but she did say that, so far, the board has gotten no complaints from members.

At least one donor, though, was nostalgic about losing his favorite decorations. “I was very sorry to see [the program] go, because for years we’ve had Whitney paintings in our home,” said Douglas Leeds, a former trustee of the museum and currently president of a marketing company called the Tori Group. “It’s a wonderful program, because it allows art that’s usually in storage to be seen. And it reduces the museum’s cost, because to store art is very expensive,” Mr. Leeds added. And the borrowers also had to pick up the cost of insuring the works they brought home.

When the program was in effect, donors would go to the Whitney’s storage facility in Chelsea and meet an escort who would take them through the warehouse to choose art they could borrow indefinitely, or until the museum called it back to use in an exhibition. Certain works were designated specially for the loan program.

Mr. Leeds, for instance, had borrowed numerous Alexander Calder paintings over the years, and had just returned Randall Davey’s The Start-Steeple Chase . “It was a perk for the higher members,” he said, as well as a way of attracting new donors. Mr. Leeds added that during his 20-year membership with the museum, he would “rave to people about raising their membership level. They would get invited to all the parties and functions, but more importantly, they’d get to have an actual work of art.”

But before the borrowers could invite their friends over to gawk at their new “acquisition,” they had to submit to a series of understandably anal-retentive conditions set down by the museum. The Whitney would supervise the hanging of the painting in its donors’ homes-nothing over the fireplace, in direct sunlight or with a picture light attached-and checked up on the artworks once a year. Fern K. Hurst, a Whitney patron, thought it was “wonderful to be able to borrow wonderful paintings, but I mean you can’t touch it, you can’t move it, you can’t do anything to it,” she said. “There are all these conditions on it.”

But those conditions weren’t always maintained once the Whitney’s representatives left the premises-and, as Mr. Leeds admitted, there was a downside to the program. “In the world of museums, it is frowned on,” he said. “At people’s homes, art is not protected as well as it is in the museum. It’s the general trend in all museums to do away with those programs.”

It was also a huge responsibility for the people borrowing the works. They had to be fully insured, which is expensive. Also, “if people donate or loan works of art to the museum, then discover them in their friend’s house, then they don’t feel very good about it,” Mr. Leeds added.

Indeed, Ms. Haus said that the Whitney’s decision was part of a “sea change in the way museums are viewing this particular policy,” because of concerns over how the artwork was being cared for.

“You never know how people treat them,” art collector and Whitney trustee Melva Bucksbaum said of the works on loan. “We don’t know how they’re being kept in other people’s homes,” she added. Since the value of art has gone up so much in the past two decades, “from $5,000 or $10,000 to $200,000 or $300,000,” Ms. Bucksbaum said it’s become much more important for artwork to be kept in a museum setting-especially the collection’s staples, such as the Edward Hopper pieces.

Indeed, the most valuable parts of the Whitney’s collection were reserved for either the museum itself or for big corporate sponsors. Though Mr. Leeds had access to some Calders, he acknowledged that the “Edward Hoppers would be harder to borrow.”

With another round of letters scheduled to go out to the stragglers this week, did Mr. Leeds think the end of the borrowing privileges would affect the Whitney’s coffers? Not as long as the museum’s cocktail parties keep coming. “People always took advantage of the parties more than the art,” he said. “A lot of them thought it was a hassle to trek all the way down to the [storage facility] to pick something out.”

-Alexandra Wolfe

Mol’s Altar-ed State

Actress Gretchen Mol is getting hitched. Ms. Mol’s publicist, Leslie Sloane, confirmed to The Transom that the actress is engaged to former New York Times reporter Tod (Kip) Williams, best known in Hollywood for directing The Adventures of Sebastian Cole and having previously been married to tall Dutch model, actress and “Bond Girl” Famke Janssen.

According to Ms. Sloane, Mr. Williams proposed to Ms. Mol on her 30th birthday, Nov. 8, somewhere “not on American soil.” Ms. Sloane said that the couple-both New Yorkers-have been together for a year and a half, and that they have not yet set a date for the wedding. Ms. Mol, who rose to fame in 1998 when she and her nipples graced the cover of Vanity Fair for no apparent reason, is winging her way to Sundance for the premiere of her new film The Shape of Things , which Neil LaBute adapted from his play of the same name, which also starred Ms. Mol.

-Rebecca Traister

Blossom Gooses Bruce

On Sunday, Dec. 22, jazz singer Blossom Dearie performed at Danny’s Skylight Room in front of an audience that included Vogue magazine editors Grace Coddington and Hamish Bowles, who were sharing a table with the bearded, kerchief-wearing photographer Bruce Weber. Mr. Weber took time out from his usual activity of photographing frolicking all-American muscle boys to write a piece on Ms. Dearie for the Nov. 10 New York Times Magazine . A blow-up of the photograph that accompanied the story-of Ms. Dearie seated at a piano next to a white standard poodle-served as a poster outside the door of the club.

According to one member of the audience, Ms. Dearie’s set included such standards as “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Peel Me a Grape” and “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

But after the intermission, the audience member said, Ms. Dearie pointedly announced that her next number was “not about Bruce Weber” before launching into a song called “Bruce,” about a hulking transvestite who has taken to calling himself Marie. The audience member recalled that the lyrics were “pretty funny” and included the line, “Don’t be a goose, Bruce.”

The source’s own search for the lyrics of the song turned up the tune’s composer, John Wallowitch, who could not be reached for comment.

-R.T.

‘Springsteen Palace’ For Sale

The smell of decay was already in the Asbury Park air when Bruce Springsteen sang in the title track of his 1975 album, Born to Run : “Beyond the Palace hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard / The girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors / And the boys try to look so hard.” But 28 years later, the amusement park doesn’t rise so bold and stark from the town that Mr. Springsteen put on the map, and the 115-year-old Palace Amusements arcade’s last hope for survival may come down to a listing on eBay.

Save Tillie, the Palace Preservation Campaign-an organization dedicated to saving the Palace-has placed an “advertisement” announcing the sale of the Victorian carousel house, which is located two blocks from the Asbury boardwalk and was recently featured in Mr. Springsteen’s “Lonesome Day” video. The price: $2.5 million.

Yet Asbury Partners, the joint partnership that currently owns the structure and plans to raze it, says that even if a buyer is found, there’s no guarantee they will part with it.

“They don’t have a right to sell it,” said Larry Fishman, Asbury Partners’ chief operating officer. “I have never authorized it to be sold on eBay, and I don’t know if it’s a realistic thing to do.” Mr. Fishman said Asbury Partners intends to incorporate the “spirit of the Palace”-but not the building itself-into its redevelopment of the waterfront property.

After their heyday in the early 20th century, Asbury Park and the Palace Amusements fell into disrepair. In the mid-1980′s, the property’s penultimate owner, Joseph Carabetta of Connecticut, filed for bankruptcy and abandoned the property entirely. Last year, the Palace and 1.25 miles of the beachfront property surrounding it was purchased by Asbury Partners, a joint venture between MD Sass Municipal Partners of New York City and First New Jersey Realty Property Management of Lakewood. The company plans to give the site a $1.25 billion facelift that will include luxury condos, 450,000 square feet of retail space and a renovation of the historic Paramount Theater, the Convention Hall and the carousel section of the casino. On the demolition list was the 19th-century historic funhouse.

Enter Save Tillie, a national nonprofit organization that has been working to save the palace since 1998, when it was originally slated to be demolished. The outfit’s name was inspired by Tillie, the dapper, toothy and slightly creepy clown painted on one of the Palace’s exterior walls. Tillie’s name was, in turn, a tribute to amusement impresario George Cornelius Tilyou, founder of Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park, where the first Steeplechase face appeared in 1897. The Coney Island face was later destroyed in a 1907 fire. Tillie is believed to be the last surviving original Steeplechase face.

According to Save Tillie president Bob Crane, “The new owner has little interest in Asbury Park history and the music history.” With the help of City Councilwoman Kate Mellina, Save Tillie managed to get a city ordinance passed to conduct a search, headed by Save Tillie, for a more historic-minded buyer.

Save Tillie has until April 23 to find a new buyer. With a non-negotiable $2.5 million price tag, $4 million to $6 million worth of renovations are needed to make the funhouse fun again-and the demand for abandoned amusement parks being what it is these days, eBay seemed like the way to go. The property was listed under the heading “Asbury Park Landmark-Springsteen Palace.”

“We had 300 hits in the first eight hours,” said Mr. Crane, who added that one response was serious enough to pass onto Asbury Partners. “It’s sort of fun to have it on eBay,” said Ms. Mellina. “Anything that’ll bring attention to the palace is wonderful.”

Even the Boss himself has joined the fight, contributing financially to the organization on three separate occasions. He’s had Save Tillie come meet with him personally and used the palace in his “Lonesome Day” video, as well as on the cover of the single. But he’s shown no interest in taking a crack at the commercial real-estate business and buying the building himself. “That is totally out of character for Bruce,” said Mr. Crane. “We have never asked him to [buy the building], nor do we intend to.”

If no one jumps at the offer by April 23-the final day of the ordinance-Mr. Fishman, who “believes that what the building stands for is more important than the building itself,” need no longer consider an outside buyer. But “the ordinance doesn’t say there’ll be a bulldozer at the door on April 24,” said Mr. Crane, who is confident that the developers will come to love Springsteen’s famed Palace as much as he does. “I’m assuming that it’s going to be saved,” said Ms. Mellina. “It’s one of the last funhouse buildings left on the shore. It brought people from all over the world to see it.”

-Ronda Kaysen with additional reporting by Jerome Keel

Still Golden Girls

At the Planet Hollywood launch party for the NYC Pet Project book, four young men in extremely tight shirts were taking turns having their photo taken with the evening’s biggest draw, Golden Girl Rue McClanahan.

“My friends are going to die,” said one of the men.

“I watch you every morning and every night!” said another.

Ms. McClanahan, sporting a blue sequin pant suit and stocking feet, flashed a smile.

“Oh!” she said, “just like I watch Seinfeld every night!”

Later in the evening, the 68-year-old Ms. McClanahan-who has been married six times-reflected a bit on her long-term appeal among the gay community. “They have always loved the show, always loved my character, always dressed like the Golden Girls on Halloween,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know what it is about the show that makes it so popular with that particular group. I have always wondered.”

Just then, a young man knelt next to the seated Ms. McClanahan and asked her to sign his copy of NYC Pet Project .

“I just love your work,” he said. “Especially the episode where you bear a striking resemblance to Ms. Cheryl Tiegs, except your bosoms are perkier. I just relate to you so much!”

Ms. McClanahan raised an eyebrow at The Transom.

“That is just what we were talking about,” she said. “Why do you relate to the show so much?”

The man again mentioned Cheryl Tiegs, but offered no further insight.

Perhaps it has something to do with Ms. McClanahan’s acting itinerary. The actress said that she’d soon be heading to Miami, another homosexual hub, where she’ll star with Mark Hamill-seriously-in a stage production of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks , which she said will come to Broadway later in the year. She’s also got a new movie, The Fighting Temptations , with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles, set for release in August.

By the time Ms. McClanahan finished talking to The Transom, she had some competition in the room. Several of the men who had been talking to the actress were now congregating on the opposite side of Planet Hollywood, where a flash of red ringlets announced the arrival of Broadway actress Bernadette Peters. The petite, poodle-haired actress had joined the party to talk about her pit bull Stella and her upcoming role as Mama Rose in Sam Mendes’ revival of Gypsy .

“I toured in the chorus [of Gypsy ] when I was a little girl-I imagined singing all the songs, I knew it inside and out,” trilled Ms. Peters, who was decked out in black ruffles.

It was tough to imagine the pint-sized, squeaky Queens native belting the part of big, bad stage mother Mama Rose every night. “It is a rangy show, and an emotional role, and it will be physically taxing,” said Ms. Peters, before turning away to greet a firefighter.

-R.T.

The Transom Also Hears …

NY1 correspondent George Whipple III sat atop a table piled with photography books at Aperture magazine’s 50th Anniversary Golden Gala at Sotheby’s. “At these rich-people parties, you usually can find a bargain, but not tonight. You’re not walking out of here with a photograph for $50,” Mr. Whipple told The Transom. He was right. By the time dinnertime rolled around, many of the photographs that were being offered by silent auction had jumped from a starting price of $200 to more than $3,000-thanks, in large part, to the event’s co-chairwoman, Susan Gutfreund, who bid up at least five of the photographs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Post columnist Cindy Adams and Slaves of New York author Tama Janowitz were also in attendance.

-A.W.