At the Whitney Museum Gala on Monday, Oct. 20, gallerist Mary Boone told the Transom she has been through three economic downturns: the first when she opened her gallery in 1977; another in the late ’80s; and finally a third directly following 9/11. And so the petite Ms. Boone, whose 5-foot-1-inch frame and tame, pitch-black hair make her seem deceptively mousy, is not particularly concerned this time around.
“In November of ’89, only 20 percent of works were selling at auctions,” Ms. Boone said. “But the works then went on the market at the right prices. So it’s all a correction.”
Ms. Boone hopes that the economic downturn will rid the market of some of the exorbitantly priced works of art that are being flipped like real estate was until very recently. (She is also hoping real estate prices will drop so that her 21-year-old son, Max, will be able to afford a “nice place downtown.”)
“When I first met [famed art collector] Dr. [Giuseppe] Panza, he told me that when he first started collecting, you could buy a work of art for what you paid for a car,” said Ms. Boone. “Then it was what you would pay for a house, and now you would buy a work for what you would pay for a country!”
But noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker, who is just starting out as an art collector, said that there is no such thing as paying too much.
“It’s not about the expense or the cost; I think it’s more about what you call art,” said Mr. Barker, who was accompanied by his eight-months-pregnant wife, Cristen. “I think if you mean to do something, then it’s art. If it’s an accident, then it’s not art. Hence I think my son’s stuff is art, but I’m not so sure that it really is.”
The honorary co-chair for the evening was Donatella Versace. And Sting, who arrived with Versace-clad Trudie Styler, was going to be performing for the gala guests. The former Police band member, it turned out, used to be Mr. Barker’s neighbor in the English countryside. But an even more noteworthy former neighbor of Mr. Barker’s was current tabloid divorcée Madonna.
“She was my neighbor in London. She actually came around asking for milk one time and I gave it to her,” recalled Mr. Barker. At this point the Transom was growing skeptical of Mr. Barker’s tales. Madonna? Asking for a cup of milk? Wasn’t she on some sort of vegan macrobiotic cabala diet? Perhaps calcium wasn’t the only thing on her mind!
“I kid you not! It was all very bizarre!” the hunky Mr. Barker insisted. (Cristen, keep him close!)
Ms. Versace, dressed in a lilac-colored gown of her own design, arrived on the arm of actor (and Versace model!) Patrick Dempsey and her daughter, Allegra. (The younger Ms. Versace, 22, who is a student at Brown University, told the Transom that for her American television fix, she has been tuning into Gossip Girl. And no, her life growing up was nothing like that of the characters on the show.)
Allegra said that she is a fan of Julian Schnabel’s work, who was also a guest at the gala, but Mr. Dempsey expressed a fondness for a different type of art.
“I love sculptural art, more specifically automotive art,” said Mr. Dempsey, referring to his collection of luxury cars. “There is something really beautiful about antique automobiles; it’s art you can interact with. So those are my pieces of art.”
The Transom wondered if Mr. Dempsey has a limit to how much he would pay for one of his “artworks.”
“No. That’s the history of art, whatever someone is willing to pay for it,” replied Mr. Dempsey. “You want to get art that moves you, and for me it’s a tremendous emotional journey each time I interact with one of my [cars].”