At the New York Academy of Art’s Tribeca Ball, the city gathered to honor–and possibly buy!–the work of academy students, displayed over the academy’s five floors. This wasn’t idle gazing: Naomi Watts was spotted deep in conversation with several young artists. “I bought something downstairs! It will make a lot of sense to my children,” said the Chanel-clad actress, who said that before motherhood, she’d preferred “dark, depressing things.”
Organizers had lavished as much attention on setting the scene at the ball as on the art. Guests were able to adorn a wire-frame sculpture with crepe paper, and an energetic accordionist (his accordion labeled “Caligula”) moved from room to room, performing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” accompanied by a belly dancer wearing bells.
Actress Parker Posey, wearing neon-pink vintage, was engaged in discussion with her boyfriend, the artist Scott Lenhardt, and a group of clowns in glow-in-the-dark hats and rings. “Should we go up? Should we start down and go up?” The actress decided to ascend the five flights of stairs.
“I loved the clowns–their hats!” Ms. Posey told The Observer, once we’d both arrived safely at the fifth floor. Could she herself be an artist? “I could never do that–I’m in awe of that. I think–if you can make it alone,” gesturing at her artist boyfriend. “He’s alone in his studio. I need collaborators. I go to actor camp.” Ms. Posey plans to make a documentary with former MTV News-woman Serena Altschul about the death of etiquette–oh no, is it really dead? The actress assured us it wasn’t, and that her belief in common courtesy was reinforced that morning while listening to NPR.
The Observer wandered a floor down. On the fourth floor, the smell of a certain medicinal drug wafted through the air, though the source was unclear. The student artists’ work was all for sale; one artist set out a plate of homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Fabiola Beracasa, in cream eyelet and two-tone spike heels, was on the hunt: “I’m always looking for art to purchase-but if I tell you which art, someone else will buy it!” She knew the game. “This all has me inspired to go to art school. I’m interested in making art out of things other people consider useless or garbage, making it useful.” The Observer stepped to the stairs, dodging a pair of roving saxophonists blaring away in the stairwell.
Actress Jena Malone, donning an oversize blue blazer and white floor-length gown, was totally covered up compared to her scantily clad character in Sucker Punch. She said she wouldn’t be willing to put paintbrush to easel: “I don’t put that kind of parameter on it. Creation is creation.” The accordionist roved through again, with his belly dancer jingling behind him.
Yet one more floor down, sitting in the second-floor bar, was Sally Singer, editor of T. “It makes me realize, I couldn’t be an artist. I couldn’t do what anyone here does.” Ms. Singer twirled her hair. “They’re training in deeply unironic ways. There’s a kind of magic to that.”
Ms. Singer had convinced The Observer of the power of art-sadly, we were sitting in black upholstered armchairs, with no art around, save for the bartenders’ black feathered wings. (When asked why he wore the wings, the bartender gestured at the gothy décor and declared, “It’s the room.”) Still, there was something greater here! We had to return to the irony and pettiness of fashion, though: what Ms. Singer was wearing. “It’s Marco Zanini for Rochas,” she sighed. We apologized for the shallowness of our question, and were cut off. “Listen. I live in that world. It’s a spring dress from Rochas.”
Ms. Singer’s predecessor at T was wandering a floor above. “Oh, it’s good. It’s like being an extra on Work of Art,” declared Stefano Tonchi, now of W. What kind of art would Mr. Tonchi produce? “I’d make conceptual art–I like to make people guess what it is.” Would W become conceptual? “No! I want people to know what it is right away.”
The actress Leelee Sobieski had surpassed Mr. Tonchi–she already is an artist. “Well, I do paint.” And what from the news inspires her? “When one would think inspire, you would think in a positive direction-I don’t know what to say to that. Everyone’s going through tough times right now.” Ms. Sobieski gazed at a painting by a New York Academy student of chickens pecking one another to death. She only looked for a few moments before stepping away, but she looked as though she were inspired.
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Edited by Daisy Prince