Wednesday evening, The Observer headed uptown to Sotheby’s for the Art for Africa preview gala. We entered the building, glad to be out of the blustery evening, and were greeted by thundering classical music playing in the storied auction house’s lobby.
We took the elevator up to the seventh floor where cocktail hour was going strong. Guests sipped wine and drinks (a full bar had been set up for the occasion), and previewed the art. Pierre DuPont, Cristina Cuomo, Liliana Cavendish, Mary Davis and Justice Kennedy were all chatting and looking at the pieces.
Works from a variety of artists, including heavyweights like Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol were generously donated as part of the Art for Africa charity auction which will be held next month. Guests surveyed the pieces, cross-checking their auction catalog and earmarking their favorites.
Some attendees donned their best tribal chic outfits, showing off wooden jewelry and long kaftans. Most, however, stuck to typical New York cocktail party dress-code, with little black dresses and diamonds pervasive throughout. Several of the artists who donated works for the auction were present, however, and were identifiable by their slightly off color attire and noted absence of neckties.
While we were contemplating the collection, we noticed a crowd beginning to form in the center of the room where a spirited dance performance had begun. Guests had convened four deep to watch the spectacle, sipping their drinks and looking on curiously. Three dancers executed an interpretive number, gyrating and swaying to African-inspired music. As part of the performance, one of the dancers began to shout words and dates, inaudible over the music. “I think she said something about the Arab Spring,” one guest mused confusedly.
After the performance, staff aggressively corralled guests into the dining area where the first course was already on the table. The audience heard heartfelt opening remarks from the mistress of ceremonies, Archie Panjami of CBS’ hit show “The Good Wife.” “Tonight, seventy-nine incredibly talented artists have lent their spirit, creativity and vision to support orphaned and vulnerable children throughout Southern and Eastern Africa in the hope that you too in turn will do the same,” she said, buttering up the crowd.
As guests worked their way through squash salads, a power-point presentation was shown exhaustively detailing the Africa Foundation’s projects throughout the continent. Stories of newly constructed schools and health centers tugged at guests’ heartstrings as they listened and sipped wine.
After the presentation, a fleet of waiters appeared serving a baby chicken entree. Suddenly, philanthropist Audrey Irmas took the stage for an impromptu speech. She told the audience about the difficulty of donating money to African causes. “Most of the time, actually, you give money and it’s only a small percentage that actually gets to the recipients, the people who need it the most. The UN, the warlords, other people dip into the honeypot, and the work that you hope is going to be done is very watered down,” she said. She explained that the Africa Foundation is one of the few organizations she truly trusts. To underscore her support to the charity, Ms. Irmas made a surprise announcement: she would match any donation made throughout the evening, up t0 $100,000.
With the help of Eliza Osbourne, the live appeal began. At least two guests immediately raised their hands when Ms. Osbourne asked for $10,000 pledges. Within minutes, the foundation had reached $180,000 with Ms. Irmas’ generous contribution.
Donating seemed to have an intoxicating effect on the guests who were soon chatting and laughing loudly. Servers brought out coffee and chocolate tortes for dessert, but many of the dishes remained untouched as people flitted about the room talking to friends and acquaintances.
Ms. Panjami took the stage once more and tried in vain to quiet the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I please have your attention,” she repeated several times before the ruckus was reduced to a tolerable din. She introduced Ugandan musician Samite who began to serenade the dwindling crowd.
We left the dining area as Samite continued his set, taking note of the art again as we walked through the gallery. Buttoning our coat against the cold, we left Sotheby’s for the night.