Calvin Tomkins Steps Into the Spotlight at the Whitney Gala

Down on the Hudson River piers, mere feet from the museum's future home

Mr. Tomkins

“We thought we should get closer to the neighborhood,” said Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum. We were standing in the giant warehouse of Pier 57 and it was still sparsely populated, which called attention to the vastness of the space. Mr. Weinberg was talking about holding the first offsite Whitney fall gala just down the road from the site of their new location in the Meatpacking District of Chelsea. He said if everything goes as planned, it will open in 2015.

The gala honored New Yorker art critic Calvin Tomkins, known for his illuminating profiles of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. For a writer that has spent so long illuminating the lives of others, the evening put Mr. Tomkins into the spotlight. Well, sort of. During a cocktail hour before dinner, his presence was elusive.

“He’s really shy,” a publicist told us.

Still, everyone in the room was talking about him. Melissa Kretschmer, artist and wife of Carl Andre–the subject of Mr. Tomkins’ latest piece (still in the works)–arrived with Steve Henry, director of Paula Cooper Gallery, which represents Mr. Andre. She said Mr. Tomkins interviewed her three times for the piece and has had numerous meetings with her husband. We mentioned to her the profile of Mr. Andre in the Times a few months back. As is often the case with getting scooped, the piece nearly killed Mr. Tomkins’ profile.

“We’re so glad it’s back on track,” she said.

Elsewhere, the artist Chuck Close was chatting up New Yorker writer Janet Malcom. As Gallerist hovered around them with a notebook, Ms. Malcom said, “I think someone wants to talk to you,” and disappeared into the growing crowd.

“I’ve helped Calvin on a lot of articles,” Mr. Close told us. “Because I know a lot of the artists that he writes about. It’s nice to have someone that cares so much—that isn’t a gossip.” He said during college at Washington state, he’d make “pilgrimages” to find issues of the New Yorker.

“There were no New Yorkers in Washington,” he said.

Nearby, Harvey Weinstein was talking with Julian Schnabel. Art world cognoscenti like Agnes Gund, Marilyn Minter and Whitney curator Chrissie Iles were mingling about. People were drinking champagne and eating caviar.

Jeffrey Deitch, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, stood away from everyone in a big, long, empty hallway adorned with flowers. He told us that as a teenager he read Off the Wall, Mr. Tomkins’ “portrait” of Robert Rauschenberg, “that’s when I decided I wanted to find out all about this world.”

“This world,” however, has shifted considerably west for Mr. Deitch as of late. We asked him how he was enjoying Los Angeles.

“I don’t go into Los Angeles versus New York,” he said with a smile. “New York is totally part of my life. I absorbed 35 years of the New York art world.” He added: “I’m in it forever.”

Calvin Tomkins Steps Into the Spotlight at the Whitney Gala